“Europe seen from bottom up!”
Hereunder are a few basic questions to which we try to give coherent answers:
“There is too much Europe, it is useless, it doesn’t bring us anything, it does not improve our lives; on the contrary it is the root cause of all our problems and pitches workers of its Members one against each other.”
This opinion, widely shared among an increasing number of EU citizens, reflects the failure of politicians to communicate with clarity on the subject. Their priorities, firmly grounded in considerations of national politics (where their own re-election figures high among their concerns) drives “europhiles” to accept a defensive posture relative to those who – often in good faith – consider “national sovereignty” to be the key element of the political debate.
However, if the main concern of pro-European politicians should be – as that of their opponents – to protect the interest of their constituencies, it proves very difficult to argue that “European solidarity” is preferable to the inward looking agenda promoted by Eurosceptic parties who blame “Europe” for all current economic, financial and social ills.
This ambiguity is further increased by a superficial manipulation of the concept of “democratic legitimacy”: Euro-sceptics suggest that “democracy” – acknowledged to exist at State level – should always prevail over decisions made by the Union in the name of the preponderance of “national sovereignty”. This vision of the institutional architecture is erroneous because it is based on the falsehood that a union of 28 democracies constitutes a democratic Union. This flawed construct explains why the European project has stalled. It can only be corrected by instituting a hierarchy of norms and the subordination between the EU, National and Local levels of legislative and administrative powers.
A good illustration is provided by the recourse to national referenda which create automatically a conflict of legitimacy when a Member State rejects a proposal endorsed by the Union. If such a practice is tolerable for subjects where the Treaty provides for unanimity, its use is perverted when it becomes a tool for domestic political ends such as the vote of Hungarians on the acceptance of refugees or when, to the contrary, it if it seeks to impose on 500 million European citizens concessions granted by the European Council to the UK over which only 50 million British are consulted (EU-UK agreement of February 18 2016, which has thankfully been voided by the Brexit vote).
In this light one should first answer the question “is there too much Europe?” The answer is undoubtedly YES if the idea prevails that national sovereignty should override shared European sovereignty. On the other hand, the answer is unquestionably NO or even NOT ENOUGH if “Europe” is meant to “improve the quality of our lives” and take into account the interests of all of its citizens. One should nevertheless keep in mind that a healthy application of the principles of “subsidiarity” aiming at taking decisions as close as possible to citizens affected by a given subject does not contradict the need for a closer Union.
Politicians must therefore get off the fence. Those that uphold the European project must declare themselves unambiguously for “an ever close Union”. Those who oppose it must equally advocate clearly the case for dismantling the EU. The status quo or a flimsy compromise are both unacceptable and can only postpone an inevitable future crisis.
Starting from this necessary clarification, it becomes possible to develop arguments in favour of either position.
Those who back the European project and therefore endorse structural reforms capable of delivering prosperity can already point to the many advances made over the last 60 years including: “peace in our time” (at least up until now), a significant improvement in living standards, the free movement of people, goods, capital and the right of establishment, the single currency (within EMU), the common agricultural policy, the competition policy, etc. They can also outline the next steps requiring deeper integration: a common foreign affairs and defence policy, common immigration and external border control policies, a common market for energy and for digital services, the completion of EMU, etc.
Implementing this program requires a deep revision of the Treaty leading to a further sharing of important segments of national sovereignty and the reform of the institutions so as to provide them with the democratic legitimacy required. For instance, the European Parliament should be elected under a single electoral code applicable throughout the EU; a political Authority should be responsible for managing EMU with its own autonomous budget, resources and borrowing authority and constituting the privileged interlocutor of the ECB.
As a result, the EU would be able to promote its citizen’s interests in the world and assume the leading role and exercise the influence which its population, its wealth and its culture fully justify but which it has been denied because of its internal lack of cohesion.
Those who, on the other hand, favour the preponderance of national sovereignty must assume the likely consequences of the EU dismemberment which imply out of necessity the end of the Euro and of the single market. They should be asked to show the advantages to be reaped as well as evaluate the costs involved by: reinstating internal border policing (to control immigration), managing potential devaluations (inducing protectionism), instituting (temporary?) exchange controls, controlling inflationary pressures, evaluating effects on employment, etc. In a nutshell, it behoves the Euro sceptics to demonstrate that “Europe is the cause of all our problems and pitches workers of its Members one against each other.”
A final remark: those who point to the example the example given by Brexit should be careful: it is far too early to evaluate its consequences. What seems clear is that the optimistic scenarios being bandied about are mostly based on achieving a reasonable agreement between the EU and the U.K. However, should the EU implode due to its own shortcomings, there will be no agreement to negotiate. The British might rejoice that they have been spared the costs of exiting the € but they will, nevertheless, be caught up in the maelstrom of planetary proportions resulting from the EU’s demise. The consequences will be far greater than those following the Lehman Brothers collapse and could reach proportions not endured since the 1930’s. It will then be too late, for British and continental Europeans alike, to bemoan not having at least tried the alternative of further European integration.
Brussels, 13 September 2016
Paul N. Goldschmidt
Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.
Tel: +32 (02) 6475310 +33 (04) 94732015 Mob: +32 (0497) 549259