A new political initiative is urgently needed
in order to stop Europe’s decadence.
Whether it be the EU Member States’ incapacity to agree on a common immigration policy, key to the efficient and humane management of the dramas affecting political, economic or climatic refugees, or the selfishness of English MPs who ignore the welfare of their fellow citizens in the name of principles of doubtful legitimacy, Europe seems to sucked into a spiral of decadence, reminiscent of the fall of the Roman Empire.
Far more dangerous than the appeals for unrestrained nationalism expressed by the “sovereigntist/populist” parties, the hypocrisy of so-called europhiles, that point to the unpreparedness of public opinion to postpone reforms, renders vain any possibility of formulating a vision of Europe in which citizens will enjoy the benefits of the rights (and obligations) that the prosperity, the culture and the history of the continent should guarantee.
Confronted with an irreversible geopolitical evolution, evidenced by the phenomenon of globalization which has led to the emergence of new major economic, technological and military powers, Europe remains stuck in a sprawling web of parochial disputes. Failing an urgent reaction, its vassalization to the United States, already at an advanced stage in the monetary and defence fields, will rapidly extend to China, encompassing the areas of technology and international trade, leaving Europe to wallow in the self-glorification of its prestigious cultural and historical past.
However, the EU enjoys all the necessary attributes to reverse this regression; its population, contrary to insidious pronouncements, is perfectly prepared to swap entire segments of its “national sovereignty” – which have become largely virtual – for an effective European “shared sovereignty” in the areas of currency, defence, foreign policy, climate change, immigration, border policing, etc. Neither the bus driver in Naples nor in Dallas cares tuppence whether their Ministers of Finance are Finnish or Californian if they fulfil adequately their mandate, in concertation with their respective Central Banks, to manage the € and the $.
At the G20 meeting recently, the position of the Union would have been far stronger if, as is the case of its partners, it represented alone its Members rather than turning the spotlight on its inability to speak with a single voice.
The list of weaknesses resulting from the current institutional architecture of the Union is lengthy; conceived initially by its 6 founding Members and updated periodically to accommodate successive enlargements, it clearly no longer meets the requirements of a 27 member Union.
Without a preliminary ambitious political agreement, its rules jeopardize any meaningful attempt at reform as demonstrated by the reluctance to initiate Treaty reforms which demand a lengthy and uncertain ratification process requiring unanimous approval by the signatories. The complexity of this procedure is totally incompatible with the evolution of the needs and the speed of the changes with which the Union is faced, both internally and externally. This situation limits considerably any progress, particularly in sensitive matters, making stronger – by default – the Union’s helplessness to address the legitimate demands of its citizens and opening the way for its inevitable dismemberment.
A different but comparable phenomenon is developing in the UK, where vital contradictory objectives are clashing, the ambition to recover full and complete sovereignty trumping even the desire to preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom! It is maybe on such a catastrophic and ruinous scenario for both the EU and the UK that the advocates of a “no deal” Brexit are counting on, in order to escape the future wrath of citizens who were grossly misled as to the consequences of leaving the EU.
Though it is easy, even after centuries of conflicts between continental nations, to defend superficially the attractions of nationalism which is the credo of all national/populist movements, one should never forget President Mitterrand’s admonition “Nationalism means war”. While the population is confronted daily via television or social media with the atrocities and hardships of military, social and environmental conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Venezuela, etc., no responsible politician can believe that retreating behind national borders will provide a durable shield against globalization in its various aspects. On the contrary, it is vital to be among the leading actors who must put forward solutions to the challenges that are gathering and that the elector has perfectly assimilated by reversing significantly his level of participation in the recent European elections.
The road to reforms, initiated by Member States, being highly unlikely to succeed in light of the confrontation of national egoisms as evidenced by the unseemly bickering surrounding the appointments to the senior EU posts, it is necessary to approach the problem from a completely different angle in order to escape the straightjacket that has stalled all progress. A solution might emerge from one of the themes at the centre of the current negotiations: the fate of the “Spitzenkandidat” system which currently opposes the European Parliament and Council.
Though it constituted an interesting development aimed at reinforcing the democratic legitimacy of the Commission President, it is clear that the system, originating from an initiative of the European party groupings did not blend itself smoothly within the provisos of the Treaty. While in 2014, a convergence between the aims of the Parliament and the Council led to the appointment of J.C. Juncker, the new configuration of the EP and the surfacing of new actors (La République en Marche) clearly demonstrates the inadequacy of the process under the present circumstances.
By referring to the absence of “trans-European” political parties as a justification to contest (rightly) the legitimacy of the candidate put forward by the PPE, President Macron may have put his finger on the possibility of a reform that could change fundamentally EU dynamics, leading it towards a more democratic Union recognizable by its citizens, without requiring, at least initially, a Treaty change.
Political parties represented in the EP should take the initiative to reverse the prevailing logic which creates groupings based on the amalgamation of disparate national parties (to which members remain deeply beholden), to encourage the formation of “trans-European” parties which, in turn, would spawn “national chapters”. Such a structure would offer multiple advantages:
– It does not require Treaty change.
– It insulates European parties from the influence of national governments.
– It encourages drafting detailed, European orientated manifestos addressing all electors.
– It provides greater coherence between European and national programs of parties represented in the EP.
– It is compatible with coexisting purely “national” or “regional” political parties.
– It would European parties to play a major part in selecting candidates jointly with national branches, furthering the prospects of enviable European political careers and ending the EP’s curse of being labelled a dead end for second rate politicians.
– It would permit the building of stable 5 year coalitions, considerably reinforcing the weight of the EP in its negotiations with the Commission and the Council.
– It would reinforce the legitimacy of the role of the EP in the designation of the President and Members of the Commission based on its legislative program (endorsed by the Council) and allowing the nomination of Commissioners from within the members of the coalition parties (while abiding by the imperatives of gender parity and the limitation to one Commissioner per country as well as accelerating the reduction in their number, as already foreseen by the treaty).
– It should also reinforce the role of the EP in any formal treaty reform and strengthen its position as co-decider, leading ultimately to obtaining the power of initiating legislation.
– It will facilitate a rebalancing of powers between the EP, the Council and the Commission.
Nothing stands in the way of starting discussions to implement these key reforms of the European political landscape; a simultaneous EU-wide harmonizing of the electoral law for EP elections would also be advantageous.
Will the necessary political will emerge to confront the daunting geopolitical, social and environmental challenges that are looming on the horizon?
One can already guess the strong opposition of Member States who will fear limitations to their prerogatives and the loss of influence of their governments over their elected nationals. On the other hand, it would shed some light on the reality or hypocrisy of the strong proclamations of politicians who declare – or only pretend – that an ever deeper Union is not only a condition of its survival but, equally, is the key to each Member’s prosperity.
Powerful private interests (national senior civil servants, politicians and media moguls) as well as economic lobbies (multinationals) will resist any change to the comfortable status quo in which they exploit the conflicts of interest between Member States, indulging in fiscal, regulatory and judicial arbitrage if not blackmail involving the level of their investment and/or employment programs. Other major powers will continue their ongoing efforts to weaken the EU whose main virtue, in their eyes, is to constitute a deep lucrative consumer market for their exports.
The path of suggested reforms could include organising primary elections within in party at EU level to designate the candidates for the top jobs. It would draw the attention of citizens to the importance of EU competencies and invite them to become involved more deeply rather than sporadically every four years.
By strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EP and its Members, the necessary conditions for the blossoming of a truly “European demos” will have been laid.