“If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and the glory which its three or four million people would enjoy”
Winston Churchill (1946)
The European Union is a body which ensured Europe unprecedented peace and prosperity. The EU should be a source of pride and happiness for the next generations of Europeans. Meanwhile, we can observe the opposite trend; societies turn their backs on the idea of integration, and European solidarity, which is the foundation of this body, paradoxically begins to harm the Union itself.
Throughout years, the strength of the European Union descended from its attractiveness in the eyes of basically all European countries. From historical point of view, the Community rarely forced decisions, which were perceived by majority as unfavourable, on member states. Participation in next levels of integration was voluntary and was not connected with tensions between states caused by these decisions. As a rule, the EU generated “win-win” situations between states and societies.
In the course of time, the European Communities started to act differently, or at least the social perception of their actions changed significantly. The bureaucracy of the EU started to specialise in formulating other regulations concerning (very often extremely detailed) areas of citizens’ and enterprises’ lives. One can argue about the real harmfulness of particular regulations, but one thing is certain: they did not make Brussels popular in the majority of states. The EU also invested more and more in not always effective redistribution policies, the main example of which is of course the Common Agricultural Policy. The final result of the transformation of Communities from the voluntary common market into a formation which generates tensions between states was the introduction of common currency without the mechanisms of harmonising fiscal policy of particular states. Deep economic crisis of recent years, common currency, big budget deficits of some member states resulted in actions which cause unprecedented tensions between particular European societies. Aid programmes for states which are on the edge of bankruptcy, financed by Germany and the so called healthy north states, cause paradoxical image effect for the whole European Union. It can be argued whether states with the mechanism of national devaluation would have overcome crisis faster without them and common currency.
In the long run, balanced budget policy and sustained economic reforms are essential for stable economic growth. The problem is how citizens perceive the situation. German citizens are furious that the help for irresponsible Greeks or Cypriots is financed from their taxes. Instead of appreciating the help, citizens of the southern states supported by aid programmes perceive Brussels or Berlin as a ruthless power forcing budget cuts, reduction of salaries, getting rid of welfare state and, as a result, causing the deterioration of their economic situation.
That is why recommendations for changes in Europe should be divided into two stages, long and short perspective. Regardless of the requests of federalists, many of whom can be found in liberal environments, creating in a short perspective a real economic federation which would cover also the states from Middle-East Europe is a pipe dream.
In a short period of time we suggest what follows:
- Undertaking all actions which can change our anti-European attitudes caused directly by economic crisis and indirectly by “rescue” policies; forcing reforms and additional taxation, like in the case of Cyprus, is too risky when it comes to creating the perception of Communities in societies and can lead to a catastrophe. Leaving the Eurozone by some states should be treated as a real option. Rescue plans, in which great amounts of money (even from historical point of view) are invested, cannot last forever. The meaning of the words “economic responsibility” should be restored among member states.
- The European Union is first of all a geopolitical project; its aim has been to ensure peace in Europe. That is why the main task of the EU should be to mitigate disputes between states and not to intensify them. If dreams about a real federation (which could solve many economic and political problems) are unreal in a short period of time, conditions in which everyone will have its place (especially for the time of economic crisis) should be created. From geopolitical point of view, it is difficult to imagine the European Union without the United Kingdom. It is also European Union’s raison d’etat to push forward community’s integration with Ukraine. A multi-speed Europe in a predictable period of time is not a choice, but a necessity.
- If the European Union demands effective actions from its member states, then it should also restructure, or get rid of ineffective policies itself; the need to suppress the Common Agricultural Policy and a really strict review of European Regional Policy seem to be obvious.
- It should be analysed whether some institutions of the EU and offices in certain fields have to be maintained; it should be considered whether creating such posts as the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy was the right step. A real political influence of people on these posts is minor and it is rather the proof of Community’s weakness. At the same time, these posts weaken the position of the Head of the European Commission and blur the responsibility of the one who heads the EU. A political debate which will lead to the liquidation of theses posts should be started.
- The European Union should arrange a review of its law and start the process of deregulation in many key areas in which regulations restrict citizens’ resourcefulness and economic development; the reforms of the EU institutions should be all about a reduction of bureaucracy, both when it comes to the rationalisation of employment in EU institutions and when it comes to creating detailed regulations and procedures, which hinder the activity of entrepreneurs from member states. The officials of the EU institutions – especially the highly bureaucratic European Commission – are subordinate to authorities that are not elected, and, additionally, there are no effective regulations about the responsibility of officials. The media have repeatedly informed about money squandering by the officials of the European Commission and a continuous increase in the number of officials – despite financial and debt crisis.
- The European Union should come back to its roots and the rule of subsidiarity, that is, solving problems on as low a level as possible. Paradoxically, while common defence policy, which requires full coordination on the community level to be effectively realised, is still a settlement on paper, the EU officials are occupied with regulating pan-European market of light bulbs or vegetables.
- more comprehensive reforms towards European federation will be possible in the time of economic progress; establishing the Transatlantic Free Trade Area will be a huge economic growth indicator for both sides of the Atlantic community. Therefore, European raison d’etat in the coming months is to make the mission of Transatlantic Free Trade Area creation successful.
In the long run, we suggest far-reaching reforms of EU institutions to make them really democratic.
- Further integration, if it becomes possible in some years, should be based on democratic mechanisms and democratisation of management processes of Communities. Many provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon should be considered as faults in the integration process. Further competences should be delegated to the European Parliament’s hands and the European Commission, chosen by the Parliament – the Commission which is strong, but built on the ideals of liberal and limited government.
- The role of the European Council should be systematically reduced. First of all, we should move towards the improvement of the decision-making process using the rule of double majority in all decisions taken by the Council and doing away with the powers resulting from the so called Ioannina compromise, allowing a group of states which do not have blocking minority to actually block decisions. Secondly, the transfer of competences of the Council to a democratic community model should be intensified. Transferring certain issues to be decided in the community model would be legitimised by the decisions of member states’ governments. Depending on the relevance of certain ranges, a decision about the transfer of a decision-making field to the community model would follow: by a simple majority of weighted votes in the Council, by different qualified majorities or even unanimously. The lack of consent to the transfer of a decision-making field to the community model would mean that the issues lie in the hands of nation states or – an indirect model – will be proceeded in an intergovernmental model in the hope of reaching consensus, which would standardise law in the European Union. The transfer of issues to the community model would exclude further interference of the Council (heads of governments, ministers etc.) in further proceeding. The doubling of proceedings of the Council with the Commission or the Council with the European Parliament would finally be excluded.
- The outdated idea of the “presidency” held alternately by member states should be abolished. Instead, the Council – that is, all member states – should be headed by a politician with strong seat from direct elections. This person would be the president of the EU elected in pan-European presidential elections. To appreciate states with the smallest populations, the representation valid in presidential election in the USA could be followed, where votes even of a small state can turn out to be crucial for the outcome. Pan-European parties could also carry out primary elections in particular states to appoint a candidate with the strongest chances for success.
- The type of institutional system of the EU in the community model should be corrected so that it reflects “ordinary” political systems in liberal-democratic states. The number of members of the European Commission and the way it is appointed should be changed. During election, each party in the European Parliament should have the right to propose a candidate for the President of the European Commission. A tradition worth cultivating would be for each pan-European party to appoint an official candidate for the President of the European Commission at the beginning of an election campaign for the European Parliament and for the post to be taken by a candidate of one of the factions of the majority coalition in the European Parliament. The President’s appointment and the composition of the EC would depend on the shape of the coalition in the European Parliament, so the Commission would be comprised solely of politicians from coalition factions. Thanks to that, a voter in EP election would have a real influence on the political shape of the EP and EC. There would be no negotiations resulting in all mainstream EP factions being represented in the EC – irrespective of the outcome of EP elections. A President of EC chosen in such a way would put forward the composition of the Commission (the only restriction: one person from each state at the most) to be accepted by the European Parliament. In the European Parliament, voting by simple majority would take place, which would force the creation of governmental coalition.
- At the same time, the number of commissioners, members of the European Court of Auditors and judges from the Court of Justice of the European Union should be decreased (rationalised) by introducing alternate representation of member states in those institutions in such a way that each state has at the same time at least one representative in one of them.
- The European Union should be a democratic formation, managed by representatives chosen in general elections, according to a historical rule “no taxation without representation”. Some delegates to the European Parliament should be chosen from pan-European lists instead of domestic ones. It is an essential step towards forming European public opinion and ending discords between nations. There should be one electoral law with the electoral threshold amounting to 3% in the whole EU, which would force the consolidation and strengthening of pan-European parties, such as ELDR/ALDE, EPP, or PES. It is acceptable to recognise each member state as one constituency, excluding the percentage of candidates chosen from the pan-European list. The European Parliament should be the highest and the only legislative power in the community model of the EU. It means that every decision in the EU in the scopes determined by the Council to be carried out in the community model would have to gain majority in democratically and directly elected parliament to come into force. There is a need to introduce the right of legislative initiative for the European Parliament and increase its competences, especially in the scope of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (participation in making the decisions which are necessary to determine and execute it in place of the present advisory and control entitlements).
- The relations between the EU President and the Head of the EC (prime minister) would be regulated by the division of competences between intergovernmental and community models. The president would represent the European Union outside and the head of the EC would handle the issues of current government. The president would have no possibility to force the head of the EC to resign. This could only be done by the European Parliament, by the constructive vote of no confidence.
- The comprehensibility of the new institutional system should be above all mechanisms which obscure the transparency, even if they make it easier for member states to reach compromise. The European Parliament should be the equivalent of legislature and the European Commission should be the equivalent of executive power.
The text was compiled on the basis of materials and ideas of 4liberty.eu and Liberte! team consisting of: Vaclav Bacovsky, Piotr Beniuszys, Sławomir Drelich, Krzysztof Iszkowski, Błażej Lenkowski, Kamila Łepkowska.
The text was edited by Błażej Lenkowski.
The report was presented during European Forum of New Ideas 2013.