Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Why Europe?

There are fairly small groups of vehement and vocal anti-EU campaigners, but they resonate with varying proportions of national electorates hostile to or suspicious of ‘Brussels’, although profound indifference towards the European Union is probably the prevalent mood, equally frustrating for the anti-EU crowd as for Europhiles.

My attempt to sum up the European malaise is: Distant and meddling.

Distant bureaucrats fine-tuning standards for different products in the internal market, incomprehensible treaties and tons of secondary legislation, unclear responsibilities and poor accountability, almost faceless politicians ushered in from black cars to do, what?

At the same time, a pervasive feeling that these tentacles reach into every nook and cranny, somehow threatening our daily lives and comforts, as well as our jobs and futures.

Thus far, the feelings are common to large swathes of the peoples, but more prevalent among the poor, the uneducated, the old and the rural populations, in short, those who live precariously.

The causes of discontent vary wildly, too, from accusations of an ‘ultra-liberalist’ conspiracy trampling workers’ rights to ‘socialist’ over-regulation choking free enterprise.

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There is no magic cure. ‘Washington’ is as much of a swearword in US politicking as ‘Brussels’ in Europe, and there is a guaranteed market for various shades of populist hopefuls nationally, regionally and locally.

Although the division of labour between the EU and the member states is far from perfect, the questions decided at the European level tend to be far from the daily concerns of individuals, unless they happen to be directly affected like farmers or fishermen.

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But something needs to be done. Something could be done.

The European Convention, the Constitutional Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty (in the consolidated version) made some gestures towards presenting the basic rules of the European Union in a readable form, but they all carried with them the luggage of previous treaties.

Their improved aims and principles are admirable. In the long run they strengthen the foundations for progress towards a citizens’ Europe, although the process may be a long one.

But the basic principles and necessary institutions would have to be presented in an even shorter document than the proposed Treaty on European Union. If, despite its intergovernmental character, the common foreign and security policy, including the common security and defence policy, was moved to the proposed Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, we would be near a readable basic document for EU citizens (as legal texts go).

The constitutional document could be fairly neutral, leaving it to the various political parties to try to convince the EU citizens of the merits of their programmes.

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Every home in the EU would receive this fundamental document and it would have to be produced in a form which would make people voluntarily place it in their bookshelf for further reference.

The objectives and principles of the European Union tell us something about what the EU has been established for and how it is supposed to work, but more is needed as to why.

More about that in a coming post.


Ralf Grahn