What does the Prague declaration of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECRG) in the European Parliament tell us about the future policies of the new political group, built around the UK Conservative Party of David Cameron and William Hague (26 MEPs), the Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS) of the Kaczynski twins (15 MEPs) and the Czech Civic Democratic Party (ODS) of Mirek Topolanek (formerly Vaclav Klaus) (9 MEPs), with a fluctuating number of individual representatives from other member states?
The ECRG has presented ten short principles. The previous post looked at the preamble. Now we present the principles, one at a time, with subjective comments.
1. Free enterprise, free and fair trade and competition, minimal regulation, lower taxation, and small government as the ultimate catalysts for individual freedom and personal and national prosperity.
Conspicuously absent is any mention of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, the main aim of European integration since the Treaty of Rome (EEC Treaty) more than 50 years ago; thus, an objective every member state has embraced when joining the European Communities or the European Union. The ECRG rejects the basic tenet of the European Community (European Union).
Free enterprise is but an unnamed part of the European Community task to promote a harmonious, balanced and sustainable development of economic activities and a high level of employment and of social protection. In the Treaty of Lisbon this has been defined as a highly competitive social market economy. The ECRG does not pay even lip service to the European Community’s (European Union’s) concept of a social market economy.
The member states form a customs union and they are treaty bound to contribute to the harmonious development of world trade, the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade and the lowering of customs barriers. The ECRG’s aim to promote free and fair trade is compatible with the stated aims of the EC (EU), and the ECRG is probably a force for positive change with regard to foot-dragging member states.
Free and fair competition is in line with the EC (EU) aim to ensure competition in the internal market.
Minimal national regulation has contributed to burdening taxpayers with trillions of debt because of reckless financial institutions and failing regulators, so the minimal regulation credo seems to come from the backbone of Conservative thought rather than from the brain.
The huge socialised liabilities caused by the financial mess and the economic downturn undermine the credibility of the call for lower taxation. Add the rising burdens of ageing societies, and lower taxation (a national competence) turns intellectually dishonest.
Small government is a populist and reductionist view of the public sector. I would prefer smart government, i.e. effective and efficient.
Individual freedom seems to be designed for the privileged, and the ECRG makes no effort to indicate how their (national) prosperity would benefit society as a whole.
All in all, there is nothing compassionate about this brand of Conservatism, and precious little to place it near the European mainstream of socially responsible government.
2. Freedom of the individual, more personal responsibility and greater democratic accountability.
Freedom of the individual seems to be rooted in the absence of government action, and more personal responsibility looks like the free choice to sink or swim without societal help. Most Nordic Conservatives would see these unadorned principles as callous, because they lack any reference to the wellbeing of society as a whole.
If the ECRG is interested in a rounded and modern message on EU citizens’ rights, it should promote the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
There is no attempt to explain where and how of greater democratic accountability.
3. Sustainable, clean energy supply with an emphasis on energy security.
The energy policy targets are crucial and commendable, but much more is needed to make them into viable policies.
4. The importance of the family as the bedrock of society.
Is this a sop to the Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS), a tacit approval of its Catholic agenda against deviants?
5. The sovereign integrity of the nation state, opposition to EU federalism and a renewed respect for true subsidiarity.
The ECRG does not use the words nationalism or nationalistic, but that is what the sovereign integrity of the nation state indicates as their ideological backbone.
Anti-federalism further underlines the commitment to solve European level and global problems at national level.
Every EU legislative proposal is screened with regard to subsidiarity and proportionality, so this is the third phrasing in one sentence of a minimalist view of the role of the European Union.
This far, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECRG) could contribute to the European Union’s aims with regard to international trade and competition in the internal market, although they reject the consensus on economic and social policy.
On the other hand, the European Conservatives reject the basic aim of European integration and they prefer nationalism to common procedures and solutions. They offer no promise of a European Union able to speak with one voice on the global stage. Their minimalist message is not only anti-federalist, but against European mainstream political thought.
In the third part we look at the remaining principles of the European Conservatives. (It is better to leave out the Reformists, when revisionists would be more apt.)