Euro, Europe in the news, the Netherlands

Idealen en geen boekhouders maken Europa!

Europa gaat gebukt onder een crisis die vooral het onvermogen van de Europese politiek duidelijk maakt. Omdat iedereen mag meepraten en natuurlijk een eigen visie heeft, worden slechts minuscule stapjes gezet in de hoop daarmee Europa en de euro te redden. Misschien is die ‘slakkenvaart’ het nieuwe wapen in de strijd tegen het afkalvende vertrouwen in de euro en de Europese politiek. Met het opstellen van de nieuwe ‘fiscal compact treaty’ geven de Europese leiders aan meer trots te zijn op hun boekhoudkundige kwaliteiten dan hun visie. Strenge begrotingsregels, schuldlimieten en straffen, geflankeerd door een financieel-economische risicoverkenning aan de hand van de Commissie, is hun ‘oplossing’ voor de huidige impasse. Europese samenwerking wordt daarmee verengd tot ‘afspraken’ en ‘afrekenen’. Voldoe je niet aan je target, dan vlieg je de deur uit, zo lijkt het wel. Misschien een interessant model voor een bedrijf dat snel geld wil verdienen, maar een desastreus model voor internationale samenwerking.

Europese samenwerking moet winst opleveren, zo lijkt het wel. In Nederland heeft de voormalige Minister van Financiën, Gerrit Zalm, hieraan bijgedragen. In zijn pleidooi om de Nederlandse bijdrage aan Europa te verlagen, is samenwerking verengd tot geld verdienen. Nederland zou geen nettobetaler moeten zijn, maar juist aan Europa moeten verdienen. Dat idee van nettobetaler is ten onrechte blijven hangen. Weliswaar geven wij op dit moment ongeveer 150 euro per hoofd van de bevolking uit aan Europa, de voordelen van die samenwerking zijn veel groter. Recent heeft het CPB becijferd dat ons nationaal inkomen hoger is door de gemeenschappelijke markt. Dat voordeel ligt op ongeveer 1500 euro per persoon. Ook is berekend dat de ‘winst’ van de invoering van de euro per persoon wat kleiner is, maar nog wel positief, namelijk ongeveer een weeksalaris (http://www.cpb.nl/publicatie/europa-in-crisis).

Meer principieel is de versmalling van Europese samenwerking naar economisch voordeel onjuist. Vraagt u zich ook wekelijks af wat de financiële waarde van uw partner is? Berekent u ook jaarlijks de opbrengsten van uw kinderen? Maak u alleen vriendschappen wanneer die uw maandinkomen vergroten? Ik niet, en ik zou er ook niet aan moeten denken. En daarmee raken we de kern van de huidige impasse. Omdat ieder land zich enorm fixeert op ‘wat levert het mij op?’, is de huidige crisis moeilijk op te lossen. We hebben hierbij te maken met wat vaak een prisoners’ dilemma wordt genoemd: hoewel voor alle lidstaten samenwerking de beste optie is, denkt elke lidstaat afzonderlijk de anderen te slim af te zijn door vooral de eigen prioriteiten te blijven volgen. Daarmee ontstaat de desastreuze uitkomst dat samenwerking niet van de grond komt, en, zoals het oorspronkelijke dilemma dat aangeeft, de ‘gevangenen elkaar verraden’. Het resultaat is een suboptimale uitkomst die ver van samenwerking afstaat. Deelbelangen zegevieren over het gemeenschappelijke belang en dat brengt oplossing van de huidige crisis niet dichterbij.

Om dit dilemma te doorbreken zullen de lidstaten op een andere wijze naar Europa moeten gaan kijken. Dit vraagt een nieuwe visie op Europa. Een visie op wat wij willen bereiken. Niet alleen handel, maar ook vrede, veiligheid en het behouden van gemeenschappelijke waarden als vrijheid, sociale rechtvaardigheid en democratie zouden daarbij een meer prominente rol moeten spelen. Samenwerking werkt wanneer we ervan overtuigd zijn dat deze waarden belangrijk zijn. Ook moeten Europese leiders bereid zijn dat aan hun kiezers over te brengen.

Daarnaast is samenwerking meer dan een winst- of verliesrekening waarbij, op het moment dat het even tegenzit, die samenwerking meteen wordt opgegeven. Er kan op de korte termijn zeker bestraffend worden opgetreden op het moment dat een lidstaat zich niet aan de afspraken houdt, maar voor de langere termijn is wederzijds begrip en solidariteit noodzakelijk. De Unie kan daarom niet uitsluitend maatregelen nemen die louter in het belang zijn van economisch sterke landen als Duitsland en Nederland. Verder is de huidige focus op de korte termijn een slechte raadgever: de Europese kip met de gouden eieren is ziek. Alhoewel de ingreep voor sommigen heel pijnlijk is, en het medicijn ons geld kost, is het uiteindelijke herstel voor alle Europese landen belangrijk. Versterking van het noodfonds, een ruimere rol voor de ECB en de mogelijkheid Europees kapitaal aan te trekken voor de financiering van (een deel van) de staatsschuld moeten onderdeel zijn van die aanpak.

Tot slot lijken de Europese leiders steeds weer door hun eigen inactiviteit overvallen te worden. Daardoor ontstaat een bijna permanente crisissituatie waarbij democratie naar de zijlijn is verwezen. Weliswaar grijpt menig regeringsleider terug op zijn of haar nationale parlement, maar Europese democratie is meer dan de optelsom van nationale democratieën. Sterker nog, die wijze van verantwoorden versterkt juist de nadruk op nationale deelbelangen die het oplossen van de Europese crisis in de weg staat. Op Europees—het gemeenschappelijke—niveau zijn geen voorziening getroffen. Duitsers, Britten, Spanjaarden, Nederlanders en anderen kunnen zich in nationale parlementen uitspreken. Maar niemand legt in Europa verantwoording af. Daarmee zijn we bij een belangrijke zwakte van het huidige bestuurlijke bestel. Ook het te voeren sociaaleconomische en financiële beleid in Europa vraagt om democratie!

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European Parliament

Early agreements in the European Union co-decision procedure: democracy versus efficiency?

This is a guest post from our colleague at Leiden  Anne Rasmussen
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The co-decision procedure, which became the ‘ordinary legislative procedure’ of the European Union with the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), has been the subject of a number of adaptations during its relatively short history. One of the most important and most controversial of these developments is the increased use of the so-called ‘early agreements’.

An ‘early agreement’ means that a deal is reached between a few key representatives from the European Parliament (EP) and the Council in a so-called trilogue, at a moment at which neither the EP nor the Council has adopted a formal position. Deals reached are subsequently presented to the full legislative bodies of the Council and the EP but in such a way that it is practically impossible to amend them. Thus, the average members of the legislative bodies are put under a severe pressure to accept what is on the table.

There has been a clear trend to expand the use of first reading conclusions over time, because they result in time savings and efficiency gains. In spite of this, there has been no shortage of criticism of first reading deals among academic scholars, commentators and the EU institutions themselves. Concerns relate to the lack of transparency entailed in negotiation processes, which often allow for systematic exclusion of important actors.

Another concern raised about these deals is that they are being pushed through in a fast manner without adequate time for deliberation and control of the legislators who negotiate them. Scholars even go as far as to speak of “a trade-off, a normative choice between the claims of efficiency and democracy, as democracy is not primarily about the speed of the decision-making process”. Statewatch echoes this criticism by pointing out how “the efficiency of decision-making is enhanced at the expense of transparency, openness and accountability”.

The claim that early agreements allow for less time for deliberation and negotiation has not been tested systematically so far. To assess the seriousness of this part of the critique of early agreements, Dimiter Toshkov and I have examined whether early agreements are reached faster than other deals, and whether there is any pattern in the duration of the different kinds of deals depending on the saliency and controversy of the legislative dossiers.

Our findings show that even if fast-track legislation restricts access for certain actors to decision making, early agreements on salient legislation allow more time for substantive debate and negotiations during the first reading stage. Hence, when we compare the length of the first readings for salient files concluded here and later in the legislative process, we see that first readings on the first group of files last longer. This indicates that the co-legislators compensate for some of the lost time from not going to second reading by extending the length of the first reading negotiations when the deals are salient. Moreover, rather than finding evidence that deals are pushed through quickly irrespective of how controversial they are, we find that the co-legislators spend more time on the first reading negotiation period the greater the level of political disagreement between them.

Finally, we find a trend for early agreements to last longer over time that is robust to controlling for characteristics of the negotiated files.  This coincides with the EP having introduced stricter procedures for the conduct of early negotiations that require negotiators to report back to their committee regularly and collect mandates. Negotiation of fast-track legislation looks different today from the early period of first reading deals discussed among commentators and academic scholars. In this way, it appears that the number of initiatives that the EP has undertaken to formalize, clarify and institutionalize the procedures according to which early agreements are concluded have had an effect. Hence, the increased amount of time spent on concluding first reading deals coincides with the implementation of the reforms.

Much work remains to systematically examine the consequences of early agreements. However, what seems clear based on the results of our analysis is that the EP has adapted to the changing nature of the co-decision procedure and that these adaptations seem to have contributed to a more thorough treatment of fast-track legislation.

Central and Eastern Europe, the Netherlands

Immigration and national politics

You have probably heard about the website set up by the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) to collect complaints against Eastern Europeans (Poles, Bulgarians and Romanians in particular). The website has been widely condemned by the international community (including the EU citizens rights commissioner Viviane Reding)  but has also received tens of thousands of reactions from Dutch citizens, according to the PVV leader Geert Wilders.

One of the latest responses comes from Polish MEP Marek Siwiec who encourages readers of his blog to share their positive experiences with the Netherlands and the Dutch in the comments to his blogplot. 

P.S. My own thoughts on immigration, morality, and politics can be found at my personal blog here.

Educational policy

Datapoints of the day

In Portugal,  32% of the adult population have at least an upper secondary degree. In the Czech Republic, 92% have one.

The data is for 2010 and is provided by EUROSTAT (and is discussed here).

I have graphed the figures for the European countries in the map below. An interesting pattern emerges with the Northern and the East European countries having the highest percentages. But I wonder to what extent these numbers represents real failures/successes of the secondary educational systems rather than different ways of setting up (and naming) the secondary education levels.

click to enlarge. The link to the map is here.

Europe in the news, Future of the EU

Delors: no future for the EU without without cooperation

A wonderful interview (in Dutch) by Jacques Delors in Het Financiele Dagblad, also to be found on the website of his think tank, Notre Europe, here. As the most proactive President of the European Commission and one of the ‘fathers’ of the internal market project and the euro, he makes it clear that he is concerned about the fate of Economic and Monetary Union and about, the stupidity (his words) displayed by current leaders of the EU. One of his examples: good decisions were taken on 21 July 2011 by the EU leaders… but, he says, then they say at the press conference, these decisions only will come into force in December! “C’est stupide! ” he says (it must be a relief to be no longer in an official capacity able to say this!) What were they thinking? This is not how the economy and the markets work!

I have always admired Delors’ vision and intellectual strength and expertise, but now we get a glimpse of his emotions. The questions which he poses in this interview resonate with a theme which has been central for me since we started this blog. European integration cannot be only about costs and benefits for any given member state, not today and not in the medium term. Political leaders today appear in their statements to present the EU arena as endless bargaining for the national interest, narrowly defined. It has to be also about cooperation and solidarity, otherwise it simply does not work. As Delors explains in the interview that he had proposals on economic policy coordination which leaders ignored, it is clear part of the crisis we have now is the result of their shortsightedness and reluctance to adopt provisions for coordination of economic policy at the time. A greater concern is that the EU leaders’ current response to the crisis is also limited to the lowest common denominator, without the will to work together and without cooperation. Working together, Delors says, is a contract, an almost moral contract. Believe me, he says, even if you transfer competences to the EU level (for controlling national budgets, for example) nothing is possible unless it is done in a spirit of cooperation.

The demise of the Community method and the EU institutions is his last point of polite but insistent criticism. Decisions in the EU and the news about them appear to be about two countries, not about the Council of Ministers or the Commission. The dominance of the Franco-German duo of leaders undermines the faith of other member states in the EU institutions. If not, he warns, Europe will move from one internal conflict to the other.

Central and Eastern Europe

Neelie Kroes stands for media freedom in Hungary…but not Bulgaria… while Putin blogs in the FT

Last week, the Financial Times Brussels Blog  reported that Dutch Commissioner Neelie Kroes sent a letter to the Hungarian government reminding them that ‘ the respect of media freedom and media pluralism is not only about the technically correct application of EU and national law, but also and more importantly, about implementing and promoting these fundamental principles in practice’. This is  a quote from the letter that was curiously, initially available through the FT blog, only to have magically disappeared when I looked today (luckily I printed it). I collect such letters from the time when the European Commission used to send them to candidate states from Central and Eastern Europe when something was not going in the right direction in terms of democratic institutions and principles. Pre-accession to the EU, they used to be a part of the EU’s set of tools that are popularly referred to as the stick and carrot of conditionality. The expectation shared among these of us who studied the last enlargement has been that the EU would not have similar leverage when after accession. It is still not completely clear to me where this is true. Interestingly, the EU is now trying to use some of its tools and methods developed in the pre-accession period, to deal with the Orban government. As the FT’s Stanley Pignal notes, Orban’s strategy seems to be to go for minor adjustments in laws criticized by Brussels and go on much the same at home. Neelie Kroes’s letter seems to be part of the Commission’s response to that, as she notes that: ‘The Commission will remain particularly vigilant…’.

Pity, however, that the vigilance has not extended to Bulgaria, or not yet. Last month, Reporters without Borders placed media freedom in Bulgaria on the abominably low 80th place, 40 places behind Hungary. A Bulgarian MEP wrote an open letter to Bulgarian journalists about this, which was also sent to Ms Kroes (reported by Deutsche Welle, here, in Bulgarian). The dismal state of Bulgarian media is not a surprise for anyone who has ever tried to find a decent daily newspaper in many small towns in Bulgaria where the couple of serious newspapers of the Economedia group do not get ordered or delivered. Analysts point out that the ownership of media outlets, newspapers, but also TV is a big part of the problem, depriving individual journalists who have the ability and courage to deliver proper journalism, of outlets where they could do so. One can only dream, in this context, of the Hungarian Klubradio and similar outlets that take themselves the initiative to seek the support of EU institutions for free and independent journalism. And indeed, in recent years sharp investigative journalists in Bulgaria are found more often on the internet and Facebook, especially when they cover hot topics in a way that deviates from the bulk of the press. The problem seems to be that political and economic powers have tried to capture media the way they have tried to capture the state, to create a reality in which shady businessmen are ‘builders of capitalism’  as the newspaper Kapital calls them. Still, one hopes that the European Commission and these same independent journalists would not give up on media freedom in Bulgaria… after all, the whole public sphere and democracy itself suffer when no one delivers objective news any more. As journalist Tatiana Vaksberg notes in her Deutche Welle comment , Bulgarians themselves trust the media much easier than their politicians. Strange but true. Now there is an occasion when the well-known and all-pervasive Bulgarian skepticism should find a well-deserved outlet.

In other news from the world of media manipulation, Vladimir Putin apparently blogged with a guest blog in the Financial Times. Most instructive, especially if one has never read a press release from any of the congresses of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Of course, the text the FT published was an excerpt from an article (officially) by Putin published in Vedomosty (Russian version here), and it’s not really a blog. This is.