Yesterday I gave a talk to political science students for a small symposium on the ‘Future of Europe’. The other speakers were Joop de Kort (professor in Economics) and Auke Zijstra, MEP from the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV). Given that Mr. Zijstra is mostly famous for defending the PVV website for complaints against East Europeans, and given the PVV’ s position for Dutch EU-exit, you might expect that the debate turned ugly. But in fact the discussion was rather interesting and definitely civilized.
The main point on which I and Mr. Zijstra couldn’t agree was the power and responsibility of the Commission. We agree that the not all decisions that the EU has taken have been necessary and appropriate. But while he blames mostly the Commission, ‘Brussels’, and the bureaucrats, I think that since it is the Council (and the European Parliament) that co-decide in Europe, they should take the blame or the credit for the EU decisions. The Commission only proposes, and in the vast majority of cases it is the member states governments which decide! So it seems rather preposterous to suggest that ‘Brussels’ has made a decision while it is the signatures of the national governments that appear on the final document. Of course, the myth that the faceless unelected bureaucrats decide on our behalf in Brussels is extremely popular, but precisely for this reason it should be debunked on every possible occasion! It is national civil servants who discuss the Commission proposals in the Council’s working groups, it is national ambassadors who negotiate the proposals in COREPER, and it is national ministers who ultimately decide in the meetings of the Council.
Obviously, it makes political sense to shift the blame to ‘Brussels’ for decisions unpopular at home. But this political ‘strategy’ erodes the little trust normal people have in the institutions of the EU.
As for the a country’s possible exit from the EU, I am rather pragmatic about the issue and don’t feel that such a perspective shouldn’t be discussed. The problems I see, however, are two. First, even if you exit the EU but still want to participate in the Internal Market, you still have to apply the bulk of EU legislation (ask Norway) and you might need to pay to access the markets (ask Switzerland). Second, being out of the EU while the EU still exists might be a better option than being in the EU, but there is no guarantee that once you exit, the other countries would not follow. And most ‘pragmatic’ Euroskeptics would agree that a world without the EU (no single market, no freedoms to travel and trade, etc) is worse than a world in which the EU, even if imperfect, exists. So, free-riding on the integration efforts of others might be a myopically rational national strategy, but it would lead to the unraveling of the whole EU project, leading to a collective outcome that none wished for.
Here is a link to my presentation for the symposium. It might seem a bit cryptic without the narration but, hey, it’s another Prezi beauty.