EU law, European Parliament, Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, Social policy and anti-discrimination, the Netherlands

‘White Paper on the Future of Europe’: gaan we over een ‘ander’ Europa nadenken?

De verkiezingen in Nederland en Frankrijk laten zien dat er nog steun voor het Europese project is, maar Europa moet veranderen. Weliswaar heeft Macron de Presidentsverkiezingen gewonnen, maar 34% van de Franse bevolking steunde Le Pen en het voornemen van het ‘Front National’ om de EU te verlaten. Ook Macron heeft aangegeven dat we niet op dezelfde Europese weg kunnen blijven doorgaan. In Nederland zijn meer meningen te vinden, maar de PVV, die als twee-na grootste partij in de laatste verkiezingen naar voren kwam, wil dat Nederland zo snel mogelijk het Europese avontuur opgeeft. Kortom, Europa is niet meer een onomstreden project, maar een politieke zorg geworden.

Na het Brexit referendum zijn de Europese leiders gestart met een nieuwe (zelf-)reflectie over de toekomst van Europa. Tijdens de top van Bratislava in september 2016 is het startschot gelost voor een indringend politiek reflectieproces. De bedoeling is dat dit proces, waarbij ook de buitenwacht wordt betrokken, tot een afronding komt voor de verkiezingen van het Europese Parlement in 2019. Of dat gaat lukken, en of dit proces tot een voor velen aansprekend Europa komt, is de vraag.

In ieder geval heeft de Juncker-Commissie op 1 maart jl. een algemene nota opgesteld met daarin een aantal denkrichtingen of scenario’s. Deze scenario’s omvatten de mogelijkheid van gewoon ‘doormodderen’ tot een politieke vlucht naar voren in de vorm van ‘veel meer samendoen’. Daartussen liggen opties om alleen de interne markt te bedienen, zich te richten op een beperkt aantal beleidsterreinen met de belofte om het dan wel ‘efficiënter’ te doen en de mogelijkheid van een Europa van ‘meerdere snelheden’.

De verschillende scenario’s zijn nog erg vaag zodat het amper mogelijk is om de voor- en nadelen op een rij te zetten. Ook wordt in de analyse van de Europese Commissie de gevolgen voor de reislustige en vooral ‘kosmopolitische’ burger haarfijn uiteengezet. Dat levert meteen de vraag op dat nu de burger is die zich tegen het Europese project heeft gekeerd en die de Commissie nu moet overtuigen van het ‘nieuwe’ Europa. De aanhangers van Le Pen, maar ook van de PVV in Nederland, zitten waarschijnlijk niet te wachten op allerlei sociale en andere rechten in het Europese buitenland: hun zorg is dat zij thuis maar amper hun hoofd boven water weten te houden en daardoor allerlei andere zorgen hebben.

De Rabobank heeft verschillende scenario’s van de Commissie op hun economische effecten beoordeeld. Daarbij is ook de optie van het uiteenvallen van de EU aan het pallet toegevoegd. De resultaten zijn niet verrassend: bij het uiteenvallen van de EU zijn de economische gevolgen heeft meest negatief. De economische groei zakt in, de werkloosheid neemt sterk toe, Nederland verliest haar leidende rol als haven van Europa, en de pensioenfondsen zien hun dekkingsgraad dalen ondanks stijgende rente en inflatie. Het scenario van meer samenwerken heeft het meest positieve effect op de economie. Bij doormodderen en twee snelheden zijn de effecten minder spectaculair (en waarbij de optie van twee snelheden het beter doet), maar daarbij past wel de aantekening dat doormodderen waarschijnlijk tot uiteenvallen leidt, wat een weinig plezierig vooruitzicht is.

De scenario’s van Juncker worden op dit moment verder uitgewerkt op deelaspecten. De Commissie heeft besloten om via reflectiepapers de mogelijkheden te verkennen. Het eerste paper is op 26 april jl. verschenen en gaat in op de sociale dimensie van Europa. Daarin wordt nagedacht over vragen als: zullen we sociale rechten beperken tot alleen het vrije verkeer van EU-burgers? En zou sociaal beleid een onderdeel moeten zijn van een kerngroep op het moment dat voor een Europa van twee-snelheden wordt gekozen? Afgelopen week is een tweede paper verschenen over globalisering. Daarin wordt ingaan op de gevolgen van globalisering en het idee dat Europa de scherpe kantjes van die ontwikkeling moet wegnemen. Dat zou niet via meer protectionisme moeten leiden, maar tot een betere verdeling van de baten van internationale handel, via ondersteunende sociale voorzieningen en subsidies. De vraag is of verstandig is dat Europa nu ook voor zichzelf een taak ziet op het terrein van sociale zekerheid. Dat is een taak die traditioneel bij lidstaten is belegd en waarbij sprake is van een enorme diversiteit, zowel in termen van nationale koopkracht als de wijze waarop die taken nationaal worden bekostigd.

Er volgen nog reflecties over de EMU, defensie en het Europese budget. Wat mist is een reflectie over burgers en legitimiteit. Zou het niet verstandig zijn om ook daarover een grondige analyse te maken? De huidige malaise lijkt vooral veroorzaakt te worden door ontevreden kiezers die niet meer geloven in de voordelen van Europese samenwerking.  Om die kiezers weer voor Europa te winnen, is op z’n minst informatie over oorzaken en problemen nodig.

Meer in het algemeen zijn de analyses die tot dusverre zijn gemaakt nog niet erg overtuigend. Weliswaar wordt aangegeven dat we in dit debat over het ‘nieuwe’ Europa vooral ‘out-of-the-box’ moeten denken, maar sommige oplossingen blijven wel heel dicht bij bestaande ideeën uit Brussel. Een voorbeeld is het recente debat over Europees ouderschapsverlof in het kader van een meer sociaal Europa. Daarbij komt meteen de vraag op of dat nu niet veel beter nationaal of zelfs regionaal kan worden geregeld. Is het niet beter dat de vaders in Nederland de onderhandelaars aan het Binnenhof oproepen wat aan hun situatie te doen dan ouderschapsverlof Europa-breed te regelen?

Verder is in het kader van een reflectie over Europa een aantal aspecten nog onvoldoende benoemd. Uitgangspunten die een rol zouden moeten gaan krijgen in een debat over Europa. Dat zijn in ieder geval de volgende:

  1. Het loslaten van het gelijkheidsdenken in Europa: in veel discussies over nieuw beleid wordt vaak het argument ingebracht van het streven naar een ‘level-playing field’. Daarmee wordt bedoeld dat verschillen tussen landen nadelig zijn voor de beleidsuitvoering of ongelijkheid kunnen veroorzaken. Mijn voorstel is dit argument nu maar eens te gaan mijden. Verschillen tussen landen, maar ook tussen regio’s, gemeenten, buurten en mensen bestaan. De vraag is of dit erg is. En wanneer we daarover twijfelen moeten we gewoon burgers maar eens vragen of zij een taak regionaal, nationaal of Europees geregeld willen hebben. Dan komen we er wellicht achter dat Europa vaak niet nodig is.
  2. Het loslaten van het idee dat Europa veel problemen oplost: vaak worden allerlei problemen op de Europese beleidsagenda geplaatst waarbij het maar de vraag is of die, op een zinvolle wijze, door middel van Europees beleid kunnen worden aangepakt. Ex-post evaluatieonderzoek laat zien dat dit vaak knap lastig is. Opvallend is ook dat vaak geen ex-post evaluaties worden uitgevoerd, ook wanneer dat eerder wel was afgesproken. Kortom, is het maar de vraag of Europa veel kan met de problemen die nu op de beleidstafel worden gedeponeerd. Dat creëert alleen maar te hoog gespannen verwachtingen zonder dat er veel zal veranderen.
  3. Het verminderen van onnodige regels: de Europese Commissie probeert al enige tijd met het Regulatory Fitness and Performance programma (REFIT) de regeldruk vanuit de EU te verminderen. Onnodige regels worden geschrapt, terwijl niet-werkende regels worden vervangen. Dit programma zou de komende tijd nog intensiever moeten worden doorgezet met steun van de Europese wetgever (e.g. de lidstaten en het Europees Parlement), die ook bereid moet zijn die onnodig regels daadwerkelijk te schrappen. Niet ieder regel is een behulpzame regel die mensen helpt om problemen aan te pakken. Ook komt daarbij opnieuw de vraag aan de orde of een aanpak niet beter op nationaal, regionaal of lokaal niveau georganiseerd kan worden.
  4. Het versterken van de gewone wetgevingsprocedure: nog steeds is binnen de EU de gewone wetgevingsprocedure, waarin het Europees Parlement een rol heeft, geen gemeengoed. Op verschillende terreinen wordt nog steeds wetgeving door de lidstaten gemaakt. Verder komt verreweg de meeste regelgeving uit de hoek van de Commissie. Op basis van delegatiebepalingen maar ook de bevoegdheid uitvoeringswetgeving af te kondigen, is de Commissie de grootste producent van verordeningen en richtlijnen. Voor een Europa van de burger, waarbij transparante en het kunnen volgen van procedures belangrijk is, is deze praktijk onverstandig. Hier zou de Commissie, maar ook de lidstaten, hand in eigen boezem moeten steken door met de burgers van Europa af te spreken om veel meer regelgeving via het Europese Parlement te laten verlopen.

Met deze vier aanvullende uitgangspunten komt de discussie over Europa al wat verder weg te staan van het bestaande en bekende. Laten we hopen dat wij de komende jaar, politiek en maatschappelijk, eens behoorlijk buiten die gangbare paden treden. Dat is goed voor Europa, Europees beleid en Europese kiezers.

Academic research on the EU, Enlargement, Europe in the news, Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, the Netherlands

The contradictions of the Dutch referendum on the Association agreement with Ukraine

As the day of the advisory referendum in the Netherlands on the Association agreement with Ukraine nears, the bulk of the commentary seems to focus on the campaign, its trends and its context rather than the referendum question and the agreement it addresses. There have been lots of commentaries focusing on the geopolitics of the referendum, evaluating Russia’s possible attitude or role, as for example this recent piece  assessing a potential ‘no’ vote as a symbolic victory for Russia. Many analysts note the passive stance taken by the Dutch government and political parties of the government coalition who, after all, participated in the negotiations of the agreement that started all the way back in 2008. In a highly critical post, Judy Dempsey denounces the lackluster campaign by Dutch and European politicians and the lack of visible commitment to the  treaty and the values it embodies (rather than just trade) by the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte himself. In terms of the implications of the referendum results, there is little agreement on the significance of a potential ‘no’ vote. Some, consider the whole exercise to be meaningless, as given the advisory nature of the referendum, the government could ignore the results if they are negative.This post by Korteweg provides an overview of recent history of both the agreement and the Dutch referendum and of potential scenarios after the referendum.

Yet, as Kristof Jacobs pointed out in the SRV blog and also in a debate we held yesterday, the political consequences of ignoring a possible ‘no’ vote would be much wider  and harder to ignore than the legal ones. Both domestic and international consequences could be quite broad and far reaching. At least one of the government coalition parties, the Social Democrats, has committed to respecting the outcome of the referendum. Changing the wording of the Association agreement to satisfy the Dutch voters would also be quite problematic: in a total of 486 articles and 179 pages without the annexes, identifying which bits would have been found objectionable by Dutch votes in case of a ‘no’ majority would be difficult. The EU’s credibility in other international settings and policies, such as the revised European Neighborhood Policy or even ongoing enlargement process with the Western Balkans, would be compromised.

If we accept that future accessions or associations will become more and more politicized, as found in our enlargement assessment project maxcap (see here), we should try to take the question of the referendum seriously and evaluate, to the best of our current knowledge, what effects the Association agreement might have. Given its scope and the fact that establishing a Deep and Comprehensive Trade Area is quite a novel enterprise, as shown in this legal analysis, effects are difficult to estimate ex ante. The political reform provisions in the treaty, however, are both far-reaching and promising, in the clear commitment to domestic reforms in Ukraine (art 6), extensive requirements for transparency and the planned involvement of civil society (articles 299, 443). All other things being equal (which is not a given in Ukraine’s neighbourhood), the Agreement will provide both a roadmap and a set of incentives for reforms in democratic governance, as the EU has done in the past for countries like Bulgaria, Romania or Slovakia. It will be up to Ukrainian policy makers and politicians to take this opportunity. Yet rejecting the treaty by means of a negative vote in the Netherlands, or letting it exist in some kind of legal and political limbo while the Dutch government decides how to react to a potential negative result, would sap what energy and determination exist for reforms in Ukraine. So paradoxically, if we assume that at least some of the initiators of the Dutch referendum care about democracy and citizens, their democratic impulse might kill the attempts to make democracy mean something in Ukraine. This would be a strange outcome indeed.

 

Enlargement, EU law, Europe in the news, Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, the Netherlands

Between Scylla and Charybdis: how will the Dutch Presidency connect our Union to citizens?

The flow of refugees from the war zones around Syria has become more and more a test to the European Union. This is also the case for the Dutch government, which will have the EU Presidency in the coming months. Before the EU-Turkey summit on November 29 last year, the Second Chamber in the Dutch parliament had a firm message to Prime Minister Rutte before he left for Brussels: Turkey needs to increase its border controls and shelter refugees in Turkey, and there will be no concessions on the accession of Turkey to the EU. The Christian-Democratic MP Pieter Omtzigt remarked on the latest Commission progress report: “It is better to call this a deterioration report.”[1]

The EU-Turkey summit made it clear how many European political leaders struggle with the refugee problem. Next to a package of measures to substantially reduce the flow of refugees—including 3 billion in support for the establishment of camps, health and education—there was a promise for visa liberalization. The talks on Turkish accession will be resumed.[2] European leaders, including the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte, had to pull all the stops to make a “deal” with Turkey.

Whether the accession negotiations with Turkey will really take off is not clear. The Dutch Presidency does not want to relax any of the existing criteria for enlargement, as has declared again and again. It is also striking that the chapter that will be re-opened, does not follow the Commission’s current policy. This new policy puts the most difficult chapters at the start of negotiations, so that a candidate builds a track-record of its performance during the accession period. In the Turkish case this would include issues like respecting the rights of minorities and improving the functioning of the judiciary. Evidently, both Brussels and Ankara were not yet ready to engage in this litmus test.

The main question that arises is whether the opening of some chapters is nothing more than an attempt to polish the Turkish international reputation after the shooting down of a Russian yet. There is no real intention to let Turkey eventually join. At the same time, and this is the problematic issue, European citizens are given the impression that Turkish EU membership is still feasible. An important group of these citizens has, as confirmed by recent research, no interest whatsoever to allow Turkey join the EU.

Comparative research shows that among citizens, in addition to a Euro-positive discourse, several discourses exist that are very critical of more European integration and further enlargement.[3] In the Netherlands, but also in Germany, there are at least two critical discourses. The first one would like to empower citizens in the EU and make the Union more democratic. This discourse emphasizes a deepening of existing cooperation in which citizens should be more involved in European decision-making. Enlargement is not categorically rejected but is only relevant in the long run.

The second critical discourse is much more radical and points to all kinds of problems with the Union. Expansion has become, according to this discourse, too costly, the participants refer to the Eastern enlargement. Moreover, the discourse also points at the increased competition on the labor market, which reduced wages and contributed to higher unemployment rates. Accession of Turkey is rejected because, in the words of some these participants, “Islam and democracy do not mix.”

These discourses show that many are not ready to have Turkey play a role in the Union. Many citizens do not understand the recent move of European politicians to offer EU membership to Turkey as a possible solution for the migration crisis. The main challenge of the Dutch Presidency is to get around these two issues in a way that is understood and appreciated by European citizens. This requires broad political and popular discussion about the direction Europe is heading in a way in which citizens can be better involved. It requires a clear political debate on whether Turkey could become a EU member. It also requires a discussion with these very same citizens on migration and the current influx of refugees. This debate is not only a European one, but also a national debate, since these issues also affects national politics. This puts the Dutch Presidency for the exceptional and difficult task, both in Europe and the Netherlands, to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis. Without committing to such a debate, especially in these two difficult issues, Dutch citizens will lose confidence in European solutions, and eventually in Dutch politics.[4]

[1] http://nos.nl/artikel/2071400-strenge-opdracht-aan-rutte-voor-top-eu-turkije.html

[2] http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2015/11/29-eu-turkey-meeting-statement/

[3] B. Steunenberg, S. Petek en C. Rüth (2011) ‘Between Reason and Emotion: Popular discourses on Turkey’s membership of the EU’ South European Society 16 (3): 449-68 (zie http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13608746.2011.598361); A. Dimitrova, E. Kortenska en B. Steunenberg (2015) Comparing Discourses about Past and Future EU Enlargements: Core Arguments and Cleavages, MAXCAP Working Paper Series, No. 13, August 2015 (zie http://www.maxcap-project.eu/system/files/maxcap_wp_13_2.pdf).

[4] A Dutch version of this post can be found at De Hofvijfer, http://www.montesquieu-instituut.nl/id/vjzxjbs5gihk/tussen_scylla_en_charybdis_hoe_verbindt

European Parliament, Future of the EU, the Netherlands

Debating the European Parliament is possible

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On 6 June, in the municipal house of the city of The Hague, a roundtable debate took place, entitled ‘Towards a new parliament? The European Parliament after the 2014 elections‘. The invited speakers featured both prominent academics like Christophe Crombez (Stanford University/University of Leuven) and Claes de Vrees (Univeristy of Amsterdam), politicians like Wim van de Camp (a Member of the European Parliament from the Christian Democrats), and the expert Tom de Bruijn (former Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the EU and current member of the Dutch Council of State, also an external teaching Fellow at the Institute of Public Administration). The debate was organized by the Institute of Public Administration of Leiden University and the Standing Group of the European Union of the European Consortium for Political Science Research (ECPR) with the support of the European Commission Representation to the Netherlands, the Dutch Minisitry of Foreign Affairs and the Hague municipality which co-sponsored the debate. The roundtable took place in the large atrium of the municipality, while somewhere upstairs negotiations on the new city government were still under way.

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Most of the public were academics – the debate was part of the 7th Pan-European Conference on the EU – but, quite amazingly, people from all walks of life showed up as well – from secondary school students to journalists to retired civil servants. If anything, the full hall and lively discussion showed that debating the future of Europe with a broader public is not only necessary, but also possible.

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The moderator, Joop Hazenberg, asked a number of questions about the speakers’ assessment of the results of the European Parliament elections, their vision of the future priorities and the future President of the Commission. Then there were questions from the floor.

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Two of the speakers – Crombez and de Vreese were more positive than many may have expected on the entry of populist parties in the European parliament, rightly observing that these parties represent views that also have their place and are healthy for the debate. Van de Camp suggested that low turnout in EP elections is the result of lack of education on the EU in secondary schools, a view which was challenged by a member of the audience who was a secondary school pupil.

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De Vreese shared results from his public opinion work which suggest that even more liberal parts of the Dutch electorate are negative towards some member states citizens. This left the audience wondering what the current views and expectations of the Dutch public are with regard to the Internal market.

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Van de Camp was quite optimistic about Dutch companies taking advantage of the final opening of the market for services, yet did not respond to questions on how this would affect the free movement of labour in the Netherlands. De Bruijn highlighted a common energy policy as an urgent priority for Europe. The questions touched on EMU, human rights and the EU, internal market and the selection of the new Commission president. On the latter, the members of the panel were divided: while Crombez felt that making Mr. Juncker the next Commission President would strengthen democracy in the EU, de Brujin pointed out that Mr Juncker was not even on the list of the European People’s Party candidates. With this, a lively debate was finished as one of the highlights of an even livelier conference. This format mixing politicians and academics and using a public venue seems to hold some promise for all involved: academics, politicians, experts and the public.The very exchange of views is creating a better awareness where democracy in the EU is weak and what we can do to change this.

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Europe in the news, Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, Public opinion, the Netherlands

The EU’s Budget Negotiations and the Dutch Government: A Commentary

The Dutch government’s mission for last week’s budget negotiations, which had to be secured by Prime Minister Rutte, was three-fold: First, to maintain the 1 billion euro rebate on The Netherlands’ contribution to the EU. Second, to lower total EU spending. This goal might have seemed ambitious, given that new EU budgets had always been higher than the previous one, and given that the European Commission had asked for and increase of 5,5 per cent compared to the old 2007-2013 budget.

Third, Rutte’s goal was to modernize the budget in order to create more financial room for investing in the EU’s earning capacity, in areas such as research, innovation, transport, energy and digital networks.

While the latter goal is the most substantive in nature, the first two are highly political: Rutte seemed to be particularly keen on being able to demonstrate that he could succeed in making Brussels “give in and give up”, and to show that he could come home with spoils of some sort for the national electorate.

The first of these goals has been achieved: Rutte managed to maintain the Dutch rebate. The second goal was also successfully negotiated: for the first time in the history of the EU the budget has been pushed down. This makes The Netherlands part of the winning team in last Friday’s decision making process, together with Britain, Germany, Sweden and the other net-contributors.

By contrast, Rutte was not successful in securing a more modern EU budget: spending on Competitiveness for Growth may increase by 40 per cent to more than 125 billion euro, it still remains a very modest part of the total budget (12,6 per cent compared to 32,6 per cent for regional development and 37,4 per cent for agriculture).

So it can be concluded that Rutte has succeeded politically but lost in more substantive terms. In his first response to the press, Rutte stated: “Of course it is not possible to get everything you want when you negotiate with 27 member states. But we keep our rebate, for which we fought hard, and the total budget will be smaller. That’s appropriate, because all member states have to cut their spending”.

What Rutte does not mention is that since the last budget was made, the member states have asked the EU to do more, for instance in the field of regulating the financial services and national budgets, foreign policy and fighting cross border crime. The EU institutions will have to perform these additional tasks with fewer funds. For The Netherlands, there is a clear analogy with what the present central government demands from local authorities: policy decentralization has been paired with budget cuts for municipalities.

Another part of the budget that pleased the Dutch government is the demand for all EU institutions to cut down 5 per cent of their staff in the next years. Those EU-civil servants that remain will have to work longer hours without additional compensation and will face a salary cut of 6 per cent, seen as a “token of solidarity” with indebted EU member states. This measure tallies nicely with the recurrent debate on public sector rewards in The Netherlands. Just last week, there was outrage in Dutch newspapers and TV shows in response to the news that more than 3000 EU civil servants enjoy a higher salary than the Dutch prime minister himself.

The failure to truly modernize the EU’s budget is seen by many as a missed opportunity to use the budget negotiations as stating an ambition for Europe, rather than underlining the popular perception that EU budgets are more about finding a “gloomy compromise between political opportunism and subsidy addiction” as the Dutch Commissioner Neelie Kroes for Europe’s Digital Agenda called the budget agreement in the papers.

In sum, Rutte succeeded in achieving the two political goals that prevent him from losing political prestige domestically, but he failed to triumph in terms of creating more common added value for Europe, by moving away from the old economy and embrace the new economy. This can be taken as an indication of Europe’s long road ahead, both in terms of economic recovery and in terms of increasing multi-level political legitimacy.

Britain, Economic policy and the Single Market, Euro, Future of the EU, Regional policy and co-operation, Social policy and anti-discrimination, Uncategorized

Challenges for European regions: social-economic problems and the need for more Europe-wide democracy

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Randstad Regio last week in Brussels, the question arose what the future is for European regions. The economic crisis seems to strengthen the tendency towards centralization both in the European Union (for example, fiscal policy making) as well as in its member states. Still, regions as well as municipalities could play an important role in the Union that is troubled by limited legitimacy. Many citizens do not regard the Union as the government that is providing public services to them.

The economic crisis has led, as an emergency measure, to closer European cooperation on fiscal policy making. With the coming into force of the Fiscal Compact, the member states have designed a complex arrangement of fiscal norms as well as monitoring devices to control national government spending. What is fascinating about this development is that the increase of European fiscal power will reinforce a call for a European view on social-economic policy. Fiscal and social-economic policy making often go hand-in-hand and cannot be easily disconnected. National budgets were often used to combat economic stagnation and to stimulate economic growth and employment. Moreover, these problems have a strong spatial component, because economic problems are not the same in all parts of the EU (or a country if you wish), while solutions to these problems often have a strong regional component. Here lies a first challenge to European regions in the coming years. How can they support and contribute to social and economic development, together with others? And how can regions participate in the further development of these policies both at the national and the European level? In my view, their input will be essential for the success of these policies.

The second and but connected issue relates to the role of citizens in Europe—since 2013 is the year of the European Citizen, it warrants further attention. In his speech on the future of Europe David Cameron mentions one point I agree with and that is that citizens still have a problem identifying Europe as a government for them. I disagree with Cameron that a possible British exit would be the right answer to this problem, but that is a different issue. It seems that so far we have not given a good answer to this problem. In a reply to Cameron, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz, proposes to have more transparency and ‘open’ debates in Europe. I am not convinced that this is the way to go.

Our national governments, including regions, are struggling with the increased mobility of goods, persons and services, while citizens also would like to see their local and national choices being respected. In trying to be as efficient and effective as possible, the Union seems to have taken on more and more tasks over time. Many problems nowadays have cross border effects suggesting that solutions need to be developed at the European level. But is that really necessary? Not all problems with cross border effects need to be resolved by Brussels. Not all problems put on the European agenda need to lead to Europe-wide legislation. Subsidiary needs to be taken seriously, also when it concerns the distribution of tasks between national and sub national governments. Unfortunately, for many the consequences of greater mobility are not yet clear. Moreover, often this discussion is dominated by nationalism and populist rhetoric. Still, what is needed is a discussion about the role of various levels of governments in Europe, including regions. If we want to be democratic, we may have to live with some policy inefficiency. When regional governments can no longer adapt their policy to the demands of their citizens, our democracies will be in danger. That is a second challenge for all of us, also for regions!

Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, Public opinion

The European Commission vs. the People

The Commission has recently published its vision about the future of European integration. The report is more than ambitious calling for full banking, economic, budgetary and political integration, including ‘dedicated fiscal capacity for the euro area’ which I believe means taxation powers for the EU. Here is the assessment of the Commission about the present state of EU’s legitimacy:

The Lisbon Treaty has perfected the EU’s unique model of supranational democracy, and in principle set an appropriate level of democratic legitimacy in regard of today’s EU competences. ..it would be inaccurate to suggest that insurmountable accountability problems exist. (p.35)

Wow, wait a minute! P e r f e c t e d    the model of supranational democracy?! Appropriate level of democratic legitimacy?! Are the Commissioners living on the same planet as the rest of us? According to data from autumn 2012, fewer than 1 in 3 Europeans said they trust the EU. 60% don’t trust the EU. For only 31% of European citizens the EU ‘conjures’ [sic] a positive image, while for 28% it ‘conjures’ a negative one. In late 2011 only 45% of European expressed satisfaction with the way democracy works in the EU. 43% were not satisfied with the ‘perfected model of supranational democracy’.

And what about the impact of the Lisbon Treaty? Here is a graph of the trust Europeans have in the different EU institutions. By the way, the Commission currently stands at 36% (click to enlarge the graph).

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The trend is quite clear from a bird’s eye-view, but let’s zoom in on the period after the Lisbon Treaty entered into force:

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Trust in EU institutions has decreased by more than 20% (from its 2009 levels) so that currently even the directly-elected European Parliament doesn’t get the trust of more than half of the European population. The Lisbon Treaty has perfected things indeed.

Finally, let’s look more specifically at what people think about EU’s expansion into some of the policies mentioned in the report. An absolute majority of Europeans consider that it is only for the national governments to make decisions about public debt (51%), unemployment (58%), social welfare (68%), taxation (68%) and pensions (73%).

If these are not ‘ insurmountable accountability problems’, I don’t know what is. For all its ambition, the Commission offers few answers how the reforms will be pushed through in the face of such strong opposition from the people. There is no way to proceed behind the backs of the citizens, and there is no magic trick to earn their trust overnight. The Commission might be applauded for expressing a bold vision for future Europe, but some reality check is in order.