Four recent quotes:
Angela Merkel: “We need more Europe, a budget union, and we need a political union first and foremost, we must, step by step, cede responsibilities to Europe.”
David Cameron: “If you think you can just establish a European Parliament and a flag and everyone will be loyal to it, that’s nonsense.”
Esko Aho (former Finnish Prime Minister) : “Europe is top of the world in designing strategies but is slow in acting”
Michael Rake (Chair, BT) “ There has been too much intellectual discussion … We’ve spent too much time focusing on the Lisbon Treaty rather than the Lisbon Agenda. Europe is facing huge competition from the South and the East in a globalized economy. It is very difficult for politicians to deal with this. It takes huge courage to say the truth clearly and to follow-up on it. It will require huge levels of leadership to bring us together now.”
All four are spot on. The crisis of the eurocrisis is slowly making leaders realise that we now live in a different world to that when the EU was first started in a small way in 1956. The processes, the mental attitude of the Euro-elites, are out of date. Forming an ever closer union by small steps so no-one would notice is no longer valid. “Unity in diversity” is valid only if the emphasis is on “unity”. Those who prioritize “diversity” are those who are now holding back the European dream in todays’ world. The most recent example being the squabbles over the European Patent Office. It brings considerable economic benefit to European companies in the global market place. Delayed and stalled because of languages and location squabbles.
If you want to prioritize diversity then you need to accept a much looser, more fragmented Europe. That’s what Cameron would want; it’s not what the Europhiles have professed they want. Now is the time , as Merkel says, to move authority to Brussels and away from national decisions.
But there is a catch and Cameron identifies it perfectly. Well two catches. The EU institutions in Brussels are not fit for this new purpose. They were designed for a different world and a different purpose (even as recently as the Lisbon treaty). They are not right in structural terms (and certainly not in efficiency terms) and neither in terms of the internal culture. A stronger centre cannot work with intra-institutional bickering.
The second reason is demonstrated daily in the streets of Spain and Greece and other member states. The “democratic deficit” long agonised over but rarely tackled in a serious manner (Mark Leonard points out the German problem) becomes a democratic nightmare if powers are transferred a la Merkel to the existing Brussels structure. It is noticeable how little the weak European Parliament has been involved in the crisis of the eurocrisis. The “secret” cabal of wise men (Juncker, van Rompuy, Draghi and Barroso) asked to come up with a vision excludes the Parliament.
The EU has been built-in the crab-like culture of hidden alleyways. In many ways it has been successful (again Cameron points out the real impact of low-cost air travel and cheaper roaming charges: pragmatic not intellectual).
A new European Union is called for: a strong Parliament for democratic control: a single President presiding, subject to Parliament over a European civil service (a reformed Commission) who are accountable to the Parliament in far more detail and authority than “co-decision” can ever achieve.
But it is essential to gain public support. Not through fear as demonstrated in the recent Irish vote. Not through bullying and threats as we are seeing before the Greek vote; not through symbolism as Cameron warns against; but through a bottom up, citizens led new Europe.
That is what the Year of Active Citizenship should be about rather than extolling the virtues of the current Commission. Let us not repeat the mistake of the Convention. It started with the aim of bringing Europe closer to the people (surely the wrong way round but let’s overlook that) and ended up under the Kerr/Amato insiders smug approach of a constitution of supreme legal and bureaucratic sub-clauses. A ratings agency would have used its lowest junk score.
More Europe? Yes. But not more of the same Europe.