More Europe? yes, but not this one.

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  The processes, the mental attitude of the Euro-elites, are out of date.  Forming an ever closer union by small steps so no-one would notice is no longer valid.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.


More Europe or More European?

“More Europe”;  “Less Europe”:  calls triggered by the eurozone crisis and the inability of the politicians to solve it for more than a few months or even weeks at a time.   Pro-Europeans seek More Europe; euroseptics seek and look forward to the demise of the EU, or at least its fading away to a trading alliance.

The euro crisis highlights a major weakness of the EU, one known for many years. The Euro-elite quite simply ignore the citizens.  The Monnet method, little by little so no-one notices has been exploded.  Everyone notices now (except the euro-elite of course).

Do we have a European Union of citizens?  We take advantage of its many advantages from cheaper  roaming phone calls, ease of low-cost flights, open borders and a common currency for many, no visas and only slightly longer border queues for the rest.  But the crisis has shown the cultural fault lines.   North/South; hardworkers/skivers; tax payers/tax avoiders.  A stereotype blame game.   Perceptions are far ahead of reality.

Unity in diversity, perhaps the weakest euro-jargon phrase ever thought up, hardly papers over the cracks. Indeed it has become the clarion call for less Europe.

The Euro-elite call for more Europe, for a more cultural Europe.   Mega superstars,  Rem Koolhaas and Luc Tuymans, riding on global success and commercial marketing, call for deeper citizenship based on a shared culture.   Throughout history there have been sharing of cultures in architecture, in classical music, in some literary areas.  The Beatles to Lady Gaga to  Adele transcend anything the Eurovision Song Contest throws up.  The Soul for Europe meets in November in Berlin focussing on “civil society” and cultural values.    The Danish EU presidency brings together more eminent culture players in “Team Europe“, including the obligatory conference in Brussels for probably the same audience as all the events in Brussels attract.  The Institute of Ideas brings Euro-sceptics for a debate whether the EU will be the death of democracy.

But is the European Commission starting to wake up?   Tucked away in a corner, hidden from the headlines, it has asked us for our views on being European citizens. And on those areas we care about when we move between countries.    Moving from one country to another, baffling administrative arrangements,  discriminatory tax arrangements, denial of democratic rights. inconsistent health  and social security arrangements.

The Commission produced a very good report in 2010 on the problems of the “free movement of people”. Their scorecard on progress is a masterpiece of hiding just how few changes have taken place.

They are asking for your opinion.     If you move within the EU.. as a tourist, as a student, as a worker, a retiree. If you are in a partnership with someone from another member country, or want to live in another, or vote or fall ill, now is your chance to have your say.

“No taxation without representation” worked in 1776.  About time it worked in the EU; we  should be able to vote in national elections where we live as well as European Parliament and local.  Tax rules explicitly discriminate against fellow EU citizens.

For me it seems absurd that after 60 years European governments have done so little to facilitate free movement of people: surely the most fundamental cultural aspect of a European Union of citizens.  More Europe means just that: More European.

Make your views known.

The cultural and creative sectors contribution to the EU is fundamentally important

“We would see funds redistributed from the Common Agricultural Policy towards other programmes such as Creative Europe, which offers growth potential”

The UK Parliament’s committee looking at the European Commission’s proposed budget from 2014-20 has given  resounding support to the Creative Europe proposals. It asks the UK government to reconsider its position.  I’ve written about the committee’s previous meetings here (Ministers view); here (the sectors and EC view) and the preliminary verdict here.

The final report gives a clear overview of the Commissions’  total spending plans, far clearer than anything I can find on the Commissions’ own Europa website: openness, transparency and public accountability are not Commission virtues).

” The cultural and creative sectors contribution to the EU is fundamentally important. We heard compelling evidence that the increased budget proposed by the Commission would stimulate job creation and growth in line with the Europe 2020 strategy. In the context of domestic funding cuts, and the organisations obvious capacity for attracting EU funding, we call for the Government to support a proportionately larger budget allocation to this area, which represents only a very small proportion of the total MFF.

We also call on the Government to reconsider its position regarding the proposed financial facility. Businesses in the cultural and creative sectors often experience greater difficulty in attracting investment than their counterparts in other sectors. The Commission’s proposed financial facility could offer an important bridging mechanism between these sectors and private-sector investment.

We also call on the Government to reconsider its position regarding the proposed financial facility. Businesses in the cultural and creative sectors often experience greater difficulty in attracting investment than their counterparts in other sectors. The Commission’s proposed financial facility could offer an important bridging mechanism between these sectors and private-sector investment.

A welcome call.  It is interesting to see that the support for Creative Europe does not match the views of many of its supporters.  No mention of forging a closer European citizenship and no mention of artistic and creative benefit.  Pragmatic and to the point, perhaps a better reflection of the role of EC funding.

The report also supports increased educational spending and improved EC communications to citizens.

Will the UK government make these arguments at the EU Education and Culture meeting on 10-11 May?

Who knows?



Hollande’s cultural challenge

If Francois Hollande wins the French presidency then a major cultural challenge has been set for him.  With nearly one in five French voters expressing a preference for a racist party, and the (hopefully) outgoing president making statements which are not out of place at a le Pen rally,  France really has to get to grips with its attitude to racism.

Something is clearly wrong.  It will mean changes to current practices, in employment, in all sectors.  Current policies have clearly failed.      A President Hollande will need to mobilise a changed cultural sector to help in the anti-racism programme.  Changed?  Yes.    How open is the cultural sector, from museums, theatres, orchestras, to independent arts organisations and groups to a multi-cultural programme.   Audience extension and development.  An interesting take on the Musee de Quai Branly for example is here.  Personally I loved the architecture but really disliked the approach taken in the exhibits, as did the author.

The report in Germany on the future of museums makes an interesting point.  Ignore the headline grabbing comment about closing half the museums and focus on the comment about the need to engage closer with the tax paying public.

In addition, he argues, cultural institutions should be organised differently and [be given] more detailed targets, not only in regard to visitor numbers, but also guidelines about where visitors should come from and what age groups in particular should be attracted to the museums.

This is not only a domestic issue.  France’s soft power and cultural attraction is weakened with such a growing vote for the extreme right.   And if the right win in the second round?



More Europe? More Europeans

With austerity and unemployment rising across most of Europe now is certainly the time for more Europe.  Comments by candidate Sarkozy, seeking the racist vote were quite frankly appalling for a President or any politician seeking high office.   (“They must know which side of the Mediterraean they live in”).

I make no concessions to this view.  The closer, and to adopt a Chinese buzz word in its most progressive meaning, harmonious Europe we have the better for everyone.  It is not just a case for eurozone countries to work together or closing down out-of-date tax loopholes between countries. We need to move to a more positive approach to Europeanness at the personal level. For far too long the EU has focused on the corporate and national.  In the next period.. and starting now not waiting for the 2014-20  “Europe 2020” agenda the priority must be to bring Europeans together.

“Unity in Diversity” is being abused to mean “my diversity is paramount” as nationalism and regionalism take precedence. It is no use arguing for More Europe if the target audience, the participants are the already cosmopolitan members of European society.   At the same time I think it is useless to promote some ideal “European Culture”: a favoured viewpoint of an intellectual elite.

As a starting point I recommend this publication from the Council of Europe:  “A Handbook on Tolerance and Cultural Diversity in Europe”.   The European Year of Citizens in 2013 has a fundamental political task in taking head on politicians at local, regional and national level, the commission and civil society.

Creative Europe: “We urge you to reconsider….”

They listened to the Minister (who said no).  They listened to the European Commission and the sector (who said yes).   And they asked the Minister to reconsider.

The UK’s House of Lords Committee scrutinising the Creative Europe proposal from the European Commission came out firmly in support.  Their letter to the Minister says….

” .. we received compelling evidence from the cultural and creative stakeholders…about the economic and social benefits provided by EU funds to UK organisations and to the cultural and creative sectors across the EU more broadly.  We also note that the Commission’s proposed increase constitutes only a fraction (0.002%) of the overall allocation  for the next MultiAnnual Financial Framework for the period 2012-14. In the context of the domestic funding cuts for this sector and taking account of UK organisations obvious capacity for attracting EU funding and notwithstanding the Government’s declared  negotiating stance of achieving a real terms freeze across the next MFF, we would urge the Government to review its approach to this funding proposal”.


They were also (politely) critical of the Ministers’ failure to attend meetings with other Culture Ministers.  I woonder what they would think if they read my article of the UK Culture Ministers failure to sign the Decalogue for Culture (leaving it to a Business Minister)

The Minister has ten days to reply.

More Europe

The current eurozone financial crisis prompts calls for “more Europe”.  About time too.  For over 60 years Europhiles, and I count myself as one of them, have paid lip service to the declaration “an ever closer and deeper Union”.  It has been so much part of the Euro-mantra that is was on automatic pilot.  It never appealed to the Brits of course. They had they own micro-triumph in the drafting process of the Lisbon Constitution/Treaty which slighty watered down the phrase.

But it remains part of the Euro-DNA.  Of course it was meant to be achieved by technocratic stealth through the Monnet method: little bit at a time, keep below the radar, slow accretion, don’t upset anyone (and don’t tell the voters.. the original sin of the grand old men of the founding fathers).

The euro crisis has flushed everything out into the open.  A Euro monetary union which allowed the largest country, Germany, to ignore its own rules within a year or two of starting, surprisingly finds itself unworkable at the first real sign of trouble.

Fiscal and transfer unions are intregal parts of a monetary union.  Now is the time for ever deeper and closer to be realised.  And very quickly.

The Polish Foreign Ministers’ speech in Berlin sets out quite clearly the path ahead. Read it and lets start the ball rolling.