Thoughts

European Future

The European Union (EU) could have showed the world how peace and solidarity can be snatched from the jaws of centuries-long conflict and bigotry. It is built on common values: democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech and religion and a free press. Today however, a common bureaucracy and a common currency divide European peoples that were beginning to unite despite differences in language and culture.

Today, Europeans are feeling let down by EU institutions everywhere. From Helsinki to Lisbon, from Dublin to Crete, from Leipzig to Aberdeen. At the heart of this lies a highly political, top-down, opaque decision-making process that is presented as ‘apolitical’, ‘technical’, ‘procedural’ and ‘neutral’. Its purpose appears to prevent Europeans from exercising democratic control over their money, communities, working conditions and environment. Decisions are made in secret.

Europe’s pitiful reaction to its banking and debt crises, to the refugee crisis, to the need for a coherent foreign, migration and anti-terrorism policy, are all examples of what happens when solidarity loses its meaning.

Then look at what has happened in the UK - a vote to leave that no-one understands. That doesn't mean the UK should just ignore the EU, it can't, it has to live with it, cope with it in some way.

Some Brexit arguments are based on falsehoods in that the UK can continue with the single market without the freedom of movement as it's just a "free trade agreement". Free trade however, means removing tariffs so that companies can trade without paying different levels of tax on the goods they buy and sell. But the single market is much more ambitious. It is about harmonising all the standards and regulations that apply to goods and services across Europe, so that companies can trade with each other on a truly level playing field.

The UK at some point in the future, may wish to reverse it's decision and re-join. But that will require it to sign up to the Euro and Shengen. But before it does so, perhaps it should say it will only re-join if the EU has become more democratic in the interim. If it doesn't, several countries may have already followed the UK's lead and left, if they've been allowed to. Countries that are members of the Euro may not be allowed a say, may not be granted a referendum unless something serious happens.

There are some ways in which the EU could become more democratic and accountable. Bring about full transparency in decision-making (e.g. live-streaming meetings of the European Council, Ecofin and Eurogroup meetings, full disclosure of trade negotiation documents which will actually make it easier for Members of the European Parliament (MEP) to read them, publication of European Central Bank minutes etc.). It also requires a full-fledged European democracy, featuring a sovereign Parliament that respects national self-determination and sharing or pooling power with national Parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils. Elections of MEPs should no longer be done on "national party lines" but by people standing under European Political Party manifestos. This will stop these elections being seen as a "progress report" on the current national government and give the European Parliament (EP) a higher profile.

The EP also requires to reduce it's costs. It has a secretariat that meets in Luxembourg, committee meetings in Brussels and plenary meetings in Strasbourg and Brussels that require wholesale movement of people and materials 12 times per year. Strasbourg is the "official" seat of the Parliament but most EU institutions are based in Brussels. This is "fixed" by Treaty and France would veto any change to move to Brussels. So perhaps make it permanent in Strasbourg.

Question is, will anyone be making these arguments?

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