Thursday 30 September 2010

Calling a spade a federal method

In my last blog post, I offered a short suggestion to Grahnlaw's question of: what should we replace the term "Community method" with? My suggestion - the "Union method" - may be a pretty bland and politically correct offering, following in the tradition of the "Community method". After all, if the Community has been replaced by the Union, why not just change that aspect of the description? My alternative, the "Council method" doesn't sound right, so I would like to change it to the "States' method", since such measures generally concern the Member States simply using the EU as a forum to advance a collective goal.

Grahnlaw's response is a well argued one: when the EU acts under the ordinary legislative procedure, the Council, Commission, Parliament and ECJ are involved (or potentially involved in the case of the ECJ), so the apparatus of federal decision making is engaged, compared to the intergovernmental methods of the European Council/the Council acting on its own. It is hard to argue with this; European law has a federal character, or at least several federal characteristics. The doctrines of supremacy and direct effect ensure that European law has a binding nature quite different to international law (see Van Gend en Loos for the court's famous "new legal order" statement), and can be relied on by citizens against national laws and administration. (Direct effect is generally for invoking against the Member State, rather than against fellow private citizens (though it can be done), and the complex character of this body of law mean that European law isn't always federal in the most clear-cut manner).

It will probably be a matter of taste - who knows, the Community method label could survive for quite a while longer, and other different variations will probably surface. Avoiding "federal" may be a politically correct option, but I feel that if federal has been rejected from the Treaties in favour of "ever closer union", then adopting the f-word is a declaration of political ideology and aspiration, even if European law has a federal character. I have little problem with the term "federal method" in itself, but I'll stick with the (in my opinion) more neutral "Union method" and "States' method".

UPDATE: Grahnlaw has posted a reply on his blog. Since I think I would be largely restating my argument if I replied, I think I'll chalk it up to a matter of personal preference.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Onward, Community Soldiers

The Community method must be saved, cry the Community warriors. The European Council seems to be encroaching on Community territory: crisis after crisis has been dealt with by intergovernmental deal-making and policy taskforces set up by the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. The Lisbon Treaty had increased the powers of the European Parliament to set it on par with the Council as a co-legislator in the vast majority of policy areas, yet the Community method - where the Commission proposes and the Council and Parliament legislate and decide - seems to be threatened enough to elicit pledges of support from the Liberal and Social Democratic leaders in the EP to Commission action that takes on intergovernmentalism. Though the Commission has struck back against France over the Roma - an important and welcome development - the Commission doesn't seem to have the same leading role as it had 20 years ago.

There is no Community any more, of course. The Lisbon Treaty did away with the old pillar structure of the EU, so now there's just the Union (though the residue of the internal divisions of the pillar structure still remain within the Union).

Grahnlaw has written about the Community method and the European Council under Van Rompuy. Stanley has welcomed Van Rompuy's style of leadership, with his attempts to try and involve heads of state and government in the EU more (proposing more frequent meetings, for example), so that they take more ownership of the EU and European policies.

On the surface, involving European leaders more in the European Union is a good idea, but the embrace of this method of integration seems to be an optimistic attempt of integration through socalisation of the European leadership. It's important that there's solidarity in Europe, but I cannot see being extended by monthly meetings by the European Council. Member States show solidarity out of community spirit, but also because belonging to the same Union has brought similar interests. Intergovernmentalism is a necessary part of the EU, but the European Council is a bandage for crises, and should be restricted in its role.

The increase in power of the European Council in comparison to the Commission also weakens the EP. If part of the role of the EP is to scrutinise the executive, by taking over the responsibilities of the Commission in setting policy, the European Council renders the EU less transparent and accountable. It is also bad for most Member States. Supranationalism - the Community method - is a good check on the big Member States. When diplomacy, intergovernmentalism and vetos (whether formal or informal) are strong features of the system, the big 3 can dominate, since it's easy to steamroller small objecting states, and when there's a Member State consensus, the EP may be faced with a fait accompli. In comparison, QMV, though voting is weighted according to population size, levels the playing field by making big states more open to conpromise because of the need for coalition building, and the Parliament, though it may encounter consensus in the Council under QMV, is not faced with a fait accompli from on high and may not be as inhibited in the legislative process.

The "Community method" is key to the (more) transparent, open and more democratic decision-making of the EU. It also has a longer-term quality to it as decisions do not have to take place within the pressured short-termist deal-making of a summit. As I have written before, the importance of the supranationalist elements of the EU is not just based on the enthusaism of federalists, but is a key part of the good will in, and the smooth running of, the intergovernmental side.

So I think that there's a need to defend the "Community method". There is a new group set up earlier this month by MEPs to do so: the Spinelli Group. It is a very federalist group, and I am torn over it. On one hand, it is important that the Community method is not circumvented by a domineering European Council. On the other hand, the group seems to be a new form of the "European Alliance" that Verhofstadt has called for before, and which I strongly reject. The Community method and the EP will be well served by strengthening the coherence and political will of the Europarties and developing a clear, visible politics for the citizen. Member State pacts cannot be successfully countered in the loong run by cosy consensuses in the Parliament. If the Spinelli Group focused on defending Parliament and strengthening the Europarties, then it would be more relevant and attractive than a federalist's club.

[As for Grahnlaw's question of how the Community method and the EU's way of operating should be termed now, perhaps the "Union method" could be used in the same manner as the "Community method". Perhaps opposed to the "Council method" or "Special method"? Although that's only my suggestion to the cosmetic part of the question...]

Sunday 26 September 2010

Siehst du mal gern la télévision?

Es gibt zwei Grunde, warum ich moechte, andere Sprachen zu sprechen. Wenn man eine andere Sprache lernt, entdeckt man natuerlich eine andere Kultur – man kann andere Musik, Geschichte und historische Perspektiven, und vielleicht noch Essen besser erleben. Und man kann fremde Sendungen sehen.

Ich liebe, Sendungen auf anderen Sprachen zu sehen; sogar Sendungen, die ich wahrscheinlich nicht sehen moechte, wenn es auf Englisch waere. Sie sind Kuriositaeten oder Raetseln, die mir einladen, sie zu verstehen. Obwohl das wahrscheinlich einen geschwollen Grund ist, Familien im Brennpunkt zu sehen. Oder Das Familiengericht (das nicht so informierend ueber deutsche Jura ist!).

Sendungen wie Familien im Brennpukt oder Das Familiengericht sind vielleicht nicht gute Beispiele, aber es gibt Sendungen, die interessanter sind. Manchmal sendet irische Kanale Filme auf Deutsch, Franzoesisch, Spanisch, Daenisch, usw., und man bekommt Geschichte ueber grosse und kleine Themen, in unterschiedlichen Stilen. Es gibt anderseits Sendungen, die ganz bekannt scheint in ihrer Stil oder Thema, aber sie sind so gut gemacht, wie (die schwedische Sendung) “Wallander”. Es wird manchmal von BBC Four mit Untertiteln gesendet, und es hat mehr Qualitaet als der BBCs eigenen Wallander. Englisch wird durch amerikanischen und britischen Sendungen und Filme gefoerdert; andere europaeische Sprachen waeren besser bekannt und besser gelernt, wenn es mehr Sendungen auf anderen Sprachen in anderen Laender sind.

Besonders intrigierend sind die Komoedien. Komoedien erzaehlt man etwas mehr ueber andere Laender, aber solche Sendungen sind sehr schwer zu verstehen. Sie sind vielleicht die grossten Raetseln, aber sie sind auch – hoffentlich – sehr lohnend. Ich moechte noch wissen, was der M. Sarkozy der “Les Guignols” gerade gesagt hat! Aber wird Sarkozy noch ein Thema sein, wenn ich genug Franzoesisch weiss? Ich soll fleissiger daran arbeiten...

Kannst du gute Deutsche Sendungen (oder Sendungen auf andere Sprachen) empfehlen?

Wednesday 15 September 2010

The Commission bravely missed a good opportunity to stay quiet

"This is not how you speak to a major power like France," said France's junior EU minister, echoing Chirac's comments on the support of some eastern European member states for the Iraq War: "It is not really responsible behavior. It is not well brought-up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet."

It was a response to yesterday's strong position taken by Commissioner Reding on the treatment - the mass deportations - of the Roma in France:

"My patience is wearing thin. Enough is enough," Ms Reding said, while pounding her fist on the pulpit.

France will be taken to court by the Commission for breaching EU law, which does not permit mass explusions based on ethnicity, which seems to be have been explicit French policy according to a French memo on the policy. Though the explusions were taking place too quickly for a case-by-case approach (which would have been permitted), French officials had been reassuring the Commission that they would deport people on a case-by-case basis. This deception by French officials empowered to discuss the matter in Brussels has upset Reding too.

I'm glad the Commission is finally taking a strong, outspoken stance on the issue. Reding had made an earlier statement, but this goes much further and has rightly attracted more attention, and is a welcome counter to attempts to make the explusions respectable by Europeanising the issue.

France's response highlights the government's view on Europe: as a place where a privillaged few major powers are treated differently to the smaller member states. This is a destructive attitude for the EU, since it erodes the confidence of small states and of citizens in the Commission when this vision is played out. When Paris feels that it can issue a lettres de cachet and not be effected by the rule of law, it naturally strikes at the heart of a system backed up only by the rule of law. It is easy for the Commission to become trapped between the big states and to play down its voice when they verge on breaking the law, so it's great to see the Commission bravely miss an opportunity to remain quiet.

You can watch Reding's statement here.

Sunday 12 September 2010

UK: In or Out? (Or just shake it all about?)

There's a campaign for an "In or Out?" referendum in the UK. Some think it's a good idea, others think it's a bad idea. It's a question that will need to be asked in the UK at some point, since it's hard to have a clear policy on how to act in the EU if the UK government outwardly agrees with - or at least plays along with - the eurosceptic press, but deals with the reality of EU membership when it comes to business. As Eurogoblin has explained, it's not a very high priority issue for the British public, which makes the opinion polls on the matter interesting: if people don't really care, does that mean that their opinion is "soft" and may change or harden depending on a referendum campaign? It has the potential to make a referendum campaign very interesting. Eurogoblin, in an article on Tony Blair's book, has also touched on another interesting point: the difficulty a eurosceptic party - or one that makes eurosceptic noises - has in winning power in the UK. Or, to put it another way, the difficulties such parties have in appearing mainstream and acceptable.

It's unlikely that it will get anywhere soon. Hannan is far from the mainstream in the UK, and even he seems to present it as a long-term campaign to change the attitudes for government so it will eventually happen.

Still, if it ever happens, and there's a "Yes" vote, what about holding referendums on the opt-outs? To see how far "In" people want to be, if they want to be in the EU at all.

Thursday 9 September 2010

US organisation funds groups in Europe to destabilise governments

Well, not really, but an article in the Guardian about the Washington-based Freedom Works, which is advising the Taxpayers' Alliance on Tea Party-style tactics has a great line:

"The Taxpayers' Alliance, an influential campaign group that calls for tax cuts and low government spending, is being advised by Freedom Works, a powerful Washington organisation credited with helping to destabilise the Obama administration through its mobilisation of 800,000 grassroots activists."

I couldn't resist.

So will Tea Partying catch on in Europe? I doubt it: Europeans are wedded to our welfare states, as we are often reminded, and tend to hang on to the simple equation "taxes go in, public services come out". And public services are still popular. In fact, I think that public services in Europe help add a lot to national and local identity - it is quite a surreal situation when the Tories, who seem to like the idea of privatising the Royal Mail, float the idea of the "Big Society", Cameron suggests that communities run their own post office.

I'll run that by you again. Cameron, who has talked about "Broken Britain", sees the post office as a creature of the community, but I doubt the Royal Mail will get much Conservative sympathy. Sometimes I wonder how people underestimate the value of public institutions in community and national identity. They are a show of solidarity between different parts of the country, mean that people have similar experiences and have a joint commitment to institutions that form a part of a community's past, present and future. Naturally it can be argued that the Royal Mail just isn't that relevant or central to life anymore, but when there are more faith schools, and free schools or academies, it's hard to see how integration or cohesion can work effectively. But enough of that aside.

Tea Party-ers ("Partiers" doesn't look quite right) will likely remain thin on the ground. The mood of austerity is in the air, and governments are cutting services to help pay off debt. Arguing for more cuts to services in this atmosphere just to cut taxes would signal that the state was in full retreat, and effectively abondoning people to the recession after asking taxpayers to pay for the mess the banks made. Saying that the government would be seen as "abondoning people" might seem a very strange thing to say, and is unlikely to make much sense to people who just want the government out of their lives. But I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration - even if it's a very crude generalisation - to say that European history has a long and rich theme of trying to integrate and cope with different sections of society, to become more inclusive. This has been true of the US, of course, with civil rights, and also with a lot of societies. But I think that government in Europe is seen as a way of including people in society, if used properly, and as a part of the community (even if the idea is badly battered).

After all, in an era of popular sovereignty, does it make sense to talk of the state as an alien force simply to be resisted?

Even the Tea Party Movement isn't myopic over the usefulness of the state; they want to use it like any other political movement - to achieve their ends. The only policy I'm aware of, is their support for ID cards for immigrants in Arizona. As Gulf Stream Blues convincingly argues, this is more government - in that, logically, more people will need to carry ID papers for it to work. The Tea Party Movement might not have a strict agenda, which might make it hard to combat, but I doubt that it will be truly popular on this side of the Atlantic. It may still end up being an influential part of the debate though, like the Taxpayers' Alliance who are a rent-a-quote for outrage on public taxation and spending.

So that's my two eurocents, and I hope that I'll never find myself writing about Tea Parties again. We've our own home-grown right-wingers to worry about.

Edit: I wrote Freedom House instead of Freedom Works, which was what the article was actually about; it's been changed now.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

The Commissarial Speech

Yesterday we had Barroso's first State of the Union speech (though it's not the first State of the Union speech we've had in the EU). The Euroblogosphere's reviews have been very critical (see coverage by the critical Grahnlaw, Eurogoblin; and the neutral-critical Rose, and Charlemagne, for example, though Eva en Europa (in Spanish) has written a good defence). So was it any good?

The State of the Union

The title of the speech caused the most problems; both in the image it conjured of the US State of the Union speech and the Euroblogosphere's (and perhaps also the MEP's) low expectations. When the speech ended, Schulz (S&D) and Kaminski (ECR) exclaimed: You did not mention the state of the union! Indeed, the structure, tone and content of the speech reveals a lot more about the state of the union and what kind of expectations we should have. Because this wasn't a State of the Union speech - it was a Commissarial Speech.

What do I mean by a "Commissarial Speech"? If the style was US-Presidential, then the substance and tone was European-constitutional-monarchial. It struck me as a kind of Queen's Speech; that Barroso is setting out the kind of policies his Commission will strive for, rather than an assessment of the state of the union by a strong executive. In this regard the Commission isn't even as powerful as a European parliamentary cabinet government: though it has formally the same legitimacy, it doesn't have the same, whipped, dependable parliamentary majority that most member states have.

A Step Towards a Parliamentary Europe:

This left its mark throughout the speech, with Barroso talking about a special relationship between the EP and the Commission, of own resources and economic governance. The budget plan of 7 years, recently defended by the Commission, was subject to a compromise to the EP's argument that it should be in line with its term: Barroso proposed a 10 year budget plan, with a halfway break to bring it in line with "both institution's terms". The implied emphasis on Parliament was again shown when Schulz derided the speech as being all things to all parties. Though Barroso is justly accused of giving in to the Franco-German alliance, this overlooks the fact that the Commission now needs a parliamentary base to function effectively in an independent fashion (defining "independent" as independent of the Council or a small group of member states). Barroso's appeals to the Parliament aren't just hollow - though it falls into the trap of aiming at a "pro-European majority", something that I've criticised before - if Barroso is to achieve what he has set out to do in this speech, he will need the strong and articulate support of the European Parliament.

After all, on Barroso's big day, the Twitter-sound-bite and idea that became most meme-like was from the EP President Buzek:

"This is the first time we have a debate on the State of the Union. It is a step on the road to a parliamentary Europe."

Parliamentary Reactions:

The speech itself actually wasn't that bad, if you dropped your preconceptions about the State of the Union imagery. As Honor Mahony pointed out, it was quite good as a work programme speech (particularly for a Barroso-speech). There will be a Single Market Act to close over 100 legal bottlenecks in the single market, EU Project Bonds to help finance European projects, obligitory mention of green-collar jobs, and proposals against organised crime and to strengthen external border policing. On human rights, abuses outside the EU were specifically mentioned, but unfortunately, the Roma situation was only implied. If Barroso wanted to make a real splash with his speech, then speaking out against the French deportation policy would have certainly got more people listening!

And the reactions of our EP party leaders? Daul (EPP) waffled agreement and included a veiled attack on Ashton when he criticised the EU's invisibility in the Middle Eastern Peace Process (in fact, his speech was so boring that I found myself watching the MEPs in seat numbers 33 & 34 behind in their not-so-secret attempts to read their newspapers). Verhofstadt (ALDE) talked about Trans-European networks and own resources. He also mentioned an 86% support for economic governance in Eurobarometer - blatent spin! Sadly Verhofstadt seems as focused on a "pro-European majority" instead of articulating a coherent party vision for the EU as Barroso. (Numbers 33 & 34 used this time to text someone).

Cohn-Bendit (Greens/EFA) talked about the battle between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism/the Community method, and criticised Barroso for the invisibility of the Commission throughout the crisis. He also oddly talked about the Greek defence budget, which spent €50 billion on weapons over 10 years, and said that it was a waste of money that could be stopped/reduced if Turkey became an EU member state (though noting this can't really add anything to the actual membership debate). Kaminski (ECR) agreed with pretty much all of what Barroso said (it seems to be a regular occurance for the EU's "first official opposition"!), but worried aloud about the effect of regulation on business. Given that Barroso spoke about simplifying regulation and a Single Market Act, this seemed strange to me, but then the ECR have a habit of opining on the cost of regulation at every opportunity to maintain their free market image, even if it's not really an issue.

Binsky (United Left) spoke about the opinion polls and thought that people wanted a more social Europe. Money on education and training was needed, and there should be a ban on bank speculation. Farage (EFD) attacked Barroso as unelected and unpopular compared to his US counterpart and spoke about the unloved EU institutions; he also countered claims of a desire for "more Europe". One of the more listenable and entertaining speeches, even if I disagree with him most of the time.

Schulz (S&D), though I don't like his shouting-speech style, actually gave the best party-leader speech, in my opinion, though this may be because he came after Daul (who cannot seem to give a good pro-government speech to save his life). He demanded a financial transaction tax, and said the PES (the party is distinct from the group) would try and force the Commission to consider it via the Citizen's Initative if it didn't introduce the policy. Pledging to support the Commission against the Council, in what seems to be a constructive-opposition style speech, he also heavily criticised Barroso's Commission for being invisible during the last few months, and for only being "technically active" [my words] through releasing a statement here or there, but not taking any really public action. All parties except the EPP and EFD (I think) spoke out on the Roma.

Schulz made it clear that Barroso would be judged on his progress on the promises in his speech. but this is a bit unfair. Barroso cannot hope to do most of this without strong parliamentary support. It is up to the Europarties to try and articulate their visions for the EU, to stand up and explain the policies and decisions that need to be taken, beyond the empty appeals for pro-European feeling. The European Parliament has won mouch power in the last few years, and it now the strongest supranational institution. Whether or not a parliamentary EU develops or Barroso's policies are adopted will depend largely on the European Parliament.

The question is not if Barroso can do it, but if the European Parliament can deliver.

Monday 6 September 2010

SOTEU: My Barroso Buzzword Bingo

Tomorrow at 9am Brussels time, Barroso will make the first European "State of the Union" speech. Expectations on the Euroblogosphere aren't high for the speech, and there seem to be fears that the same sentiment might infect the European Parliament as well. In order for it to be a success, Barroso has to show that he has a vision with substance: people are not going to pay attention just because the speech comes with a "State of the Union" label attached. His vision of his second Commission wasn't exactly inspiring when he was working on his re-election by Parliament, and the Commission hasn't been as visible as Paris or Berlin (or even Van Rompuy) over the crises-ridden last few months. It's hard to see a great performance.

However, Barroso doesn't need to fear damaging his re-election (or appointment) chances, and he needs to assert his and the Commission's position more, so he could be waiting to use this to relaunch his Commission Presidency. Well, maybe.

I would hope to hear a hard-hitting defence of the Roma and their rights, along with outlining plans on the environment, economic regulation and his position on social & structural funds in the up-coming budget battles. Plans to promote debate and citizen-participation in the EU would be good, given that it's one of the biggest weakspots of the EU.

But I'm more likely to be listening out for my "Buzzword Bingo" words. has come up with the idea of people creating their 10 buzzwords to watch out for during the speech (EU, member states and other institutions are excluded). So here's my list:

1. "solidarity".
2. "pessimisim".
3. "communication".
4. "leading role".
5. "our European values". (Though it'd be a big plus if he said "the moral authority of Europe"!).
6. "sustainable".
7. "resolve".
8. "resilient".
9. "partnership".
10. "citizens".

Annoyingly, I won't be able to watch it live, so expect my comments to be late!

Thursday 2 September 2010

Arguing with the "Facts".

I've already written why I think opinion polls are unhelpful due to the difficulty in interpreting them for policy formulation. But I want to write down a few ideas on the Eurobarometer poll. (If you're interested in Eurobarometer analysis, Grahnlaw is writing a series on it).

When it comes to the interpretation of the results, I find myself caught between the pro-integrationists and Eurosceptics. My lasting impression is that there is a wide "middle ground" to be fought over EU action on the economic crisis. The 75% support for EU action has been critised (rightly) by Open Europe as giving a misleading impression of overwhelming support. Not only is it a combination of the replies of "very effective" or "fairly effective", but it doesn't show support for specific policies, and we cannot guess exactly what kind of co-operation people want.

However, Grahnlaw is right to point out that Open Europe has missed a trick here. For, while Open Europe repeat their outraged "do they take us for fools?!" line, the fact is that 75% think that EU action on the crisis would be fairly effective, and the 26% that replied "very effective", puts the EU in the position of being the organisation with the highest percentage of "very effective" replies (versus IMF, national governments, the US, the IMF, etc.). Though it should be noted that when 26% is the highest number, it indicates a fairly wide spread. That it does not indictate overwhelming support for a particular form of cooperation is correct, but it shows that people are very much open to arguments for economic governance. It's a pity that Open Europe focused only on the spin and did not feel it necessary to engage in a battle of ideas over what economic governance should mean, or why it is the wrong choice. We are treated, instead, to a declaration of what the general opinion is (or an interpretation of it), and expected to evaluate the legitimacy of our ideas - or what is politically possible - in light of them.

It seems to me odd to adopt this attitude.

What support means.

The second big battle is over the loss of trust in the EU means. The two are linked. Eurosceptics argue that the loss of trust should mean that the EU slows down and should not try and "act big" on the economic crisis. Supporters of closer EU co-operation point to the above argument that the high level of openness shows that we should press ahead. My position as an integrationist is well known to readers of this blog, so my interpretation comes with a health warning - however, I want to offer a few counter-arguments and ideas to show that the "battlefield of ideas" is still open.

First of all the argument that the drop means that the EU should not act further (or, more extreme, be abolished) based on the trust ratings is a strange argument. First of all, the trust rates for national governments are over 10% lower, and nobody is suggesting that national governments should stop mooting ideas or bringing forward policies (or, in the other extreme, being abolished to allow for more government from the "more trusted" EU level of governance). In terms of drops in support, national governments also faced a similar 6% fall in support between Eurobarometer 71.1 (Jan-Feb 2009) and 71 (September 2009), though this may be seen as a blip, given that it rose between Autumn 2008 and Jan-Feb 2009 (trust rose from 34% to 38% before falling to 32%) [see Eurobarometer 71, page 74 (PDF)]. The point is that further Eurobarometers can give more contezt, and that drops in support are not alien to national governments.

Second, the argument that the drop shows that people are "waking up to the Eurosceptic view as the reality" is also dubious to me. Between Eurobarometers 70, 71.1, and 71 (covering Spring 2008-9) shows the level of trust in the EU remaining steady at 47% (see EB 71, page 124). This was during a period where it was clear that the Lisbon Treaty was going to face a second referendum in Ireland, a fact frequently used in Eurosceptic argument of the untrustworthiness of the EU, yet at a time when the governance of the EU was so clearly highlighted, it appears the trust levels held. Looking further back, the level was at 48% in Autumn 2007, and briefly jumped up to 50% before falling to 47% (see page 31, PDF). Context is needed, and we can't link such results for non-specific questions to particular arguments easily.

So my feeling is that the Greek Eurocrisis was the main reason for the fall (but, again, it's hard to say - maybe unemployment and other economic reasons are a cause or additional causes). There are 2 arguments here. The failure of the Eurozone made people loose trust in the way the economy of the EU was being handled at an EU level, so there should be less co-operation. The lack of solidarity and the bad feeling generated by "bail-outers" and "bailees" shows that further co-ordination shouldn't be pursued. Or, that the lack of solidarity and decisiveness lead people to loose trust in the EU to help their country if the crisis hit them, or to prevent the crisis spreading to countries entailing their country to bail others out, and therefore closer and clearer co-operation and governing structures are needed.

I think both have a valid basis - though I am on the side of the latter argument, the former argument cannot just be ignored. Personally, I would say that the openness of people to EU action, as shown by the recent Eurobarometer results, indicates that it's still all to play for, and that nothing is settled.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

No National European Vision

In the EUobserver today, there's an article on Barroso's response to the Eurobarometer results. Barroso says that the member state governments have failed to defend the European project during the crisis:

""I admit that we should do more together in order to give confidence to citizens and consumers. But I also want to tell the truth: We won't solve the problems unless each nation sees the European project as its own," the Portuguese politician said.

"In fact this is not the case now. When things go well it's their merit and when they go wrong it's Brussels' fault," he added."

It's a tough position for the EU institutions, because it is hard for them to communicate with the public - hard to get information and debate on what's going on in the institutions into the mass media. The long process of passing legislation that is often technical does not help win column space in the newspapers. So I appreciate the difficulty that the institutions have in informing people about what the EU does, and the dependence of the EU on the member states to inform their citizens about the EU. However, I agree with Gawain Towler that it's not really the member states' role to promote the EU (though I don't agree with his other conclusions).

It would be nice if the national governments were candid about the good and bad work they do around the Council table, but it is unlikely to happen. Member state governments don't fall or get re-elected based on their Council voting record. Apart from that, national parties aren't designed for European politics and issues - quite simply, national parties are designed to get members elected to national office. A conflict negotiation lecturer I had in university highlighted this through referendums - generally civil society is better at running referendum campaigns because parties are more suited to getting people elected on broad policy platforms. Which is another reason why I support the PES Primaries Campaign: because making executive elections matter forces the issues of policy more clearly, and the transnational party bodies (and their national member-parties) have a clearer interest in explaining their voting records and policies. Though it is, in a way, simplistic to target institutional conditions, if these aren't changed, there will remain an in-built disincentive for explanation and debate over policy.

That's one way of promoting a "national European vision" and encouraging people to discuss what kind of policies and cooperation they want, if indeed they want it. It's all very well saying that national parties need to promote the European project - but, let's face it, it hasn't happened yet, and if things stay the same it will remain unlikely. Less blame, more ideas, please.