June 3, 2014
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so the old saying goes. Yet, judging by much of the hysteria since the Parliamentary elections last week many would have us believe that the EU is in urgent need of fixing. EU Perspectives is going to stick its neck out and propose that, contrary to what every analyst the length and breadth of the European continent is proposing, the EU is not broken and it does not need fixing. What the EU does urgently require in the coming weeks, months and years ahead are cool heads on strong soldiers, the debunking of the Farage, Le Pen myth and much, much better national reporting of EU affairs.
Since the results of the Parliamentary elections were announced last week everyone from Francois Hollande to David Cameron, from Tony Bair to Jean-Claud Juncker, from The Economist to The Guardian – you name the man or the rag – is repeating the same mantra over and over again: the EU needs to be reformed. Like the sheep on George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” who bleat Napoleon the Pig’s prescribed refrain “four legs good, two legs bad”, every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be of the opinion that the EU is in urgent need of reform. Reform or die. Reform of face melt down. Reform or see the EU collapse. Reform and the EU may just be able to live to see another day.
Yet how to fix the EU seems to beyond the wit and wherewithal of most who shout the loudest for change. That is because were they to stop and think about it there is nothing much that requires urgent action. The calls for reform are more of a knee-jerk reaction to anti-establishment fringe parties than because there is a rational need to unravel the existing structure and start all over again.
The EU’s core policies – be it agriculture, finance, competition, fisheries or the internal market are constantly being reformed anyway. What many fail to conceptualise is that the EU is not a static organisation that stopped for tea at three o’clock in the afternoon on Monday, 25th March, 1957. It’s policies – be they agriculture, immigration, customs, trade or infrastructure are in a constant state of flux. There are in-built mechanisms which ensure that the EU’s core policies are reformed, altered, streamlined or repealed to take account of changing circumstances. Today’s Common Agricultural Policy is by no means the same beast it was in the 1950’s. European digitisation has only been able to keep pace because regulations are in place to try and keep up with technological changes. The common fisheries policy is a creature of Europe’s concerns regarding fishermen’s livelihoods and sustainable fish-stocks, not the policies of the 1970’s where everyone could happily fish the seas to oblivion. Legislation on air pollution, waste management, polluted rivers are regularly updated to take account of changing circumstances.
So if not the polices then what? The Treaties? A far trickier issue altogether. To recall, the current Treaties were negotiated not so long ago. It took years of hard bargaining, negotiations and late-night deals to flesh out the existing Treaties. Do the Heads of States really have the stomach to start that all over again just to please a doomed British Prime Minister or French President? Hardly. As Angela Merkel, quite clearly spelt out, in Westminster no less, those who are looking to the German Head of State to help redesign the European architecture are, “… in for a disappointment.”
Germany has no interest what so ever in renegotiating the Treaties. A few concessions may be tossed here and there to placate the uppity toddlers but there really is nothing left to bargain for other than perhaps the complete withdrawal of the UK from the EU. There is no middle ground for Cameron to cling onto no matter how much he tries to convince himself there is.
Which brings us to the central point of this piece which is that, all things considered, the EU is doing as good a job as can be expected given the economic crisis it has been shackled with. Once the clouds of economic doom finally begin to lift the EU is actually pretty well placed to forge ahead and create a sustainable economy for the benefit of all and not an economy of the elites.
Consider the following points by way of example. Regardless of what national doomsayers would have had us believe in the past few years the Euro has not disintegrated. It has not collapsed. It is not dead in the dust. In fact, having survived the Greek crisis, it is possibly stronger than ever before. Greece has not left the EU in spite of the austerity measures imposed upon it. Nor has Spain, Portugal, Ireland or Cyprus for that matter precisely because they know better than Farage, Marine Le Pen or Grillo they are much better in than out.
A much needed Banking Union to help prevent the mistakes of the past is close to completion. Regulations on banker’s bonuses are being negotiated. The much despised and detested data roaming charges are about to be abolished, British pensioners can retire to the sun in either France or Italy and French and Italian Chefs can work or find fame in London. In short the EU has dared to tackle all the issues that aggrieve and irritate voters. Politicians such as David Cameron and Nick Clegg, on the other hand, have singularly failed to address any of these matters during their time in office.
The EU is ticking along and doing exactly what it has been designed to do – encourage cross-border trade, regulate cross-border malpractices and support the rule of law. The EU does not need reform. It is failing politicians who need the EU to reform to save their necks.
As argued elsewhere on EU Perspectives the EU is an organic constitution with it’s roots deeply embedded in the soil. Farage and Le Pen will soon discover that the EU is much harder to uproot than they think. Right-minded politicians, rather than showing fear of the loud-mouth bullies whose only agenda is to block rather than propose positive change, need to stare them down and point out their flawed arguments.
Angela Merkel’s party won a decisive victory in no small part for her handling of the financial crisis and the many challenges the EU has faced in recent years. She is the archetypal cool head on strong soldiers that the EU is lucky to have at this moment in time. For exactly the same reason Christine Lagarde would be an excellent Commission President. She has no political affiliations, is doing an excellent job at calming ruffled feathers in the IMF after the Dominique Straus Kahn debacle and looks like an expert at pointing out Farage’s defective logic.
The other critical change the EU must somehow try and correct is the biased reporting of EU affairs in the national media. So long as the national media present a skewered view of what is happening in Brussels it will be game, set and match to the eurosceptics who are adept at flagging half-truths and fears.
How to persuade editors of national rags to do just that when it is so much easier to lambast the EU rather than offer balanced impartial reporting of good stories alongside the bad is anyone’s guess. Answers on a postcard.