Petr Mach: Jettison an EU bureaucracy that serves only its own ends

The Irish Times, 02.08.2005

published: 14.01.2005, read: 4967×


The people of the European Union, at least in France and The Netherlands, rejected the European constitution, which means the document cannot come into force and the current treaties establishing the EU institutions remain in place.

The political leaders of the EU member states who think the Union still needs a new treaty may try to come up with another document. But the truth is that even after enlargement, the EU can live with the current treaties. The EU of 25 members has been functioning without the rejected constitution since May 2004. After all, the Nice treaty was pushed three years ago as a treaty necessary for the enlarged European Union.

Those who believe the EU still needs a constitution instead of the current treaties should understand that to avoid further humiliating No votes, they must propose a treaty fundamentally different from the rejected constitution.

What should such a new treaty be like? First, all the "social engineers" who had designed the would-be EU constitution should have learned the lesson that a treaty is something that must be advantageous for all parties, ie for all the 25 member countries, big or small, market-oriented or socialist.

Most of all, it must be acceptable for strong majorities of European electorates, and not just for the current political classes that can be replaced in next elections.

Having realised this, we should try to find out what was it about the rejected constitution that the French and the Dutch voters disliked. Many politicians devoted to the idea of European integration claim the voters did not vote so much on the document itself as on domestic or international issues. For instance, the French and Dutch voters might have been scared by the possibility of Turkish membership in the EU in spite of the fact that letting Turkey into the EU would be subject to approval by all countries, whether the constitution is in force or not.

What makes a big difference, however, is whether we have Turkey in the EU under the Nice voting rules or under the population-size voting scheme proposed by the constitutional treaty. For any Dutch voter haunted by Turkish membership, it was quite rational to vote against the EU constitution to avoid the risk of being subject to rules set by a body where the Turkish minister holds five times as big a vote as the Dutch minister. It would not be such a big problem if this body, the Council of Ministers, did not have such big powers.

Sometimes it is said the French rejected the constitution for very different reasons than those cited by its market-oriented critics in other countries. The French called the constitution ultra- liberal, whereas the free-marketeers think it is too socialist. However, this is no contradiction! In principle, both sides reject the document for the same reason. Neither wants to grant other nations the power to decide on policies pursued in their territories. Why force the French to privatise their utilities? Why not allow Britons to work as many hours a week as they wish?

If the EU indeed needs a new treaty, it must be better than the existing ones. It must be a treaty that maintains what is good about the EU and gets rid of what is less so.

What are the European institutions that the French, the Irish, the Czechs and other nations have no problem with? Let us have a treaty that lays down only those institutions and policies which are beneficial to all, such as the free movement of people, goods, and capital, unanimity in decision making, or the customs union. Let us get rid of the institutions that are good only for some members at the expense of others, such as majority voting on labour law or redistribution of income among countries. Let us maintain competition between national policies, which used to be the momentum of dynamism and progress in Europe for centuries.

We should not give the bureaucracy in Brussels the power to set guidelines for member states' economic policies, as the rejected constitution did. We should put an end to the "money-go-round" of redistribution among member states. The operation of EU institutions can easily be financed from customs duties, and national contributions could be scrapped, as well as the EU farming and regional subsidies. If this were done, there would be no more squabbles about whether the contributions to the EU budget should amount to 1.06 or 1.07 per cent of GDP, or whether a member state should have a rebate or not. A country that wants to repair a road could use its own funds, instead of sending a contribution to Brussels and then asking for a subsidy back.

The poor countries do not need subsidies to catch up with the rich - what they need is free trade. Nor should France cling to the current system of subsidies.

France would be better off if it sent no money to the EU and received no subsidies, like most other countries. Let us allow the French government to subsidise its farmers for keeping their meadows nicely cut, if French taxpayers are willing to pay for it.

Once we abolish the useless system of redistribution of funds, we can also put an end to many EU institutions, including the European Parliament, which was set up in the presumption that the EU would one day become a union of citizens instead of states.

Are there really any issues that we wish to be decided by a majority of EU population instead of majorities in our national parliaments, or consent of the member states? Do I want, as a citizen of my country, to be outvoted, on the European level, on issues such as the spending of EU funds? Or tax rates? Or labour law? Or immigration and military issues? Or the allowed budget deficits?

Most of us do not identify ourselves as EU citizens who accept the idea that a majority of other Europeans can pass decisions, without regard to the nationalities of the winners and the losers. The European Parliament simply doesn't have the mandate to decide on our behalf, since we did not elect it as the citizens of the EU but as the citizens of individual states, with individual tastes.

After all, we don't need the European Parliament, the Financial Framework, the Employment Commissioner, the Lisbon Agenda, and so on, to trade and travel peacefully between Dublin and Prague.

The project of an EU based on EU citizenship, on majority voting in EU institutions and on more and more powers handed over to the EU bureaucracy at the expense of national parliaments has failed. We should not try to revive the rejected European constitution. Let us ask whether the European Union indeed needs a constitution.

I am convinced that if we do need a new treaty, it must be a document acceptable to all, a treaty that establishes European institutions useful to all and abolishes institutions that serve some countries or the Brussels establishment only.


Petr Mach

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