Monday, 20 October 2003

A Growing Euroscepticism


European integration, of which the European Union offers the most visible institutional expression, has deep roots. It can be perceived as a successful, yes even magnificent venture to come to grips with Europe’s erstwhile endemic internal power struggles, which since 1870 caused four Franco-German wars, two of which escalated into world wars, whereby entire generations of young men were butchered at the European battle fields.

This has now become a thing of a distant past. The older generation, which has consciously experienced World War II, saw a united Europe as the most effective response to prevent a recurrence of these dreadful events. Its attitude towards European integration is influenced by deep gratitude and emotional attachment to what has been achieved. Adherents of a United Europe want to go even further and ‘deepen’ European integration. They disapprove of anything that might harm European cohesion and might divert from finding the Holy Grail of political finality (in French: finalité politique) of the EU, which, by the way, has never been properly defined. They abhor a businesslike assessment of each further step of European integration, based on sober, case-by-case, cost-benefit analysis. They believe that one should not mix ideals with petty national interests.

In their view, differences are not insurmountable. They believe that reaching the goal of a United Europe is so overriding that one should not quarrel too much about the sacrifices it entails. They keep unfolding grandiose institutional schemes in order to bring about a United Europe, which in many respects would mirror the United States. They sincerely regret the fading away of European idealism. They strongly disapprove of the bickering about the distribution of the financial burden, especially initiated by countries which are net-contributors to the European budget, such as the UK and the Netherlands. They consider it as a lack of commitment and loyalty to the European cause – yes, even as anti-European. They equally loathe attempts of the smaller European members to prevent institutional changes which may give the bigger member states a dominant position. They believe that these attempts are thwarting the effectiveness of the decision-making process and the achievement of the political finality.

A Contrasting View: Subsidiarity

Their top-down view of the integration process contrasts sharply with the bottom-up approach of those who insist on subsidiarity, which was been laid down, for the first time, in the Treaty of Maastricht of 1982. Subsidiarity implies that decision-making should take place as close as possible to the citizen. Only when local, regional or national decision-making is inadequate — e.g., because they have external effects which exceed the level on which they are taken — should it be lifted to the European level. It also implies that European policies should have value added.

Europe’s past achievements have been impressive, not only in the field of peace and security, but in the economic field as well. It can boast prosperity, a single European market, an Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), and a single currency: the Euro. The member states greatly benefit from all those achievements.

But some member states benefit more than others because of the internal income transfers within the EU in the name of solidarity, which has created groups of countries which are net-receivers of EU funds and other groups which are net-contributors; the latter are very unhappy with that situation. The most notorious event in this respect took place in 1984 when the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declared: “I want my money back.” And the British succeeded in receiving a substantial rebate. But the problem remained simmering and has popped up time and again. Of course, one could argue that high politics (the achievement of a United Europe) should take precedence over low politics (e.g., distribution of funds). But there are limits. In the view of major net-contributors the EU was never meant to become an exercise in massive income redistribution in the first place.

Growing Scepticism

At the same time there are a number of developments which give rise to increasing scepticism as to where Europe is heading, which put a damper on European idealism and give rise to disenchantment. To my mind, the passionate adherents of a United Europe do not sufficiently recognise these developments. Let me give some examples.

First, the failure of the Lisbon strategy which has been adopted at the European Summit in Lisbon (March 2000). In the euphoria of the “new economy” Europe expressed its ambition to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world in ten years time, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. Because of this latter feature the outcome was often qualified as “capitalism with a human face,” challenging the American socioeconomic model, which — in the eyes of many Europeans — remains deficient in this respect.

However, today, more than three years later, the European economic landscape offers a depressive outlook. Growth has stalled while unemployment is on the rise. Budget deficits are exceeding the limits which have been fixed in the framework of the EMU. Consequently, public debt is also rising once again. In short, Europe has not succeeded in getting rid of its “Eurosclerosis.” Europe talks and talks, but when it comes to policy action, it fails miserably.

A Hydrocephalic Political Dwarf?

Secondly, there is a mismatch between Europe’s oversized political overhead and its relatively modest budget. A consistent application of the subsidiarity principle will constitute a permanent cap on the EU budget, which amounts to somewhat more than Euro 100 billion today. Democracy is fine, but one should not exaggerate. That must have been the logic behind the fact that the European Parliament has traditionally been excluded from the decision-making on the spending of a big chunk of the European budget: the agricultural expenditures, which amount to more than Euro 40 billion.

How could one measure the political clout of the European Parliament? Unlike physics, which provides standard measures, such as metres, grams, hours, as well as degrees Celsius and Fahrenheit, political clout cannot be measured by generally accepted yardsticks. But budget expenditures per Congressperson/Europarliamentarian may act as a useful proxy. Comparison of the US budget with that of Europe reveals a huge difference: $2130 billion versus Euro 58 billion (excluding agricultural spending for the reasons explained before). The US counts 535 Members of Congress, the enlarged EU 732 Europarliamentarians. A simple back-of-the envelope calculation shows that the average Member of Congress has 50 times more political clout than his European counterpart. Small wonder that some would qualify the current EU as a hydrocephalic political dwarf.

More Europarliamentarians does not necessarily mean more or better democracy. Therefore, the question arises whether it would be possible to design a system which adequately reflects the political plurality in the member countries and which is at the same time less cumbersome and costly by reducing the number of Europarliamentarians. But this would mean that the agreement reached at the Nice Summit about the size of the European Parliament would have to be broken up. It is very unlikely that this will happen. The result? Red tape will hold the EU together.

Obscurantism’s Embrace

Thirdly, the endorsement of the money-squandering Kyoto Protocol should be mentioned. Kyoto aims at curbing anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 emissions on the belief that these emissions lead to global warming with all kinds of harmful effects for mankind. On this issue Europe seems to be in the suffocating embrace of obscurantism by remaining deaf and blind for the overwhelming and growing criticism of Kyoto by many qualified scientists in meteorology, climatology and related areas of science.

In a recent congressional hearing John Christy, Professor Atmospheric Sciences, Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama and “lead author” in the IPCC-process (IPCC: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) made matchwood out of Kyoto. In doing so he has resolutely refuted the often-repeated statements that the science is settled and that all scientists agree that there is such thing as man-made global warming.

It should be emphasised that Christy is an insider in the IPCC process. Nevertheless, his views are identical with what many outside critics have been saying all along. More recently the Russian President Putin has joined the climate sceptics when he stated at a climate change conference in Moscow: “[...] even among experts opinions differ on the seriousness of climate change.” And he jokingly added: “Some say [...] that an increase of two or three degrees wouldn’t be so bad for a northern country like Russia. We could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up.”

Foreign Policy Cleavage

Finally, there is also the Iraq issue. Cleavages within Europe about the American/British military action in Iraq have shed a totally different light on the political foundation of the European integration and the European Constitution in the making.

It may be compared with the crisis about the European Defence Community which stranded in 1954. According to Alfred Pijpers, an EU watcher at the Clingendael Institute, subsequent experience has taught us that: “[...] the European integration process can very well succeed in broad arrays of economic cooperation, based upon concrete and programmatic treaty provisions for the internal market or a single currency.” But he loathes: “[...] the fuzz of conventions and constitutions, which are only useful for a superpower that Europe will never be.”

What do we make out all of this? Idealism is fine, but once in a while a pinch of common sense can also be very helpful. A sober assessment of the state where Europe is today precludes any prospect for quantum leaps in many years to come.

Hans Labohm

This article first appeared on www.techcentralstation.com