The German proposal to amend the Lisbon Treaty, which provides the basic framework for running the European Union, provides a good opportunity for member states and the people of Europe to reformulate its workings, rather as we clean up a hard-disc when the clutter of fragmented files impedes its effectiveness.
The European project has many successes, not all of them within the European Union. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development provides funding for countries as far afield as Mongolia and includes donors like Canada, the USA and Taipei China. The Council of Europe has 47 member countries and observers including Mexico, Japan, Israel, the USA and Canada. A large number of countries from Algeria and Australia, to Uruguay and Venezuela ratify its conventions on subjects ranging from human rights, corruption and cybercrime to University degree standards and pharmaceuticals. These organisations have become key element of the global system of international order, well beyond their original regional remits.
The European Economic Area, which links the 27 EU and 3 EFTA states covers many of the most admired economic elements of European collaboration:
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)
European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)
European Environment Agency (EEA)
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA)
European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)
European Medicine Agency (EMA)
European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA)
European Railway Agency (ERA)
The CE system of product indentification embraces organisations in many countries and is co-ordinated by the European Commission in Brussels.
‘Europe’ is by no means a merely ‘European Affair’ and its progress reaches well beyonds the confines of social administration and financial management.
“Subsidiarity” – the notion that decisions should be taken at the most appropriate administrative level for those effected is one of the cleverest principles to have emerged from the EU experience. But should it also be applied upwards as well as towards local decision making?
Many of the EU’s most critical failings, the agriculture and fisheries policy, the decision making processes that lead to an ever increasing ‘democratic deficit’ and the economic damage created for many countries by the limping ‘Euro’ currency are in each case a sign that the subsidiarity principle has been ignored, or set aside. The refusal to confer ‘central bank authority’ on the European Central Bank is only one sign of the EU structure being distorted. The initiation of a common Foreign Policy and diplomatic representation seems only semi-credible under Baroness Ashton.
Despite the multi-national participation in the European project, there are four countries whose economies are so large that they dwarf the other members, Germany, the UK, France and Italy. Each of them has a different style of government, economies with different priorities, even quite fundamental qualities of climate and geography, alongside their deeply contrasting social and cultural characters. The notion of a common government seems a nebulous and distant goal, but strains on the Eurozone have brought the need for decisions effecting several countries that have a governmental quality. Two Eurozone countries have been pushed to give office to ‘technocrat’ leaders. Would France and Germany agree to the same reform. Not only is that deeply unlikely, but both countries would argue that it debased their democratic principles. The same can be said for Italy and Greece, where the changes have been applied.
Europe’s biggest industrial and corporate interests, from Siemens and Daimler to Rolls-Royce and Nokia are global in every way, except for a nostalgic sense in their host countries that they somehow reflect national ‘success’. For them, then principle of subsidiarity is a global concept, accepting tax and business regimes based on whichever country they happen to be dealing with. Eurozone issues are only one of dozens of business contexts in which they must operate.
Is the current perception that France and particularly Germany are tryxing to ‘run’ Europe, perhaps the last fling of national economic management? If the Kanzleramt and Elysée are going to be outflanked by the massive scale of economic pressure, should fleet of foot politicians be looking forward to a complete renewal of the foundations of government. The nation state has had a pretty long run for its money since the Treaty of Westphalia and is embedded in the minds of most Europeans, though they tend to forget just how few of those states have involved a credible sense of democracy, yet embody a misplaced belief in their autonomy.
Renewing the hierarchy of global government based on subsidiarity and democracy to recognise the common aspects of human experience, but to privilege the values of cultural identity, could be a more inspirational goal than patching up the failings of current policy.
People’s needs are remarmably similar in terms of housing, or the numbers of patient a hospital can treat, or the methods that are open for generating energy.
Trade is global. Industry is global. Research is global. The academic community is global. Finance is global. Food production is global. Shouldn’t democratic government begin to have a global as well as national and local character?
If defragmenting Europe points to global issues, why not use the opportunity to build a future based on a global approach to the major issues of government – power, authority and representation.