60 years after the treaty of Rome, a better Europe is possible

Written by Jo Leinen on 24 March 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

A large majority of citizens do not fundamentally reject European unification - but the EU must do better, says Jo Leinen.

Jo Leinen | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


For a long time it seemed easy for the Le Pens, Wilders, Straches and Farages of the world to propagate the destructive path back to nationalism. In recent months, however, a citizens' movement has started to emerge, bringing together tens of thousands of people every week in dozens of European cities. They hold up high the

European idea - completely independent from established parties and associations.

Opinion polls as well as the increasing success of initiatives like 'Pulse of Europe' show that a large majority of the population does not fundamentally reject European unification. The people criticise a European Union that does not live up to its promises of prosperity and security. Many believe that in a globalised world, Europe can be successful only if it is united, and rightly so. 


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What people see, however, is not unity, but a bazaar of national interests. Instead of speaking with one voice and being a driver of a positive agenda, Europe is merely reacting. During the financial crisis, financial institutions were saved by billions of euros of taxpayers' money, while parts of the European population and entire regions became impoverished. 

During the migration and refugee crisis, people observed a loss of control that could not be absorbed by the European Union. The EU's ineffectiveness has left many disappointed and disillusioned.

The answer, I believe, must not be to destroy the European project. Neither is it to simplify the debate, reducing it to a choice between 'more Europe' or 'less Europe'. The right answer must be to create a strong and effective Europe that is capable of acting in an effective and efficient manner in core areas of responsibility. 

Both the monetary union and the Schengen area are incomplete and only function as long as no unexpected problems occur. In both cases, member states are trying to enjoy the benefits of the common policies, but not sharing the burdens and without taking into account the European context.

There can be no smooth-functioning European monetary union without a European economic and financial policy. Likewise, if the protection of the external borders and the management of refugees and migrants are not considered a common task, a border-free Europe cannot exist in the long run. 

However, as long as decisions in these areas are taken by unanimity, there will be no end to the well-known game in which governments prevent common solutions with national vetoes and subsequently blame the European Union for the lack of results, as if they had nothing to do with it.

That the EU can indeed well function has been proven in policy areas in which the Community method applies, e.g. legislation on the internal market or environmental and consumer protection. 

According to the Community-method, the two co-legislators, which reflect the Union's dual source of legitimacy, decide by majority: The European Parliament represents the citizens, while the Council represents the member states. This ensures that on the one hand all interests are taken into account and that on the other hand special interests cannot prevent European solutions.

In the future, this procedure must apply to all areas in which member states alone can no longer exert enough influence. These include foreign policy, security and defence policy, trade policy, migration policy and monetary and economic policy. 

It goes without saying that climate and environmental policy as well can only be successful on a European- or even worldwide scale. Other decisions should be taken as close as possible to the people: in the municipalities, regions or member states.

In February 2017, the European Parliament clearly positioned itself in favour of a deepening of the European Union. At the beginning of March, the European Commission published a White Paper on the future of the EU, which includes five scenarios ranging from a restriction to the single market to a Union with much more competences than today. 

It is not the Commission's task to determine the way. It is the European citizens and the member states who decide on Europe's future.

The declaration by the EU heads of state on the 60th anniversary of the treaty of Rome - the birth of a united Europe - must therefore offer a clear commitment to European unification and be the starting-point of a comprehensive public debate on the future of our Union.

Ideally, all member states will find a common ground. If this is not the case, those member states that wish to do so may need to go ahead. The slowest must not determine the pace of European integration.

 

About the author

Jo Leinen (S&D, DE) is Chair of Parliament's delegation for relations with the People's Republic of China

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