Just 3 days prior to the presidential elections, inside Belarus the message is not easy to ignore. From Ottawa to Buenes Aires, from Tirana to Stockholm famous monuments are going quiet, while banners are expressing demands such as “Free Belarus”, “Give a Voice to the Citizens of Belarus” or simply “Give a Voice to Democracy”. It is us, young people, who are determined that we can change the world we live in if we work together across borders – young people who refuse to close their eyes to the violations of human rights, the oppression of activists, the prevention of free media and right to assembly as well as the harassment of civil society inside Belarus.
The massive Belarus action is already having its 6th edition. It was before last presidential elections in Belarus that we decided to make as much noise as possible across Europe to give attention to the situation in Belarus, which was largely unknown, but also to show a strong support to the civil society in Belarus and to demand action from our European leaders. We thought that, if we could make an attention-grabbing action simultaneously across Europe, and make the action so easy that everyone could spontaneously join in, we could really achieve this. First year we were amazed to include 25 cities, but the year later the number grew to 60, 80 and last 3 times we could count over 100 cities on 4 continents worldwide! 100 cities is more than you could even imagine – it is as if you counted statues instead of sheep to fall asleep, but it would never end.
Every year more and more young people are joining in and spreading the word, NGOs and MEPs and Belarusian opposition leaders are giving their support and we have also built up a tight cooperation with the youth civil society inside of Belarus. And, as a great side effect, the action has inspired activists of all ages; how simple it can be to make yourself heard using innovation instead of money and strong beliefs instead of infrastructure. I have the feeling that even if we stopped organising this action, it is so strong that it would now continue of itself, since it is now so well-known and so big.
And the message has been heard. Hundreds of articles have been written about the action in Russian and Belarusian media in the past years. Radio interviews, TV reports, but also schoolbook chapters and prestigious prizes have been won. Last week we already started to feel the attention in Belarusian independent media and we are working with many organsiations and people in Belarus to spread the message of this action, together with all the pictures, across Belarus.
The JEF Free Belarus action shows the solidarity among youth across Europe and across the world and their willingness to take action. And, above all, it shows that there is nothing that can stop this, and that, despite disastrous EU visa regimes preventing young Belarusians from travelling, and despite oppression from the Belarusian state, young people in Belarus and in the rest of Europe will always have a common project for freedom, democracy and European integration.
I was chatting some days ago on Skype with an activist in Belarus who has supported us in every Belarus action in the past 6 years. He summed up that his entire “life looks like one big Belarus action!” And the point is that, whereas we could safely go home yesterday night, possibly told off by the police and surely cold and frozen, our friends in Belarus who have just e-mailed their pictures have to go home in fear. Fear of being caught, fear of being recognised in the pictures, fear of being expelled from universities or fired from jobs, of being arrested or even tortured. It is in solidarity with them that we took to the streets tonight in over 100 cities worldwide. It is to never forget their work that we have continued to do this over the past 6 years and will continue for the years to come – until the day Belarus is truly democratic.
Article by Sergio Pistone, Movimento Federalista Europeo
Italy is going through a very serious crisis. The solidity of the democratic state is in danger and, consequently, its capacity to contribute efficiently, as one of the Founding States, to the European unification process and, in this context, to contribute legitimately to make Europe a world actor committed to the establishment of peace and international justice. We must be aware of this situation, identify the causes that lie behind and find solutions.
The gravity of the Italian crisis and its consequences
On the economic and social cohesion
In the general context of a “no-holds-barred” globalisation, and in the particular context of the world financial and economic crisis, which is one of its major consequences, Italy is currently experiencing trends of slow or stationary growth, unemployment, growing job insecurity, social exclusion, poverty, worsening of the immigrants’ situation, backwardness of the South, thus reaching a level that gives rise to tensions that are incompatible with the maintenance of the economic and social system.
The dramatic nature of this situation appears clearly if we keep in mind the deep dilemma faced by the political class. On the one hand, considerable financial resources must be mobilised to implement the structural reforms required to make up for the backwardness of the Italian system in comparison with its more advanced European partners, to stimulate an environmentally and socially sustainable development and to guarantee a suitable protection of the income levels (starting from the insufficient incomes of the most underprivileged categories); to fight against exclusion (immigrant integration policies); to guarantee efficient solidarity among the regions. On the other hand, not only the public debt must not increase, but its constant reduction must be strongly pursued, in order to avoid the emergence of a catastrophic situation of financial insolvency for the State. This situation calls for a strong commitment in the fight against waste, inefficiency, parasitism, tax evasion, illegal economy. None of the member States of the European Union can face on their own the current crisis or the challenges of globalisation but, in the case of Italy, which has the highest debt, failing to respond to the issues arisen by the crisis means endangering peace and social cohesion.
On the unity of the state
The Italian State has a weak structure in comparison with the more advanced European partners. In addition to the inefficiency of public administration, the widespread corruption and a weak public spirit, the control of the state is practically inexistent in large areas of the country, due to the strong presence of mafia. The government is weak in front of the pressures or diktats of groups representing specific interests in economics, politics, religion, local policies. This situation is bound to further deteriorate if, as a result of the lack of serious immigrant integration policy, ethnic ghettos develop in big cities. The structural weakness of the government allows strong micro-nationalistic trends to develop, with worrying secessionist characters that endanger the preservation of the unity of the Country. The implementation of federalism should therefore take into account these internal conditions. In this respect, there is the strong need to highlight and clarify two points.
Today, the transformation of the Italian state towards a federation is high on the agenda, as is the overcoming of the centralistic system the Italian Unity is based on. This was an inevitable choice in order to unify a country that is particularly backward, in a context where the clash of power among the national States called for a strong centralisation of the national power, for safety purposes. The implementation of the European integration process has deeply changed the situation. Against this backdrop of European Peace Process and of the subsequent economical and social progress, federalism in Italy has become not only possible, but necessary, as it is a determinant factor that can strengthen the democratic system, give impulse to administrative efficiency and fight parasitism.
In particular, fiscal federalism would allow to base the activity of each government level upon their own resources, but only if associated with a solidarity trend among strong regions and weak regions and, obviously, the reinstatement, on the whole national territory, of the State authority and the defeat of organised crime, conspiracy between politics and underhand dealings, illegality, abuse of the welfare state and secessionist driving forces. If these conditions were to fail, federalism could, in Italy, pave the way for the disintegration of the unity of the Country.
On the eve of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Italian unification, many voices are rising to opposite it strongly, both practically and on principle. If the unity of the Italian State was questioned, the damages would be tremendous, not only for our Country (where catastrophic conflicts would break out) but for the very process of European unification, both due to the disruptive pressures that would spread to other European countries and due to the fact that the European constitution (that is not yet achieved and thus still depends on the national political decisions) cannot rely on states paralysed by their own contradictions; not to say on collapsed States.
Against this backdrop, the limitations of the proposal made on the Europe of the Regions, understood as a European federation made up of hundreds of regions, should be pointed out. Without the support of national governments, the European institutions would be bound to alternate between disruptive pressures and centralistic temptations. On the other hand, the federal model would allow to structure the political institutions on several government levels and to develop solidarity among the regions within a Senate of the Regions at national level, and solidarity between the States within a Senate of the States at European level. The second point to be stressed is the close connection between the national problems and the building of the European Federation. New progress in the European integration process would allow to relieve the Italian State from duties and responsibilities that it is not longer able to fulfil, and thus to promote the improvement of the efficiency and democratic nature of national institutions. European public assets such as foreign and security policy, energy and environment, if managed by the Union, would relieve the national levels, which would be left with the protection of the national public assets.
On the democratic system
The government, led by Silvio Berlusconi, expresses populist tendencies that result in alarming decisions of illiberal-authoritarian orientation. These tendencies are showed by the project of introducing a drastic strengthening of the executive to the detriment of the other institutions, thus altering the constitutional balance among the State powers. Other issues worth pointing out are the refusal to solve a conflict of interests that generates a concentration of media power at the service of the Prime Minister, a situation that does not exist in any other liberal-democratic State and that deeply alters information; the systematic effort to limit the autonomy of the judicial power and to depreciate the role of the Parliament; the ad personam laws that damage the most elementary constitutional principles; the attacks to the independent press and on pluralism. The attempt to reduce the organs of control to mere symbols is distressing, as is the attempt to remove important public services from the democratic control of the Parliament and the Head of State, through their privatisation. What is more, we should not forget the xenophobic forces that contaminate the government’s course of action in relation with the crucial issue of immigration. We are getting close to the disruption of the constitutional state.
On the basis of the European Treaties, Italy runs the risk of getting out of Europe. Art. 6 and 7 of the European Union Treaty provide initiatives and sanctions if, in any Member State of the Union, there exists a “serious risk” of infringement of democracy and freedom. And, if no drastic change of course is implemented in Italy, this serious risk exists. Furthermore, if it is true that the democracy crisis is a general phenomenon resulting from the incapacity to cope with and control globalisation, we cannot ignore that the risk is particularly significant for Italy as it is a member of the European Union. Democracy is the indispensible requisite to the transition to supranational federalism. In fact, the respect of the democratic principles and the constitutional state are the condition to access the EU. The efficiency of this principle is proved by the relation existing between the EU accession and the democratic-oriented evolution of the countries of the Iberian Peninsula and Central-Eastern Europe. The suspicion about Italy’s democratic reliability may undermine its credibility in Europe, which is the strategic ground on which its future is at stake. For Italy, the problem is worsened by the risk of collapse of the State, as a result of the astronomic public debt. For the most indebted states (Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy), the main risk brought about by the economic and financial crisis is bankruptcy. Today, the victims of the crisis, following the collapse of the banks, are the States. The most urgent therapy is the reduction of the public debt.
The causes of the Italian crisis
The incompleteness of the European integration process and globalisation without government
Responding to the crisis implies first of all identifying its causes.
First of all, the starting point can only be the denunciation of the responsibilities, incapacities and inadequacy of the Italian governments of the last thirty years (regardless of their political trend), that were not able to raise the Italian system to the standards of its more advanced European partners. The process, initiated after the war with the purpose of making Italy more European, came to a halt. The condivision of some founding values, such as Resistance and Constitution, Europeanism and Parliamentary democracy, failed. As a consequence, the gap among Italy and the more advanced European States could not be bridged; on the contrary, it became deeper.
Today, the specific responsibility of the current government must be added to the above-mentioned responsibilities, with the existence of illiberal and Eurosceptic tendencies that further increase the crisis in the country. It should be stressed that there are forces, within the government body, that are trying to slow down the demanding requests of expenditure growth and, consequently, of debt growth, and that hinder the antidemocratic drift, reorienting the political debate towards the respect of the constitutional state and the balance between its institutional components. And we must not forget the crucial deficiencies of the Opposition which proved to be, in particular over the last few years, incapable of offering valid alternatives to the government policy, solutions and shared proposals . Even when the Opposition had government responsibilities, it failed to pursue a coherent federalist commitment and to give effect to the most significant and innovative decisions, such as the accession of Italy to the Euro zone, that it had achieved.
However the analysis cannot be limited to this sole point. The responsibilities of the political forces must be set in a broader context, where determining factors are represented by the incompleteness of the European integration process and by its relation with globalisation.
After the Second World War, European integration was the strategic response to the structural inadequacy of the national sovereign States to guarantee peace, industrial development and democracy. European integration gave rise to an institutional system characterised by important federal aspects, but also by the continuance of a confederal mechanism founded on the national vetoes in key sectors such as tax resources, foreign and security policy, defence, constitution revision. On the one hand, it established an institutional system characterised by important federal aspects, including the currency, the domestic market, the foreign trade, the legislative and monitoring power of the Parliament. On the other hand, the maintenance of the confederal limits entails very severe deficits that make this system structurally precarious and affect in a very negative way the life of the European States. These States strongly oppose the transfer to the Union of the powers and resources required to operate in economic, foreign and tax policy and therefore to tackle the complex issues of today’s world.
Since the 70’s, the situation has become increasingly complicated. Globalisation has triggered processes and given rise to issues of such importance that they cannot even be dealt with by the States of macro-regional dimensions or by unions of States of similar sizes. This contradiction is similar to that generated by the European unification, which created difficulties for the national States. Now, globalisation is creating difficulties for the macro-regional political groups and thus calls for a democratic and federal world government.
It is therefore more than ever crucial and urgent for the Union to complete the federalisation project, a necessary condition to give EU the capacity to cope with the domestic and international issues. This is the actual root of the declining consensus for the European Union. For half a century, peace has been the main objective of European unification. Today, the continent pacification has been achieved. What citizens expect from politics is a response to their concerns. The continent is hit by new dramatic issues that remain without solutions: economic and financial crisis, unemployment, job precariousness, competition with emerging countries, pollution and climate changes, terrorism and international crime, nuclear proliferation, urban insecurity, migratory flows, etc. All these issues are related to uncontrolled development, which must be ruled democratically. The above mentioned issues are such that the EU cannot face them on its own. They require a joint commitment of the world political protagonists, as well as a commitment of the EU to speak with a single, influential voice.
The consequence of an incomplete Europe (without government) in a globalised world is that politics ends up looking for solutions at the national level. In a country with a fragile democratic fabric, this search results in demagogic populism, in the search for the “saviour of the nation”. This is a mechanism that Italy experimented between the two World Wars, in a situation of “international anarchy” and that is reappearing today, obviously in a different form, because the world unrest, caused by ruleless globalisation, generates in people the same feelings of insecurity; thus, the search of a scapegoat (the odd man) and the delegation to the absolute leader. The Euro zone helped establishing a first important barrier against monetary and financial disturbances and led to virtuous behaviours at all levels. But the single currency was not followed by a European economic policy, nor by a real European government, resulting from the European elections.
There exists an organic connection between the need for a rapid and full federalisation of the EU and the building of the world government, since a fully federal Europe and, therefore, capable of acting efficiently, is indispensible not only to improve the living conditions of the Europeans but to take a decisive part in the building of a fairer and more pacific world.
Facing the Italian crisis: supranational commitment and National commitment
The crisis of democracy is occurring at all levels. The national democratic systems are relentlessly disorientated by the supranational dimension of the underlying issues. The condition of incomplete federation experienced by the European integration process and the lack of democracy in the UN institutions have until now prevented the creation of a fully developed and efficient supranational democratic system.
At national level, where democracy is, at least formally, fully developed, choices of strategic importance can no longer be made. At European level, not only efficient decisions cannot be made due to national vetoes, but the decisions made do not have any acceptable base of democratic legitimacy. At global level, due to the superpower of the financial and industrial multinational giants and to the violence of international terrorism and organised crime, the international organisations do not succeed in imposing the respect of legality. We must ask ourselves for how long democracy will be able to survive in a world where the citizens are excluded from the decisions their fate depends on. The question can be addressed to the European Parliament itself, which represents the first attempt to extend democracy at the international level but which loses approval, in spite of the ongoing increase of the legislative powers, as confirmed by the constant decrease of the voting participation at the European elections. Consequently, the fundamental factor of the political and democracy crisis that characterises the European countries in general and, more particularly, Italy, is not only the EU democratic deficit, but also the lack of democracy at world level. When the sense of uselessness of the active political participation starts spreading among the citizens, due to the fact that the democratic mechanisms are idle, when no consistent answers are given to the vital concerns of the citizens, political listlessness becomes inevitable and, at the same time, decisive political areas are conquered by the most irrational trends– from populism to micro-nationalism or xenophobia – that contaminate the democratic dialectic.
Trying to explain the connection between these trends and the wider context involving the incompleteness of European integration and its relation with ungoverned globalisation, cannot be considered a justificatory attitude, but allows to impose a political-strategic guideline that is truly appropriate to cope with the Italian crisis.
The supranational commitment of Italy
The Italian situation is strongly conditioned by the lack of European economic government, which needs a federal budget based on its own resources, represented by European taxes (starting with environmental taxes such as the Carbon tax) and by a European loan in Union bonds. A European economic government could implement the macroeconomic policy (investments for the European infrastructures in communications, renewable energy, advanced research, support to industrial restructuring, fight against unemployment and underemployment) that the national states are no longer able to implement. These policies should also aim at achieving a more suitable level of solidarity among the States, together with a better capacity to regulate the national budget policies. The lack of European democratic and federal government leaves the European countries “on their own” to face globalisation. The weaker European states, such as Italy, risk to collapse.
At the same time, the EU does not have the means to speak with a single voice in the world. Implementing permanent structured cooperation would allow to bring together the armed forces of the States willing to improve the EU intervention capacities in the operations aimed at maintaining, building and imposing peace, thus making the European defence system suitable to take part, under the aegis of the UN, in the building of peace in the world and reducing at the same time its overall cost in favour of the social and investment policy.
The critical economic-social and financial situation of Italy is clearly conditioned by the lack of global rules and institutions to govern the financial markets and international trade, and by the crisis of the international monetary system based on the dollar central position. The objectives of topical interest should include: the reform of the world monetary system towards the gradual implementation of a world currency; a world environmental organisation based on the ECSC model (having the power and resources required to reduce the polluting emissions and contribute to the financing of the ecological reconversion of the world economy, in particular in the developing countries); the UN strengthening and democratisation through the transformation of the Security Council into the Council of the main regions of the world (that would allow all the States of the world to take part in this organisation through their respective regional organisations) and the institution of a world parliamentary assembly; the institution of a European seat at the IMF and at the UN Security Council.
The fight against organised crime is a long-lasting problem in Italy, and this fight can only be carried out with successful results in a framework of economic-social and political-democratic progress. European unification is a driving force of this progress; however, due to its backwardness and incompleteness, it is a source of serious contradictions. One of them is the freedom of movement achieved by organised crime with the common market (as well as the removal of obligations as a consequence of globalisation) that is not associated with the creation of a suitable supranational capacity to guarantee public order (considering, on the one hand, the lack of European public prosecutor’s department and the embryonic nature of Europol and, on the other hand, the limits of the International Criminal Court and of UNICRI).
To strike at the root of the global economic, environmental and social imbalances and to cope with the flows of the “biblical” migrations that we are witnessing today, a development plan for Africa and the Middle East, coordinated by the United Nations is required, with the contribution not only of the EU, but also of the United States, Japan, China, India and Russia. The challenge of immigration in the EU calls for an efficient federal government, capable of implementing hosting and integration policies (recognition of the right of asylum, physiological emigration, right to vote, citizenship acquisition), fighting illegal immigration (supporting the states with strong emigration trends), providing resources on a much larger scale than those currently dedicated to the problem.
The national commitment
The Italian crisis is extremely serious. It can be confronted successfully only if a policy is defined; a policy aimed at tackling the overall causes. The driving moment of this policy is the commitment to a steady and fast progress towards the European Federation, that should be characterised by two distinct, yet closely related moments:
1) fully implementing the opportunities and progress introduced by the Lisbon Treaty;
2) starting an action aimed at completing the European integration process.
The immediate step forward is the application and exploitation of the potentials of the Lisbon Treaty, which makes it possible to strengthen the common policies, to build a European economic government and allow greater capacity of international action. In parallel, the constituent process of the European Federation will need to be restarted – since the Lisbon Treaty is an important step forward but not the finishing point of European integration. This action can be implemented by a group of favourable countries, overcoming the national veto right in the revision process of the Treaties, and shall involve the European citizens in each stage of the process, until the final consultation, through a European referendum. The fully democratic nature of the constituent process is an essential condition of its efficiency and a critical element in order to overcome the ongoing crisis of EU legitimacy.
As shown by the history of European integration, progress towards the completeness of the European Federation requires a decisive commitment on the Italian side. All decision initiatives (in particular French and German) have benefited from the indispensible and strengthening support of Italy.
Increased European solidarity, required to face the serious economic and social situation of the country, cannot be pursued with credibility and efficiency if Italy fails to play its part. But Italy’s supranational commitment will be possible and efficient only if associated with a powerful and decisive commitment of internal recovery.
Without regained democratic credibility capable of taking it out of its isolation, Italy will not succeed in recovering its due role in Europe and in bringing about real progress in the European integration process.
To cope efficiently with the Italian crisis, a large front of political forces should accept to guide the country in the right direction. This can only be an emergency government. A government founded on broad convergences between all the sectors of the political front, that would not allow illiberal-authoritarian, populistic and micro-nationalistic trends to condition their decisions and that would be able to make the very difficult choices required to achieve economic-social, financial and political-institutional recovery, which go beyond the normal government-opposition dialectic.
The European Federalist Movement, based on an unconditional autonomy from the national political forces,
- reasserts that Italy’s exit from the crisis can only be successful through a quick recovery of the commitment to reach the primary objective, i.e. the achievement of the European unification
- denounces the degenerative trends that undermine the government led by Silvio Berlusconi, as they are in contradiction with the contents and the spirit of the Constitution and are incompatible with the active participation of Italy in the building of the European Federation.
- calls for the world of labour, production, services, mass media, and to the associations of civil society, to commit themselves to overcome the crisis and contribute to the creation of an emergency government that will prioritise the implementation of
- a policy of efficient economic-social, financial and political-institutional recovery of Italy, giving priority, in line with the European policies, to the respect of the constitution and balance among the powers of the State, the repayment of the debt, ecological reconversion policies, income support for precarious citizens, and fighting xenophobic and racist expressions, mafias, pressures and diktats from groups having specific interests in economic, religious, local policies, waste, inefficiency and tax evasion. These actions are the bases required to restore the active and decisive participation of our country in the European constitution;
- a policy promoting the achievement of the federal unity of Europe, in particular through the creation of a legitimate and efficient government of European economy, with sufficient financial resources, and an independent foreign and security policy, based on a federal armed force, that will allow the EU to speak with a single voice and to take part in the building of the world peace.
By Guido Montani, Vice-President of UEF
The EU will not be able to face the challenges if it doesn't reform its budget.
At the end of last year’s financial turmoil, Jean-Claude Trichet i, President of the ECB, said in an interview that “the Stability and Growth Pact is the legal framework that we have as a quid pro quo for the fact that we do not have a federal budget and a federal government”. Recently, the European Commission initiated an excessive deficit procedure for 9 countries (11 had already been warned). The present situation in the EU is that only 7 countries (in the euro area, Luxembourg, Finland and Cyprus) out of 27 do not comply with the 3 per cent reference value of the deficit to GDP, as required by the Growth and Stability Pact (GSP). Moreover, not only the present situation of the EU public finances is alarming, but the future too. According to the OECD, public indebtedness of the euro area could be more than 100 per cent of the GDP in 2015 (it was 66 per cent in 2007). Therefore, the suspicion that the GSP is not the appropriate instrument to guarantee sound and stable finances for the European economy is legitimate. It is true that even the USA, severely affected by the financial crisis, are going in the same direction: their public debt should increase to more than 100 per cent of the GDP in 2017 (it was 63 per cent in 2007). But the USA were able to react to the crisis with a common plan (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act). On the contrary, the EU approved a European Economic Recovery Plan assembling national recovery plans. Indeed, the size of the EU budget – one per cent of the GDP yearly, as established by the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) 2007-13 – does not allow any significant margin for manoeuvres. This unsatisfactory response depends on the fact that the EU decided to provide an effective instrument for a European monetary policy (the ECB) for itself, but the main instruments for fiscal policy remain stubbornly at a national level. The EU has a federal currency, but not a federal budget (and neither does it have a federal government)
There are two good reasons for considering a federal reform of the EU budget. The first is that Europe has to face serious challenges: the economic recovery after the financial crisis, the reform of the world financial and monetary system, in the agenda of the G20, and, last but not least, the fight against climate change. The second reason is that the new Commission should soon open the process for reforming the EU budget. A Conference , which will close the debate and open the reform phase has been planned for November 12th at Brussels. In the following part of this short paper, we want to discuss some crucial topics dealt with by the two exhaustive and well-organized Studies backed by the Directorate General for Budget of the European Commission. The first Study is devoted to EU spending and the second one to Budget financingii. In 2007, the European Commission asked to discuss the EU budget reform “without taboos”, but unfortunately some taboos are still steadfastly on their pedestal. Our comments concern: a) the stabilisation policy, on the spending side of the balance sheet; b) the problem of own resources, for the revenue side; and, finally, c) the link between the budget reform and the democratic deficit of the EU.
The first Study on EU spending convincingly proposes that the budgetary reform should increase expenditures in the following three policy areas: climate change and energy resources; knowledge and innovation; common security and foreign affairs. At the same time, it proposes a sensible reduction of funds for agriculture and rural development policies. But it is unclear if the size of the EU budget (as a percentage of GDP) should be increased. The question of the budget size is linked to the question of the macroeconomic stabilisation policies – i.e. policies designed to stabilise aggregate income and the employment level –, which in the present situation are not considered a European policy area. The conclusion of the chapter devoted to this problem is that “all in all, there seems to be no need for the EU budget to be involved in stabilisation policies. In the end, this may also be a non-issue, as the EU budget is currently far too small to be able to have a significant impact” (p. 72). This drastic judgement seems more influenced by academic doctrines than by the needs of the EU and its citizens. It is true that the theory of fiscal federalism, originally proposed by Musgrave and Oates, assigned stabilisation policies (or anti-cyclical policies) to the federal government, for the good reason that at the local or regional level anti-cycle budgetary policies are not effective. But that result was reached within the general theoretical framework of Keynesianism, which succumbed under the attack of monetarism, the supply side economics and the rational expectations doctrine. Macroeconomic fiscal activism was increasingly taken into consideration with scepticism. While the increasing integration of the world market was shaping a global economy, national governments were fascinated by an economic policy based mainly on monetary stability. Indeed, during the last decades, the idea that a global market could go through a steady growth without global governance was widely spread among politicians and economists. The 2008 world financial crisis swept away that illusion. All governments rediscovered fiscal policies and accepted huge budget deficits in order to avoid a more dramatic fall of income and employment.
In Europe, the Commission proposed a European Economic Recovery Plan, to sustain internal demand. Contrary to the dominant doctrine of fiscal scepticism, the Commission proposed “to inject purchasing power into the economy, support demand and stimulate confidence”. The amount of the “macro-economic, anti-cyclical” European plan should have been, according to the Commission, 1.5 per cent of GDP. The main problem was that the European contribution to the Plan was only 0.3 per cent of GDP, the main share (1.2 per cent) consisted of a summation of national plans. The outcome of that unfortunate decision was that: a) only Germany, France and UK launched a national plan of the amount required, but the other countries, especially the more indebted ones, were not able or willing to follow; b) the European governments decided to finance national public goods and national employment, endangering the European internal market; c) the rules of the GSP were grossly violated.
A more general comment should be added to these shortcomings: the European recovery plan turned out to be not only of an amount lower than required but it was less efficient, because in order to face a EU external shock a certain amount of euros is spent more efficiently by a “federal government” than by a national government. Let us consider the old Keynesian idea of the multiplier. There is a wide and open debate on the scale of a fiscal multiplieriii. The effect of a fiscal stimulus depends on the way governments act (tax cuts have a different impact from building bridges and railways) and on expectations about prices and taxes. But there is a general agreement on the fact that the value of the multiplier depends on the size of the economy. Indeed, the more open an economy is the bigger the demand for foreign goods and therefore the leakages of the fiscal stimulus. According to the OECDiv there is “an inverse correlation between multiplier values and openness” (Box 3.1). The size of the short-term fiscal multiplier can take on a value of 0.4-0.6 for very open countries, like Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary, and 1.3-1.6 for Germany, USA and Japan. The OECD does not provide an estimate for the EU economy but – we can guess – the EU multiplier should be of the same order as that of the USA and Japan. To sum up, the money of the taxpayers spent at the federal (European) level of government for European public goods has a greater impact on EU income and employment than the same amount of money spent by national governments for national public goods. A European recovery plan, entirely financed by European own resources, would have been more effective and would have avoided the free-rider behaviour of some national governments.
Now, let’s consider the objection that the EU budget “would have had to grow enormously to be able to implement successful fiscal policies” (p. 71). This statement is not true and brings about a vicious circle: the EU budget is small; since it is small no stabilisation policy is possible, therefore there is no need to propose an increase of the budget and a European stabilisation policy. The Delors plan of 1993 – for growth, competitiveness and employment – required a financial effort equivalent to 0.33% of the GDP for five years. The financial resources should have come from the EU budget, the EIB and the issue of Union Bonds. The Delors plan was considered too expensive and was not implemented. It was a mistake, probably due to the refusal to issue Union Bonds. Nevertheless, here we are interested in the size of the financial effort. A recovery plan is quicker to carry out, if the Commission can bring forward some investment projects already planned for the following years. Therefore, the size of the European budget matters, but the EU does not need an “enormous” budget. The McDougall Report, of 1977, came to the conclusion that a federal budget (excluding defence) should be 2-2.5 per cent of GDP. Even for the present day European problems, that evaluation is likely to be appropriate. With a European budget of that size, the European Commission could have proposed a recovery plan of 1.5 per cent of GDP, entirely financed by own resources: i.e., by the EU budget, by the EIB and by the issueing of Union Bonds, which certainly could have got a better rate on the international financial market than national bonds.
The second Study – Financing the EU budget – wisely states that “there is neither a best Community resource funding for the EU, yet no shortage of broadly satisfactory ones” (p. 12). Among the new revenue sources the study suggests a corporate income tax (CIT), some ecotaxes – like a carbon tax and the proceeds of selling emission trading permits – and the monetary income of the European Central Bank. Likewise, the European Parliament is willing to support these proposals. Here, we propose to focus on the crucial concept of own resources. In his classical study on Federal Government, K. Wheare says that a Federal state is based on the principle that “the general and the regional governments are coordinate and independent in their respective spheres”. If we apply this principle to the EU, it follows that the EU budget should be financed fully by European own resources, and not by national resources. The present situation is nearly the opposite. As the Study clarifies, own resources finance only 10 per cent of the EU budget; 90 per cent comes from national contributions. The consequences are ominous for EU policies, for transparency reasons and for European democracy. Since every national government provides a slice of the budget, every national government wants to receive a just retour. The EU budget becomes an appendix of national budgets. The European Parliament and the Commission are not responsible for finding the taxpayers’ money, but they spend it and, at the end of the story, the voters cannot understand who is responsible for European finances.
The degeneration of the European own resources system was caused – in greatly or completely – by the principle of the budget in balance, stated in the Treaties. There is neither an economic nor a political justification for observing this constraint strictly. The EU budget should observe, in principle, the same rules applied to national budgets by the GSP: the ratio of the deficit to GDP should not overcome a reference value during an economic cycle (and not every year). A sound management of a firm is impossible without financial outsources, coming from the financial market or the banking system. Even local governments need some financing when in deficit. The constraint of the yearly budget in balance requires a “residual resource”, when European own resources are not enough or are diminishing, as has happened in the last decades. And, since the EU has no “independent” power to raise its revenue, the residual resources can come only from national governments.
In order to be financially independent from national governments, the European Commission should have the power, of course in agreement with the European Parliament, not only to collect eurotaxes, but also to issue Union Bonds. The objections put forward by Otmar Issingv on the probable negative impact of a common European bond on certain member states, which should become less responsible for lowering their excessive rate of indebtedness, are aimed at another target. “It would be hard to find a clearer case of free riding – says Issing – a common bond would undermine the credibility of the eurozone as an area of stability and fiscal soundness.” This observation is sound, but only if the Union Bond issue is planned for “solidarity” reasons among strong and weak member states. Completely different is the case of a Union bond issue to finance the EU budget for providing European public goods. In such a case, the aims of the bond issue are European growth, employment and the welfare of European citizens: the responsibility of the indebted states is not at stake. At present, the GSP establishes rules of good behaviour among the EU member states. Now, the time has come to include the EU budget and the GSP into a single Community financial framework.
The third comment concerns the democratic accountability of the EU, the budget policy included. The two Studies take into consideration the federal perspective, but as one among other “Possibilities for our Grandchildren”. Our view is that there is an opportunity now for a federal reform and that the European parties should not miss it. The last European election showed a further lowering of the turnout and a widening gap of confidence between the citizens and the European institutions. The democratic deficit of the EU has two roots: the first one is the lack of a European democratic government (in the Lisbon Treaty the word “European government” does not exist); the second root is the veto right: were the veto survives (like in foreign policy, budgetary rules and ratification rules) a tiny minority can block the democratic process. The European Parliament approved a resolution (on June 7th 2007) in which it declares the European Union a “supranational democracy”, but it should explain to European citizens how a supranational democracy can work with the veto right and without a democratic government.
The reform of the EU budget offers the possibility to overcome at least some aspects of the European democratic deficit, even though for a more comprehensive reform a new Convention is necessary. The European Parliament should face the budgetary reform in view of the European election of 2014. The next election will be a success if the citizens can understand that, with their vote, they can choose not only a party but also a government with a political program. It will be a failure if the European election boils down anew to a summation of national elections. The European parties have the power to change the citizens’s perception of the European Union. They can include the main lines of the budgetary reform in their political programme and, at the same time, present their candidate as President of the European Commission before the election. If the main parties have the courage to do that, the voters will have the chance to take part in a real European political debate on the future of the European Union. The core of sound politics is a clear relationship between ends and means. The European parties should explain to voters that the EU has a cost, and therefore they should accept that a share of their taxes should be devoted to the EU. But the EU also provides numberless advantages. Today the citizens of Europe live in peace, a way of life unknown to their grandfathers. They can benefit from a rich internal market and can move freely in a Continent without national borders. Now, the EU has to face dramatic challenges, like the world economic crisis, international terrorism, mass poverty, migrations and the menace of climate change. The duty of European political parties is to ask for the means to face the challenges of the 21st Century.
This article was first published on Europe's World
i Trichet J.C., Interview with the Financial Times, Financial Times, 15th December 2008.
ii See the website of the European Commission “Reforming the Budget”.
iii For a survey, see The Economist, September 26th, 2009.
iv OECD, Economic Outlook, Interim Report, Chapter 3, 2009.
v Issing O., “Why a common eurozone bond isn’t such a good idea”, in Europe’s World, Newsletter 34, EW Issue 12, Summer 2009.
Conference in Berlin, Friday October 23: Federation or Confederation, where goes Europe after the Lisbon treaty?,
On Friday 23rd October 2009, the Union of the European Federalists, with the collaboration of the Altiero Spinelli Institute for Federalist Studies and Europa-Union Deutschland, is organising in Berlin (Representation of the European Commission in Germany) a Conference entitled “Federation or Confederation, where goes Europe after the Lisbon treaty?”
Prof. Dr. Ingolf Pernice, Humboldt-University Berlin will introduce the conference, and Mr. Andrew Duff MEP, President of UEF, and Mr. Peter Altmaier MdB, President of Europa-Union Deutschland will open the discussions with the panel.
All the information as also the registration forms can be found on UEF website
Federation or Confederation – where goes Europe after the Lisbon treaty?
Berlin, Friday 23rd October 2009, Representation of the European Commission in Germany, Unter den Linden 78, 10117 Berlin
09:30 h Opening address
Heinz-Wilhelm Schaumann, Vice-President of UEF
Barbara Steffner, Head of the political department of the Delegation of the EC in Germany
09:45 h Introduction speech
"As much Europe as necessary but also as little as possible? – Europe’s chances to get a Constitution after the rule from the German Federal Constitutional Court on the Lisbon treaty"
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Ingolf Pernice, Director of the Walter Hallstein-Institute for European Constitutional Law of the Humboldt-University Berlin
10:10 h Comments from Peter Altmaier MdB, President of Europa-Union Deutschland, and Andrew Duff MEP, President of UEF
10:30 h Panel discussion
"Towards a European state or a Union of states? – which direction does the EU go after the Lisbon treaty?" with
Peter Altmaier MdB, President of Europa-Union Deutschland
Andrew Duff MEP, President of UEF
Armin Duttine, Ver.di (tbc)
Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann, President of Europa-Union Berlin
Yvonne Nasshoven, President of Young European Federalists Germany
Prof. Dr. Ingolf Pernice, Humboldt-University Berlin
Thomas Silberhorn MdB, (tbc)
12:00 h Reception
“KLAUS A VEXATIOUS LITIGANT”, says Andrew Duff, President of the Union of European Federalists.
The Irish people have given their decisive backing to the Lisbon treaty. This vote does credit to all those political forces in Ireland which have had to combat, over many months, the lies and distortions about the European project peddled by nationalists and europhobes.
The vote means that Irish voices will continue to be influential in the politics of the EU. The common interest of all Europe will always have an Irishness about it.
Ireland has clearly and decisively added its weight to the building of a stronger, more effective and more democratic European Union.
Now all 27 countries have taken their own democratic decisions to back EU reform. No further delay can be tolerated in bringing the treaty into force as quickly and efficiently as possible. It would be the height of folly for Mr Vaclav Klaus to block the entry into force of the treaty. One does not expect the President of the Czech Republic to behave like a vexatious litigant.
The world waits while the European Union concludes its internal constitutional controversies. Lisbon in force will make the EU strong in world affairs and provide Europe's states and citizens with good government of a federal character. Let's get on with the job.
Andrew Duff, ALDE spokesman on Constitutional Affairs and President of the Union of European Federalists, welcomed the completion this week of Germany’s ratification of the Lisbon treaty. In a statement, he said:
The German ratification of the treaty is terribly late, but none the less welcome for that.
There has been swift implementation of the recent decision of the recent verdict of the Bundesverfassungsgericht (German Federal Constitutional Court). There are two important practical outcomes which should be welcomed by all those who want a strong parliamentary European Union:
The Treaty of Lisbon does not undermine and is perfectly compatible with German Basic Law.
The Bundestag and Bundesrat must participate in future more fully in EU affairs than they have done in the past. The legislative reforms brought about as a consequence of the court’s judgment mean more Europe in Berlin and not less Europe in Brussels.
The completion of the German ratification sends a strong signal to the remaining three countries – Ireland, Poland and the Czech Republic. If the Irish referendum is positive, as the opinion polls suggest, there can be absolutely no excuse for any further procrastination in Warsaw or Prague.
In particular, the Czech constitutional court in Brno should follow exactly the conclusions of its German counterpart in Karlsruhe (and those of every other constitutional court of the EU) by dismissing further appeals brought against the treaty on spurious grounds. President Vaclav Klaus and dissident ODS senators are in danger of turning themselves into nuisance litigants.
By Joan-Marc Simon, Secretary General of Union of European Federalists
Why the EU needs to reflect on the role of the euro in world politics
The monetary policy is an exclusive competence of the eurozone of the European Union, yet it is unclear what role the European currency is to play in the world, in comparison to other important currencies, or what is the strategy of the EU regarding the current reshuffle of world power relations. Even more worrying is the fact that in the current discussions on the programme that the European Commission should implement during the next 5 years not a single word is mentioned about this issue which, if excluded, on its own, can do away with all the EU’s efforts to get out of the crisis.
In any normal state the currency is one of the main tools of foreign policy, for devaluation can increase exports, for it can attract or repel investments or when used as reserve currency it can help finance national debt. Any remotely good school of economics teaches its students that the equilibrium of balance of payments is one of the most important tools for the stability of a country. The EU seems to have forgotten that even though it is not a state, having a common currency means that it needs to act as if it were one when it comes to using monetary policy with its relations with the world.
Indeed, most of the trade of the EU countries takes place within the EU which might give the false impression that the role of the euro as tool of foreign policy is not that important. Are we, Europeans, reading the historical moment we find ourselves in correctly?
The 20th century has seen the rise and consolidation of the US as the world superpower which has been interlinked with the establishment of the dollar as the world currency. The current economic crisis, with the US decline and the emergence of new world powers, is leading towards a multipolar world and this will result in a new world monetary order which will re-shape economics, internal policies and international relations for years to come. During the last decades the US has been exploiting the condition of the dollar as a reserve currency to run colossal deficits in its trade and current-accounts with which it has financed its economy and has managed to keep its status of the world superpower. This time it looks like the dollar domination is over and during next years most probably we will assist to the birth of a new monetary world order.
We are observing how the continuous depreciation of the dollar is having devastating effects in the reserves of most world countries which are held in this currency. Most importantly, countries such as China which have huge surpluses in their trade account with the US see the fate of their economies linked to the strength of a currency whose strength diminishes whilst being forced to buy US debt to avoid further devaluations of the dollar.
Paul Kennedy in his article published in the New York Times on 28 August rightly pointed out two facts which signal an important change: during the G20 meeting in London of April the IMF received an allocation of 250 billion $ in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) and two months later a meeting of the BRICs –Brazil, Russia, India and China - debated shifting currency holdings from the dollar to these IMF units of account in order to diversify risk.
The debate on the post-dollar era and with it the new world monetary system is something that is happening, even if the EU wants to ignore it. We are assisting to the most important change in world monetary policy since 1944 when in Bretton-Woods John Maynard Keynes proposed the creation of a “bancor”, a world currency unit based on the average price of 30 commodities, and the US opted for a monetary system based on the gold standard linked to the dollar which effectively turned the dollar into the world currency. Back then nobody could challenge the strength of the American currency, fair image of the then most powerful world economy. This is no longer the case and the emerging economies don’t want to see its efforts to develop go up in the air with the destruction of its reserves whilst continuing to finance the US economy.
The United States have a clear interest in keeping the status quo in the world monetary relations, since this allows them to get their economy financed by the rest of the world. The Chinese have an interest in changing the rules of the game but they are not against the dollar per se because they indeed have most of their reserves in this currency. However they do understand that if things go bad and the Americans start printing money to finance their way out for the crisis this will lead to inflation and subsequently to a depreciation of the dollar which will decrease the value of the chinese reserves and do away with their development effort of the last decade. A similar reasoning applies for other emerging economies such as India or Brazil.
Also the European Union is and will continue to be severely affected by this constant depreciation of the dollar, since the comparative strength of the Euro will render the European exports more expensive and hence move jobs and economic activity out of the EU. There is a lot at stake for the EU in this game and if we look at the current state of affairs and the discussions taking place between the European Commission and the European Parliament on next years programme, it seems that neither have a clear understanding of the stakes in the game.
What should the role of the EU be in this new monetary world order? There are some reasons why the EU should take the lead in proposing a new system:
First and foremost, because it is easier to push for an equitable, democratic and transparent system in a multipolar world than in a polarised world. History teaches us that the predominance of a currency tends to be proportional to the power of the country that issues it. The end of the US hegemony will bring with it the end of the dollar hegemony and the new multipolar world will bring with it a new distribution of power that will be reflected in the monetary strength. Now is the time when emerging economies can agree to a compromise, in 10 years it might be too late. It is strategically important to take advantage of the moment to work out a plan from which all can benefit in the years to come. China may join a world system today but it won’t do it once it is doped with the taste of power.
Secondly, as indicated above because the current status-quo damages the competitiveness of the EU and unless it is reversed it can seriously harm the recovery of the EU economy. If we add a strong exchange rate and political disunion in monetary policy to the lack of a coordinated recovery plan and the inability of the EU to properly finance itself we have the ingredients for a troublesome future.
Thirdly and finally because if the EU doesn’t take (or join) the initiative the world will move on without and the cost of hopping on the train once it has started moving will be higher than being in the vanguard. Clear signs that the train is moving is when in March this year Zhou Xiaochuan, head of the Chinese central bank, called for an overhaul of the global monetary system by replacing the dollar for a world unit composed of a basket of the most important currencies (SDR). As explained before the talks among the BRICs after the 250 billion $ in SDR given to the IMF to guarantee stability also show a tendency.
The EU, except some timid initiatives taken by the French presidency a year ago, did not react to these declarations and signs and instead we continue to behave like if we were in the 20th century.
At present the EU 27 holds most of the voting power in the IMF and if acting together it could even decide to move the siege of the organisation to Europe. This simple example shows the power that the EU still has, although not for long, in influencing world monetary policy. The EU‘s weight in the IMF is disproportionate to its economic and demographic size and it will be corrected soon.Why not taking advantage of the last moments “in power” to give the right steps to create a more representative, fair and above all stable and robust monetary system? Isn'’t it in our interest? The euro can not and should not be the new world currency; instead the European experience of monetary integration could be very useful for the setting up of a new world monetary system based on SDR. Why does Europe stay silent when the status quo is harming European interests?
The eurozone has delegated competence in monetary policy and the council can decide by qualified majority on a proposal from the European Commission: it is therefore in the hands of the European Executive to put together the EU monetary plan. Ideally, the newly elected president of the European Commission should seize initiative and put the European Union at the forefront of these crucial negociations for the world governance. The role of the euro in the new world monetary order should have a prominent place in the program that Barroso will present for approval in front of the European Parliament together with the new European Commission in December 2009 or January 2010.
By Philippe Adriaenssens, JEF Belgium
More than $1 trillion in development aid has been poured into Africa over the past 50 years but this has only helped to perpetuate a vicious circle of poverty, argues Dambisa Moyo in her book “Dead Aid”.* She demands the phasing out of all foreign government aid within the next five years in order to allow African countries to lift themselves out of poverty. True, decades of European involvement in Africa has brought about little change and the “lost continent” is lagging behind on virtually all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This staggering fact should lead the EU member states to seriously rethink their strategies and methods if they do not want all their efforts to evaporate. With some $75 billion of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to its name, the EU is by far the largest donor in the world, representing over 55% of the total yearly ODA. 1 But the reality is that the European Commission (EC) is entrusted with only one-sixth of the EU member states’ aid, while five-sixths is still being channelled by European governments themselves. This article will therefore argue that only a more federal European development policy driven by the Commission will result in the delivery of more, better and faster aid which does trigger genuine economic growth in Africa.
What went wrong?
The main reason for which development policy is sometimes declared to be on the edge of bankruptcy is that EU member states cherished hidden national economic, security or postcolonial agendas far too long. Tied aid required recipient countries to purchase their equipment from companies residing in donor countries; strategically important but corrupt governments squandered money on mega projects that were by no means viable; and short-term technical assistance served as a charity sweetener to prolong influence in former colonies. Aid was centred on the interests of the North instead of those of the South. High officials of national development institutes admit that still too much time and money are being wasted on administrative micro-management and (Western) consultants. 2 Moreover, everybody was involved in everything and the three crucial C’s of coordination, complementarity and coherence were totally disregarded. Too many cooks spoil the meal, especially when the recipes are full of flaws and the ingredients have passed their expiry date.
Continue reading ...
By Richard Laming, Federal Union
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the European Union has too many powers. Politicians from across the political spectrum call for “reform” to reverse what they claim is an ever-centralising trend.
Of course, there is no logic in the argument that a test of whether the EU is up to date is whether it is giving up powers. The powers that the EU ought to have are those that the member states cannot exercise effectively on their own: no more and no less. Maybe the passage of time means that some of the powers of the EU can be returned to the member states, maybe not. There is no certain claim that they must be.
(That is not say that there are not aspects of individual policies that might be unnecessary at the European level, but that is not what our reformers are arguing.)
Given that the public climate of powers for Brussels is so hostile, how come powers ever end up there in the first place? Here’s an example.
I received a message entitled “Please support the right to free healthcare within the EU”. The message reads:
“I don't know if you will be able to assist but I have created a government petition requesting free healthcare for UK citizens resident in Spain. The wording of the petition is as follows:
“Many UK citizens, currently living in Spain are unable to obtain healthcare. This is because the reciprocal agreement is that healthcare will only be paid for a maximum of two years. There is "freedom of movement" within the EU so why is it that after paying into the NHS for many years there is not "freedom of healthcare benefits". At this time of economic crisis it is virtually impossible for British citizens to find work in other Member States and many are living below the poverty line.”
You can find the petition on the Number 10 website
Up until now, it has been taken as read that healthcare provision is a matter for the member states and not for the EU. The public health provisions in the Lisbon treaty are carefully and awkwardly worded so as to limit their effect to public health alone and not to impinge on broader health policy.
Article 168(7) reads: “Union action shall respect the responsibilities of the Member States for the definition of their health policy and for the organisation and delivery of health services and medical care. The responsibilities of the Member States shall include the management of health services and medical care and the allocation of the resources assigned to them.”
This seems to exclude an EU policy on who is eligible for healthcare and who can pay for it. But, as a result, we have an apparent mismatch between free movement and residence rights on the one hand and healthcare provision on the other.
Conventional wisdom says that it is wrong that there should be more powers for the EU. But conventional wisdom is often wrong.
This article was first published on Federal Union Blog
By Richard Laming, Federal Union
The European election results were bad news for pro-Europeans. There’s no point trying to present it any other way.
One trick that party politicians sometimes try and play is to say that the turnout was down, which means that you can’t read so much into the result. Pro-Europeans can’t say that because a low turnout is in itself a problem. The fact that the European Parliament does not deal with such high profile issues as Westminster means that one would not expect the turnout to be as high – local elections have lower turnouts than Westminster elections, too – but it is still not something that the pro-Europeans can be particularly happy about.
And then, when one looks at how the votes were cast and not only how many, the news gets worse.
The parties whose share of the vote went up are all, with the exception of the SNP, Eurosceptic parties (at the very least), and the parties whose share went down, with the exception of the Scottish Socialists, are pro-European. (There are figures here.)
The pro-European share of the vote fell to 34 per cent of the vote from 41 per cent in 2004. More than that, the balance on the Eurosceptic side shifted slightly to parties that are explicitly opposed to EU membership. And more than that, the Conservative party, which is by far the biggest Eurosceptic party, is moving closer and closer to a position that is incompatible with EU membership, even if they do not say so explicitly. This may be deliberate, perhaps it is not, but nonetheless it is happening.
The result this weekend was historic and alarming. Up until now, elections have always confirmed broad pro-European support. Every general election since the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, every European election since the introduction of direct elections in 1979, and the referendum on membership in 1975 have all produced a majority in favour of British membership of the EU. It is arguable that, for the first time, a national election may have produced an actual majority against membership.
There will be more debate about why this has happened. It is a sobering thought for now simply to reflect on the fact that it has.
This article was first published on Federal Union Blog
By Åsa Gunven
…at least if you look at the disastrous low turnout predictions for the European Parliament elections. Lets look at the elections more bluntly and determine if to vote or not to vote by asking ourselves 3 metaphysical questions:
Question 1: Is there a European Parliament?
The EP has gained power in every treaty change, and today it co-decides on almost all legislation and it indirectly decides on around 70% of the legislation that is decided on the national level. Last term it has produced over 1200 laws including consumer protection, lower roaming rates, chemical safety, carbon reduction measures, the service directive and also taken important stands such as endorsing the Charter of Human rights when the Council failed to do so. Yes – there is an European Parliament worthy its name and it definitely has important powers that can be exercised by its voters, but its legitimacy is severely weekend by the low voting turnout.
Question 2: Is there a European election campaign?
A friend of mine said that she has to vote blank as the debates only focus on national politics and she does not have a clue about what the different parties want for Europe or will actually do in the European Parliament if elected. Everywhere we see the same problem - national parties fighting European elections with over national politics. For accountability and transparency media and political parties need to secure a proper debate on the European policy choices ahead.
The European Parties manifesto that they have produced for the first time (Greens for a second time) remain largely lowest common denominator politics and it is a fact that it is national parties that run a national competition mainly on national issues. Who even knows about the European Parties and the groups in the Parliament? Or the fact that my vote for a national party will support parties from other countries that belong to the same political group even if they politically actually stand light years away from me? This is confusing, in-transparent and a big problem for accountability.
A way to overcome this national bias of the election is to establish transnational party lists that would allow me as a voter to choose between candidates from different countries. This would focus the debate on European political choices and increase the debate taking place across the borders of Europe – away from the national politics! It would also increase the electoral choice as it would allow me to pick candidates from another country where often members of the same party family stand for really different political choices. The European Parliament is currently discussing an electoral reform for 2014, where one suggestion is the inclusion of a trans-national constituency with transnational lists for a small proportions of the seats in the parliament. This is a good, even if slightly slow, start and it is important for Europe’s democratic development that this reform goes through.
Question 3: Is there a European Parliament election?
What are we actually electing when voting for the European Parliament? A candidate, a party, a European Parliament… but one thing is clearly missing compared to national parliamentary elections; the election and holding into account of the executive.
No matter what I vote, and no matter what is the new majority of the European Parliament, conservative Barroso will head the new Commission that is appointed right after the elections in June. Even if it is the Council that nominated the Commission president, it is the newly elected Parliament and its majority that has the power to reject or accept him/her – and so the voters trough the parties could actually elect their own Commission president (even before the Lisbon treaty)
The failure of the European Parties, and particularly of the Party of European Socialists that are the only one that could realistically have challenged Barrosos, is a failure for European democracy. Next elections hopefully the European Parties will see the advantage of putting a face to their campaigns and at the same time increase the motivation of Europe’s citizens to go and vote by giving them the power to elect (and reject!) their political leadership.
To vote or not to vote – that is the question. Let’s vote, but let’s vote for someone that is prepared to lead the way for important federal reforms that can make the Parliament, the Campaigning and the Election worthy their names for next time around. Only then we will get the voting turnout the European Parliament deserves.
By Joan Marc Simon, Secretary General of the Union of European Federalists
European and world economy are submerged in an economic crisis, direct result of the financial crush of last months. Two comments on this: One; the EU has not fixed the problems that caused the current chaos in the credit market, Two; the response of the EU to the crisis continues to be insufficient. To which extend is this an institutional failure?
Firstly, it is important to fix the problems that the crisis caused. Whilst much of the G20 debate has concerned issues such as global fiscal stimulus, the real challenge remains in choosing a new philosophy for the international financial system and its regulation.
Unless we want to hermetically close the borders and change the economic system, we will need capitals flowing in and out. So far this has been done without much control and the lack of information on what was being traded has created the bubble that exploded a year ago. How to fix it? It is the old story of choosing the right tools to address the problem which is the fact that financial markets are global when the regulators remain national. Understandably, as soon as capitals start flowing between countries it is more and more difficult to keep track of what is being traded. Different accounting rules, lack of transparency, lack of accountability… As soon as information is missing, speculation escalates and a few get filthy rich whilst money disappears from pension funds, saving accounts and people lose their jobs because the company they work for can’t have access to financing. This is institutional failure. The system is failing to protect their citizens from legal theft. This requires a change of system or justifies and upraising from the citizens against the institutions representing them.
Although, if we take into account the increasing integration and interdependence of the world economies, a world financial regulator would be the solution, it still seems to be too far away for many; especially for those countries not used to the exercise of sharing sovereignty -which has delivered so much to the European citizens-. However, within the EU it is unacceptable that we can have a common market, free movement of people, goods, capitals and services –at least on paper-, a common currency and monetary policy and a high level of economic integration without having a functioning European financial system. It took this crisis for the non-interventionist/regulation-phobic European Commission to start working on the regulation of hedge funds, transparency of derivatives markets and improved accounting rules aiming at creating a level playing field between EU countries. It is better late than never, but this will fall short to prevent a new crisis. As long as European financial markets continue without a regulator -which should be democratically managed, transparent and with the power to enforce its decisions we will continue to live under the threat of a new financial meltdown. The decision to allow more or less speculation, to allow using money for the sake of just create money instead of directing to productive investments is not a technical one that can be self-regulated by a market. It is highly political and it requires intervention of European legislators.
Secondly, whilst working on the prevention we need to act to fix the damage done by the crisis. Of course money matters when we want to protect those who are losing their jobs and at the same time invest in economic reconversion but is also a matter of political leadership to pick and implement a coordinated approach to transform the European economy. So far there is no serious European recovery plan as such but a sum of multiple stimulus plans. The European Commission put forward a recovery plan that falls short in scope and objectives when the EU needs bold new vision to move forward. European taxes –without increase tax pressure on EU citizens- or issuing EU bonds to increase the financial capacity of the EU is not a “tabu” issue only supported by some “lunatic federalists” anymore; time has proven that the unbalances of power and competences within the EU may be able to exist as transitional structures but when going through troubled waters the EU needs fiscal federalism and a consistent European budget.
This is why in the new legislature starting next month we need the European Commission to start behaving more like a federal government in order to manage an expanded EU budget of at least 2% of the community GDP, with the capacity to issue Union-Bonds and develop a European fiscal policy matched by an increase in the political responsibility. This reaction is far from radical; it is what any state is doing right now, from China to the US and from Argentina to Germany. In the EU the level of economic integration and the fact that we share a monetary policy justifies why this is the only sensible, yet politically difficult, way forward.
Continuing with the current indecisive situation puts at risk more than just the recovery of the economy but the current structures of the EU because the increasing and unbalanced indebtedness of national budgets will endanger the common market and the euro. We can talk of institutional failure when the institutions fail to deliver the pillars for normal functioning of a society; namely rules (regulatory framework), transparency, fairness and political and budgetary capacity to act in times of crisis. This is needed today and it doesn’t look like is going to be delivered by the EU.
Parts of the solution require treaty changes, some others don’t. A strong leadership is necessary to lead either of them and this leadership should come from the European Commission. If the current Commission is not up for the work the newly elected Parliament should exercise its democratic power and reject any new commission that lacks leadership and a plan for the future of Europe.
By Joan-Marc Simon, Secretary General of the Union of European Federalists
As the economic downturn and the swine flu dominate the pages of newspapers a lot more important issue, for it affects our long term survival in this planet, disappears from the media: the fight against climate change.
In December will take place in Copenhagen the next United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in which the new rules and targets will be laid to replace the Kyoto protocol. The Kyoto treaty was based on 5 principles: commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, implementation measures, minimization of impact in developing countries –via adaptation fund-, accounting reporting and review and compliance. A decade later evidence shows that worldwide emissions have increased by 38% and even though the EU15 did a good job in stabilizing the emissions the increase of emissions in China (+150%), India (+103%) or the US (+20%) among many others has caused the emissions to grow.
Hence, the Kyoto protocol, albeit its concretion in what needs to be done is failing to deliver what it was designed to do. And what is worst, we are not learning. The relative failure of Kyoto can be due to either the wrong setting of objectives or to the inadequacy of the tools used to meet the objectives. I believe the objectives, although sometimes arbitrary and not scientifical enough, are not the problem. The instruments we use are clearly failing.
The weakest point of Kyoto, same as any international treaty, is its implementation and enforceability. Who does what, how, and who monitors that job is done properly and has the power to sanction it when this is not the case. The EU offers a good example about implementation and compliance: whilst cooperation has proven its inability to deliver, integration has clearly been the key to success. Once something is agreed among the 27, implementation takes place –at European, national or regional level- and enforceability is monitored and the European Court of Justice can sanction the non-complying member states. This effective system of supranational governance descends from the European Coal and Steel Community, where the 6 founding states decided to put under a supranational democratic rule what they considered was a public good, and which had been the cause of disputes and wars over the years. From this milestone the successful story of European integration unfolded.
The EU is the most successful example in the history of supranational governance for it has had the capacity to deliver. Yet, the virtues of the model have not been followed by other supranational structures. Kyoto has had a very weak mechanism of enforcement; a feeble Compliance Committee has been deciding on who was following the commitments. For instance: Greece was excluded of the Kyoto protocol in 2008 due to unfulfilled commitment of creating mechanisms of monitoring and controlling emissions and reporting false data. Excluding countries from the protocol is not the way to guarantee enforcement; it is just a declaration of impotence to manage the system.
Environment is a common public good for humankind; pollution doesn’t stop at the borders and can’t be fought with weapons yet it has the potential to exterminate us. It is therefore high time to get organized to fight climate change effectively and this can only be done with the right tools. Never before we have known so much about the threat before us. Yet, knowledge is a mighty two-faced tool for it gives us the false impression that we control the situation: We know what is happening, we know what we need to do and hence we might think that we can solve it. But we can’t.
Whatever objectives the world community sets for itself in Copenhagen, they can only be met if we manage to set up an institutional structure where global interest is put before the national interests. This world institutional setting that we could call “World Environmental Community” would treat environment as a global public good and would have a “High Authority” which would care only about the global interest. The national interests could be represented in intergovernmental meetings such as UNFCCC or in a more formalized body. However, the “High Authority” should be supervised by a body not representing the states but the global interest and the members of which could be elected or appointed by the states. The system would need of a Court of Justice able to guarantee the enforcement of the decisions. Such a structure would create the space and the tools where global taxation could be developed –if needed- and properly managed in a democratic and transparent manner.
What stays on the way? Mainly the will of the our elected governments who have to decide what is the best way to defend the national interest: by not letting go in the short term and putting our survival in danger in the mid term or by ceding a bit of sovereignty in the short term to be able to have a long term at all.
Also, Environmental NGOs should look at broader picture and along with world emissions targets; ask for a governance deal that empowers the treaty to deliver.
History shows that humans always learn the hard-way. Sane decisions tend to take place after disasters such as WWII.
Would we be the first generation to anticipate and prevent the disaster?
The world has climate change fever and temperature keeps going up. We have all the symptoms to get pneumonia soon and we continue to stay alone in the cold.
This article is also published on Joan Marc Simon's Blog
In his key note speech to the Union of European Federalists last Federal Committee, Andrew Duff MEP urged more attention to be paid to the definition of the common European interest. He said :
This is a dangerous moment for Europe when the collective leadership of the European Union is weak and demoralised. The Council presidency has virtually collapsed; the Commission and Parliament are in transition; and nobody has any idea what constitutional regime will apply to the EU in the future.
So the political parties must not fail -once again- to rise to the big occasion of the European Parliamentary election campaign. If politicians fail to campaign, the European dimension of democracy will be imperceptible and turnout will remain low.
Andrew Duff, who is President of the UEF, told the meeting of the federal committee that the federalist organisation was ready to combat the nationalist forces in the campaign.
Federalists have no reason to be intimidated by the rising tide of ultra-nationalist and europhobic opinion. The financial crisis, the economic crash, the problem of climate change, the international security situation all point to the need for more Europe more concerted leadership, more parliamentary control, and a greater capacity to act on behalf of the EU institutions.
Today, the case for a federal Europe has never been more evident. Nationalism must be defeated. We must get to work to define more clearly the common European interest.
The Union of European Federalists, meeting in Brussels on 18-19 April, has appealed to the political parties to intensify their campaigns in the upcoming elections to the European Parliament.
Speaking at the conclusion of the meeting, UEF President Andrew Duff MEP said:
People will only turn out to vote for the European Parliament if they are provoked to do so by a hard-hitting party political campaign with a clear European dimension. This campaign has got to connect the things which interest people in their daily lives - today notably, employment and savings- with the politics of the European Union.
Political parties should have the honesty to admit that narrow and disjointed national 'solutions' to economic recovery are at best insufficient and at worst counterproductive. Only a united European response to the economic crash will make a significant difference. This means, among other things, higher investment from the EU budget and European Investment Bank into productive, sustainable jobs.
Candidates should also have the wit to campaign for the expansion of the eurozone and a single EU policy for the international monetary reform negotiations. Stricter supervision of the financial sector at the EU level is now inevitable.
Turning to the UEF's Who's Your Candidate? campaign -in which political parties were asked to name their candidate for the new Commission President- Mr Duff said:
The campaign for nomination of candidates for president of the European Commission seems to be over. Mr Barroso has certainly been campaigning for his own renomination and, in view of the results, he has been successful. No other political party decided to put up a candidate. UEF can be proud to have at least stimulated a debate about this issue. The big breakthrough for political parties will come once we have a pan-EU transnational constituency for the election of a proportion of MEPs. This reform must come by 2014.
On the role of the UEF, Mr Duff added:
The UEF stands ready to combat the rising tide of nationalism and xenophobia. At a time when federal solutions to Europe's problems are more clearly needed than ever, candidates from whatever political party are welcome to use us as a resource in their election campaigns.
On 15 April the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR) launched their campaign for the coming EP elections. JEF activists were there to ask them the same question as they had asked the Socialists in Madrid and the Greens in Brussels: »Who is your candidate for the President of the European Commission?« The aim of these actions was to raise awareness on the idea that the European Parties should nominate their candidate and the need to make the European Commission more democratic. For JEF this idea is not new, but for many it is.
As expected the launch did not present any candidate for the position of the Commission President, instead the leader of the Liberal Democrat political group, Graham Willson, was introduced as candidate for the position of the President of the European Parliament – a position that clearly does not represent powers even close to the executive powers of the Commission. In his speech Mr Willson mentioned the failure of the Socialist Group to nominate a contra-candidate to conservative Barroso and put it sarcastically by saying “the Conservatives and Socialists never miss an opportunity to miss and opportunity«, but in fact, at least in this case, the same is true for the Liberals as well. Aloys Rigaut, LYMEC President mentioned his disappointment with the Liberals not nominating a Commission President, which the European Liberal Youth had demanded.
The federalist action was very successful, some hundred postcards were handed out asking for a Liberal candidate and we had interesting discussions with dozens of people, most of whom were very positive to the idea. Guy Verhofstadt, former Prime Minister of Belgium and Liberal top candidate to the EP received one of our flyers and responded: "This is a really important issue to discuss in the Liberal Group" - seemingly seriously considering the opportunity to still nominate a Liberal candidate and supporting the idea standing behind the federalist demand.
Despite a very successful action in terms of numbers of people reached by it, it is still less plausible that the Liberals will actually nominate a candidate for the 2009 elections. What is much more important is that many of the high-ranking Liberals were convinced of the importance of this question, and will probably work on this idea further, which would largely contribute to making the European Commission more democratic. Maybe we get a Liebral candidate for next election!
Written by Matteo Garavoglia is PhD Candidate at the Research College Group (KFG) on the “Transformative Power of Europe” at the Free University of Berlin.
One reason for the low turnout at the elections of the European Parliament (EP) is that citizens do not see the point of voting: why to go to the ballot box when one doesn’t know what leader the vote will bring to power?
On the 27th and the 28th of April the European Greens celebrated their congress and one feature was missing: the manifesto failed to nominate the candidate for the presidency of the Commission. This is shameful in that the Greens are not taking up the opportunity of making the Union more democratic by providing European citizens with clear options concerning who should lead the Commission.
Last week the European People’s Party (EPP) announced it would back current incumbent Barroso for another term as president of the Commission. This is not surprising given the fact that Barroso himself comes from the EPP. What is surprising is that no other European political party has put forward its own candidate.
As the only political party with a realistic chance to challenge the EPP, the European Socialists (PES) should eagerly promote a candidate of their own but this is not the case: a lot of soul-searching has so gar been followed by inaction. What sort of impression are the PES and the Greens giving to the European electorate? This situation is all the more shameful in a context whereby the EP has the political tools to force the Council to appoint the leader of the largest European party as the president of the Commission. Are the European political parties ready to give more democracy to the citizens?
Matteo Garavoglia is PhD Candidate at the Research College Group (KFG) on the “Transformative Power of Europe” at the Free University of Berlin.
Article written by Julia Brink, Young European Federalists
The European institutions are fighting the low turnouts in the European Parliament elections with a common strategy and a single message throughout Europe: “It’s your choice”. The problem: A choice requires different alternatives. A single campaign requires a single discussion.
Paradoxically, the turnout in European elections has been decreasing ever since the first direct elections in 1979 while the power of the European Parliament has been steadily increasing. More and more laws are made by the ‘citizen’s chamber’ while less and less people take advantage of their right to directly influence these decisions.
Does the EP campaign promote the idea of Fortress Europe?
It’s all about choice
This year, there will be no lectures about citizen’s responsibilities or duties in the European Parliament’s communication strategy - the European elections 2009 are all about choice. The key message is that all citizens can influence policies by giving their vote. This message is spread with a single campaign throughout Europe: Postcards, billboards and 3-dimensional street installations will raise important questions concerning energy, climate change, agriculture, consumer protection, security, free markets and other important topics. In room-sized cubes with the name “choice boxes”, citizens can record their views on European issues – selected scenes will be played on Europarl TV, Youtube and on screens outside the boxes. In order to reach all potential voters, the campaign will also be present on TV and radio, young voters are supposed to be attracted by My Space, Facebook and Flickr.
So far so good. In times of crises, with important challenges ahead, it is important to convince European citizens to take advantage of their right to vote. It is very pleasing that for once the European Parliament and the European Commission are using a single campaign throughout Europe raising questions that definitely need to be discussed on a European level. But to which extend is this campaign a European one and how much choice do voters really have?
“Choosing” the pig in the poke
It is true that the European Union is facing important challenges in the fields of economics, finances, environment and society that demand common action. The main argument of the European Parliament election campaign is that by voting for one party or another, citizens can influence the choices made in the next period of legislation. However, voting in the elections to the European Parliament is still a bit like buying a pig in a poke. Voters opt for national political parties that form part of European parties. On the ballot, there is no hint as to which European party this will be.
If the European Parliament offers choices, it would be important to clarify what these choices really consists of and what they result in. Presenting the names and logos of the Groups of European parties on the ballot would be a first step in the right direction. It would, however, change nothing about the fact that European parties are very heterogeneous due to their composition of various national parties. The only way to actually know what the parties stand for, the only way to really make a choice, is to vote for Paneuropean parties with transnational lists, allowing citizens to elect candidates from all over Europe, regardless of their nationality.
Barroso, Barroso or Barroso?
It starts with the names of the European Parties, it continues with the faces of the candidates to the most important positions in the European Union. What do we really choose? Who do we elect by giving our vote to one party or another? In principal, it would be possible for European citizens to elect the executive of Europe, the European Commission, with their vote for a party. Right after the elections to the European Parliament, the next President of the Commission will be appointed. The ‘citizen’s chamber’ has the final say on who this will be. It would make absolute sense and be very democratic if the candidate of the strongest party or coalition would become President of the Commission. This way, voters could influence the composition of the Commission and hold it to account - if only the European Parliament and the European Parties took their responsibility of delivering political choices seriously and nominated a candidate to this position. No party did. Names and faces of the candidates to the main political positions of the European institutions will only be presented after the election. No matter who people vote for the president of the Commission will most likely remain Barroso that has already been backed for the second term as a President of the European Commission – by the heads of states, even socialist ones like Brown and Zapatero, not by the citizens or the Parliament. So what is there to choose from? Unsurprisingly, European citizens feel that their vote does not count and that the whole EU system is not transparent. From this point of view, a campaign with the slogan “it’s your choice” sounds like a hoax. “Choosing” means that you can select from a number of alternatives. Unless the European Parties nominate their candidates to the position of the President of the Commission, the citizens “choice” will be: Barroso, Barroso or Barroso.
A single European campaign?
Moreover, the European elections are still dominated by nationality. Citizens have the “choice” from their national parties rather than from transnational party lists with candidates from all countries. As a result, discussions are limited to the national level. Raising questions like “what kind of energy do we want?”, “how much security is too much?”, or “how far should standardisation go?” is very important. However, as long as discussions do not reach across borders and parties run campaigns based mainly on national politics, these questions will not result in finding the right answers. Instead, they might well go into the next national elections – which in some countries, like Germany, are upstaging the European elections anyway. Moreover, by tailoring the campaign to the member states, the strategy adds to the tendency of debating at the national level. The posters and installations concerning borders will above all be prominent in Southern Europe. They feature a fortress and a hedge and raise the question “What kind of borders should we have?” Not only does the presentation simplify the debate to a level that impedes serious discussion, it also prevents discussions on a European level.
This way, the strategy misses the most important point: Explaining why it is so important to solve these issues at a European level and encouraging discussions that go beyond the national perspective. One of the main campaign ideas was to speak the language people speak, the main message is choice. It is time for the European Parliament to engage its voters in real discussions. It is time to provide the basis for real choices.
This article is also published on The New Federalist
Article written by Joan Marc Simon, Secretary General of UEF
This is as confusing as it is absurd. In yesterday’s meeting the EPP leaders back Barroso for a second term as President of European Commission but still no party is behind Barroso's ambition to renew his mandate as President of the European Commission.
One could expect that if the leaders of a party back a candidate of the same party and nobody in the party opposes, this candidate would become THE candidate of THE party. Not in European politics.
Same as EPP, the European Socialist Party has no official candidate for President of the European Commission. When Rasmussen, PSE President, was asked about the PSE candidate in the presentation of the PSE manifesto he said that they hadn't decided on a candidate "yet". At the same time socialist prime ministers such as Zapatero, Socrates or Brown already openly expressed their support for Barroso. I guess it is easy to back a candidate when the contest is a false one...
Barroso, the President of what is to be the executive body of the EU, is backed by individuals. These individuals are not "normal" individuals; they are heads of state and heads of governments. However, what does it say about the future President of the European Commission and the Commission as a whole?
Source European Communities, 2009
Firstly, that the "European interest" can't be defended by a body whose president is held hostage by heads of state and governments. The role of defending the interest of the member-states was the role of the president of the European Council but it seems like the Commission is dangerously shifting towards the intergovernmentalist option.
Secondly, and as a consequence, no expectations about leadership or initiative should be put on a body elected without a political program and that is held hostage of the interest of the member-states.
Leadership is crucial in times of crisis and without a strong European Commission taking the initiative to regulate the financial markets, in raising resources for a economic relaunch, in investing in the infrastructure necessary to launch a new green economy the EU is doomed to fail to its citizens.
Leadership comes from personality but also from legitimacy and recognition. Why should the Europeans, even those who will to vote in the European Parliament elections, feel that Barroso is representing them? They will vote for a program that can't be implemented because Barroso's program is improvised in the heads of state meetings and not subjected to public scrutiny.
If the EPP happens to have the same political program as Barroso -which would make sense if he belongs to the party the leaders of which support him- why isn't Barroso the candidate of the EPP? Is the EPP scared that if they declare Barroso as their candidate the socialists might be forced to declare that Barroso is NOT their candidate?
By Barroso not being the candidate of any party... should we interpret that he is the "de-facto" candidate of all parties?
If so, we certainly live in a strange stage of European democracy.
This article can also be read on The New Federalist
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