( A seven Minute read)
The Post aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the context of the European Union in the 21st century.
Instead of a core group of like-minded countries coming together to embrace closer integration, one country is pulling way, opening the door for others to do the same.
The question is whether the U.K. would remain sanguine about a more tightly integrated EU once it became a reality or see it as a threat.
The question of the aims, depth and institutional implications of the integration process has become far more pressing now that England has vote to leave.
Nobody would seriously argue that the EU doesn’t need to evolve in order to survive, but Europe is again inching toward the two-speed reality.We all know that Artificial Intelligence, Climate Change, Current Wars, along with a host of other Scientific advancements are not only changing the World but the way we live.
This crisis has also created an opportunity to re-examine the foundations of the European economic and social model and to develop them further. Patching and mending only makes the situation worse.
The crisis gives us the opportunity to rethink the European Union for the 21st century. If the Union fails, Europe will soon be reduced to a shadow of its former historical self.
The current debate about the future of Europe and the European Union has revealed a conflict of interpretation.
It suffers from a lack of creativity. For the most part it is characterized by generalized aspirations – “more Europe”, “genuine EMU” – which are too abstract to contribute usefully to an informed argument about the future direction of the EU.
While there is a “perfectly credible” case for a second EU referendum, (if the British people decide that, having seen what it means, the pain gain cost-benefit analysis doesn’t stack up) it appears that the EU is making no attempt to offer Reforms that would reverse the English electrical decision. “There is no idea what Brexit really means,” The vote to withdraw is not irrevocable.
It must base its offer to England on an inclusive and positive vision of the UK’s role in a reformed EU.
Perhaps it is because the UK now accounts for less than 1 per cent of the world’s population and less than 3 per cent of global income (GDP). This is no time to revert to Little England and I have not heard to date any good alternatives to membership.
One way or the other just what is the future of the European Union?
Constructive engagement is vital when Europe confronts threats from Islamist extremism, migration, Russian aggrandisement and climate change. These can only be tackled collectively .
The fundamental question is whether Brexit will strengthen the integration among the remaining 27 members or throw the EU into a kind of paralysis wondering what has gone wrong and motivated Britain to leave.
If an unreformed Europe, threatened by social decline, continues along its present path, it risks becoming an elite project that benefits only a minority at the expense of the majority.
It needs effective action, but also truly democratic. It must chart a course for a European Union built on democracy, solidarity and justice.
Many people feel that they have little or no influence on the conditions that govern European policy-making. Participation in the last European elections fell to 43% of eligible voters. But the seemingly general disinterest in Europe only reflects the lack of confidence that Europe’s citizens have in the power of the European Parliament to change things.
Now there is a young generation growing up in Europe without prospects, for whom the European promise has not been redeemed, and who are losing faith in a European solution to the crisis. Also many people no longer realize what they owe to peace in Europe, the common market and open borders.
The EU today is no longer synonymous with growing prosperity, rising incomes, more jobs and greater security. In the short-term the drift towards break-up must be halted, because it is leading us in the wrong direction and making long-term solutions impossible.
When contemplating the future process of integration we must be prepared to jettison prejudices and reservations, but also any harmonistic illusions.
For me the Future of the EU is about is all about shaping perceptions.
When you get right down to it, the European Union is simply the system we’ve built to agree how to handle issues that affect us all.
The EU is far from perfect, but if it needs fixing, it should be fixed, not dismantled.
As troubled as Europe is, reform is an ongoing process, not a one-off event.
Logically it is not difficult to grasp that as industrialization fades away and globalization crowds out the nation state, the political engineering to frame industrialization loses its luster. Nowadays the nation-state is squeezed between on the one hand globalization and on the other hand people’s wish to be closer to the decision-making of relevance of their daily life such as the environment, education, health.
The emphasis must be to move away from Independent economic growth, individual cultural identity, to a shared Union. Solidarity, benevolence, and cohesion are still there but if Union shows any weakness in its forthcoming Brexit negotiations we will see a knock on effects.
This is, however, only the tip of the iceberg.
Below lurks the challenge of living up to its fundamental values confronted with the combination of demography, migrants/refugees, search for an economic and a social model that serves all.
The key invention of pooling sovereignty has weathered the test of time, but most of the remaining principles need retooling or to be replaced by new principles intercepting changes and new trends.
None of this can be achieved without a major shift to transparency whether England leaves or stays. It can only be achieved with reform. With a new model — commitment to the goal of ‘an ever closer union among the people’s of Europe’.
It does not necessarily imply the disappearance of nation-states only their status and influence will be curbed and power transferred either ‘upwards’ to a changed EU or ‘downwards’ to regions or other local communities.
A multilayered political system will emerge.
Either you are member of the EU, committed to solidarity, coherence, common decision-making, and common policies or you are not.
It must link innovation, qualitative growth and less use of resources to make the EU more competitive by tapping into the vast global market for new industries reaping the benefit of spinoffs, and delivering a better environment for citizens.
It must find a way for the Euro to reflect the individuality economies of its members.
Unless this is done the risk that the system cracks are high and the responsibility for letting this happen rests with Europe and the US. Unless the US and Europe can find common ground the prospect of chaos and infighting is too high for comfort.
The partnership albeit still existing at least on paper has slipped down the list of priorities with the Election of Mr D Trump.
The disturbing factor is the absence of confronting the issues among European politicians and Europeans buying into populism.
EU membership needs to take account of the changing geopolitical environment, the new and growing threats to all EU Member States.
North Africa poses a potential problem with its high population combined with low growth per capita and behind the curtain millions of people from countries south of Sahara look to Europe as the savior.
The prospect of seeing EU external border extended to Syria and Iran with the threat of Turkey opens its european gates to immigrants if it is going to be a member is produces nervousness among Europeans.
It must offer the Uk some key reforms in return for a rerun of the recent referendum.
A vote to remain in the EU, on the back of the renegotiation, could thus allow the UK to take the lead in arguing for a more flexible, dynamic and multi-layered EU in which all Member States, not just the UK would have an interest.
It must create more with less, deliver greater value with less input, using resources in a sustainable way, while minimizing waste and environmental impact. For this strategy, protection of the environment and resource efficiency is vital to its continuation.
It must still works as a problem grinder when a member state tables a problem asking for help. But with one proviso: to share benefits and burdens and not just scraping a lot of money together irrespective of repercussions on the EU or other member states.
Freedom and self-determination will only be possible in the future if these countries and their citizens are prepared to accept a greater degree of responsibility for each other than in the past. If they can be persuaded of this, then the European idea can regain its appeal for future generations and become the foundation on which to build a new, united Europe for the 21st century.
It must create a sufficiently strong increase in living standards to compensate for loss of cultural identity.
Things are no longer what they used to be. If members do not feel committed to a common course they will consider withdrawal.
To do so, the European Parliament should be made more representative, but by increasing the role of citizens and national parliamentarians in the EU structures the EU can be made more open to bottom-up influence.
Multiple levels of engagement should be created so as to give citizens the maximum capability to engage with the EU’s structures. Such a structure would not be perfect. No democratic structure is. But it remains the best way of creating a more democratic European Union.
These problems must be tackled alongside attempts to stabilise economic growth. This can only be done by political leaders genuinely reforming.
The euro zone will not be immune from England’s exit shock and other members, goaded by a belligerent far right, may seek to trigger exit votes. Tensions appear to be spreading throughout Europe. We see far-right movements in countries like Italy, France, Austria and Germany, and worrying signs of racially driven attacks.
In today’s globalized world, where emerging nations such as India, China, Brazil and others are getting ready to shape the political, economic and social destinies of our planet alongside the USA, and to some extent in competition with it, the nations of Europe, which are very small by comparison, can only safeguard their political self-determination, their prosperity and their social achievements by joining forces and standing together on all the key issues. That will require a new step towards European unification, and a strengthening of the capacity of the European Union and its members to take effective action at every level.
Disengagement turned into anger.
For years the bloc has lurched from one crisis to the next, promising time and again to heed the growing mistrust of its 500 million citizens, only to return to the business of internal squabbling as another emergency emerges on the continent.
If the EU is truly a democracy then the best way of closing the gap between citizens and institutions is to empower the people.
To the many of whom see the bloc less as a utopian project and more as a means to an end.
The EU is not going away, however it is time to – Reform or die!
There are now 751 MEPs in the European Parliament.
The European Parliament’s budget for 2015 is €1.795 billion. The general breakdown is:
34% – staff, interpretation and translation costs
23% – MEPs’ expenses covering salaries, travel, offices and staff
12% – buildings
25% – information policy, IT, telecommunications
6% – political group activities
The EU’s national governments unanimously decided in 1992 to fix permanently the seat of the EU institutions. The official seat and venue for most of the plenary sessions is Strasbourg, Parliamentary Committees and Political Group meetings are held in Brussels and administrative staff are based in Luxembourg. Any change to this current system would need to be part of a new treaty and unanimously agreed by all Member States.
Here is the first reform;
Stop ripping off the taxpayer, with the EU Parliament ‘travelling circus’. It’s an outright waste of money, unjustifiable to the European taxpayer, and its wrong.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 people, among them roughly 800 MEPs, their assistants, employees and interpreters move 400 kilometres from Brussels to Strasbourg. Their workspaces are empty for 317 days per year.
It costs taxpayers an estimated €200 million per year.
Just send the bill to M Hollande who can pass it on to the French taxpayer, annually and inflation adjusted. Everyone in France will then be less unhappy about this charade.
An After thought:
Coming up with a unified foreign policy is perhaps the E.U’s greatest challenge of all for its future.