Across The EUniverse
Number Twenty six
If we didn’t have the EU we’d have to build it.
What is it that concerns so many in the Brussels bubble with the rise of the so called populist parties in many EU member states? It can’t be that a large segment of the population have exercised their democratic rights, as we are all democracies.
It can’t be that there is a single force building against the EU as the populist movement is a very broad church encompassing everything of the Calvinism of withdrawal from the Euro to the Catholicism of daily gripes.
There is a right to be concerned at a certain degree of ignorance and inexperience of many of these new political movements in the ways of politics and governance. There is inexperience not only at the national level but even more so at the EU level where the governance structures are inherently complex. But experience comes with doing and these movements will be doing and will be learning and will be engaged.
It seems to the editors of Across that the main concern among the ‘elite’ comes down to the need to change. Change is never easy. And change and decision making in the EU is difficult given the fact that Malta has a vote that is equal to Germany on many constitutional and structural issues.
But what sort of change is being asked for? Are the changes so inherently fundamental such as to undermine the EU or are they something else. Take Italy for example. It seems that the calls are not so much for a withdrawal from the Euro but an end to austerity. There is also a strong call for better burden sharing among member states in relation to the migration crisis. Hungary does not call for an end to the EU but for more restrictions on the movement of peoples into the EU and a greater recognition of Europe’s Christian culture. The situation in Poland is a little more complex and concerns the concept of the rule of law, something which is of concern also in Bulgaria and Romania. Each populist movement in each member states has different colours and different demands
Overall, and except for Brexit, these calls for change are not about undermining the four basic freedoms of the free movement of people, capital, services and goods. There is no complaint about the setting of health and safety standards at the EU level, at ensuring that standards are equal across the EU, that roaming charges have been cut down, that the EU should have a single border (even if there is debate about how open or closed that border should be). There are no calls for the ending of the Single Market. This is because EU citizens welcome the benefits that the Single Market has brought.
The EU Single Market is the bedrock of today’s Europe. There is still strong support for it across the continent. If we didn’t have it we would need to build it.
Added to this strong support for the Single Market is the recognition that, more and more the EU must stand alone in a changing world and be a beacon for the rule of law both within the domestic market and in the international sphere. This will require change. And once again we must work out what the changes must be. But this time round we must not make the excuse of the need to change the governance rules (a new Lisbon Treaty or an EU Constitution) prior to the working out of effective policies that reflect the new political equilibrium among the EU’s 500 million citizens. Rather than work out what rules should govern the Euro or a single banking market we have spent too much of this century looking at our constitutional navel. We must work towards solutions that we can be comfortable with, not treaties which look good on paper.