Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wallström Blog


What can I say? Hans-Gert Pöttering, the President of the European Parliament, spoke at the opening of the academic year here on Monday, and I was inspired. (And irked.) So I overcame my reluctance and wrote another rant for the Wallström Blog, even though the only people who ever read those comments are those that agree with me already, and a bunch of Eurosceptics from Britain who wouldn't be convinced no matter what I say.

More pictures from the opening are here.

martinned Says:

September 12th, 2007 at 10:15 am

Robin Says, September 11th, 2007 at 9:57 pm:

Ben Murphy,

Floods of bilge,nonsense,infantile, slurry, morons, shrill, wrong headed,unpleasant characters,xenophobic.

That’s rich! A nice case of the pot calling the kettle black. Mr. Murphy, as far as I can see, has stated his case [fairly and reasonably], after I’d already been worn out by incessant Eurosceptic drivel. It takes real stamina to keep repeating the same arguments over and over, knowing that most likely none of the Eurosceptic gentlemen you’re aiming them at will honestly listen to them even a little bit.

Yes, we have to go out and sell the EU to the population better. One advantage of a referendum is certainly that it forces us to do that. Which reminds me, a propos democratic deficit, this is an article by (intergovernmentalist pioneer) Andrew Moravcsik on the issue. I can recommend it. So if we can get over such myths as the no-demos thesis and the mythical democratic deficit (I don’t know about others, but over here it is virtually impossible to form a government without Christian-Democrats, i.e. virtually impossible to vote them out of government, just to give an example.) It would also be nice to drop any rubbish about EU bureaucracy (fewer civil servants than the city of Amsterdam, and that includes the translators, if I’m not mistaken). Corruption, finally, is also at least partially a myth, because the main reason why the Court of Auditors have not been able/willing to sign off on the budget for the last X years is that their standards are simply much more strict than those of any single Member State. (Again an example of the EU trying to be sweeky clean, cleaner than clean.) I just took a sample from Crapaud’s post, above.

Lord knows there is a lot wrong with the EU. In part because the Member States have never allowed it to be run in the way I’d like to see it run. (I.e. as a proper bicameral parliament with the Commission as an executive.) But Eurosceptics cannot on the one hand argue that there are so many things wrong with the EU while at the same time arguing for more veto-points and opt-outs. Because the writers of the Treaty, as well as the people on the ground today, have always been concious that they needs widespread support every step of the way, the legislation created is sketchy, rickety and often inconsistent. Yes, under EU law it is allowed to treat your own citizens more poorly than citizens of other Member States, but what country would want to do that??? Telling Member States what they can or cannot do in legislating their own citizens in such general terms would surely violate the principle of subsidiarity? The EU is the way it is for a reason, a reason explained by history, both the history of world wars I and II, when early integration efforts organised by Jean Monnet between France and the UK (world war I) and between the UK and the US (world war II) significantly helped the Allied cause, and Europe’s history since the war. Path depencency, people.

Of course, the British are welcome to s**d off, if they don’t want to be a part of our glorious experiment. Norway is doing fine as a part of the EEA, although that does of course mean they pay large sums of money into the budget without any say in how they are spent. I guess with all their oil money they don’t really have to care. In any event, whether this experiment will turn out as self-destructive as Yugoslavia is largely a matter of PR. Just like power-hungry politicians in Yugoslavia turned neighbours into enemies, this might happen at an EU level. Personally, I would think that example would be all the more reason to minimise nationalist rhetoric, given that quite obviously nationalism is spawn from hell, but that’s just me.

Part II:

martinned Says:

September 13th, 2007 at 3:19 am


To start with the bureaucracy point: I figured I’d start by establishing some facts that we might be able to agree on, i.e. that there’s not that many eurocrats to begin with. Having achieved at least that, I’m afraid I’m going to have to do an impolite thing, and debate the premise instead of the main argument. Yes, I do know how the EU works, and yes, I have seen legislation in action, as well as on paper, and I’m afraid the excess bureaucracy perception is just that: perception. I can certainly think of cases where EC legislation has led to more paperwork than strictly necessary, but mostly that’s just things that never cause any trouble for ordinary citizens. For example, I don’t even want to think about how many rapporting requirements were put into the final version of the services directive. However, those rapports have to be written by national civil servants, and they were put in place so that the law makers could dispense with any more drastic measures to assure compliance, or, alternatively, so that they could dispense with taking any measures at all. As far as I can tell, much of the alleged EU bureaucracy is of this type, and that hardly seems enough to warrant the displeasure of our friends accross the channel. An admitted exception is the Common Agricultural Policy, which is a monster and which should be abolished yesterday rather than tomorrow. (As usual, understandable political issues have gotten in the way so far, but the fight goes on!) Some examples would be nice.

In other news:
- If Britain wants to discriminate against its own citizens, (I don’t know that they do, but I’ll take the Brits’ word for it.) don’t you reckon that’s the kind of thing you ought to take up with your own national government? Just a thought.
- We still seem to be confused about the merits of unfettered democracy. In any country, democracy is limited by measures that are in place to prevent a tyrrany by the majority. However, such a general philosophical discussion was out of place on this blog the last time I went there, so I suggest we not try that again. I recommend The Federalist numbers 10 and 14. Fact of the matter is that to have referenda about everything is undoubtedly more democratic, the more the better, but that does not necessarily make it a good thing.
- Of course corruption happens in the EU, just like everywhere else. That’s why we have OLAF. I’d say the Santer commission resigning was a resounding success in the fight against corruption. For other examples, I’d say the most recent one is the mess the Walloon Socialist Party (PS) is in at the moment. They got crushed in the election in June as a result.
- Finally, I cannot do better than point to any good text on the history of the European Union, ideally Moravscik’s ‘From Messina to Maastricht’ (which caused a bit of an uproar when it was first published, on account of it being so cynical about the EU, but it is without question the best analysis of why the treaty changes turned out the way they did, with ample background materials to back it up). Generally, the Member States got exactly what they wanted. There is no magic in play, no Commission hypnotist forcing negotiators to agree to things they did not really want. Sometimes countries said no after negotiating (eg. Norway), sometimes additional opt-outs were included. Sometimes they cheat. (Sweden on the euro, several big Member States on the budget rules for the Eurozone) In the 1960s and 70s, when there was no support for further integration, the whole project stood still, and there is a good chance that that will happen again in the near future. (I’m not optimistic about the reform treaty’s chances of being ratified by all 27 Member States.) For my taste, I think mrs. Merkel has pushed too hard. This time last year, I did the math and estimated they would not be able to put something together until some time in 2009 or 2010. (After the elections, at the same time as the negotiations about the second half of the budget cycle, probably during the Swedish presidency.) Clearly I was wrong, in part because the French elected themselves a pretty pro-EU president, and in part because I was wrong about the big Member States’ theoretical inability to reach such results during their presidencies. (In the past, the best deals have usually been made by medium-sized Member States that are big enough to have enough diplomats, but not so big that the others are annoyed at being pushed around.) My point is, I don’t see how anyone can look at the history of the EU and see anything other than an endless string of one compromise after another.

P.S. I, too, “can accept that there is a valid, debatable, viewpoint which is not coincident with mine”, and it certainly wasn’t my intention to disparage anyone’s “intellectual capabilities” (except maybe Marcel’s). However, I am getting a little tired of this discussion, because it feels like I’m talking to a wall. Nothing I say seems to sink in even a little bit. (I’m fortunate we’ve at least established we agree on how few Eurocrats there actually are, even if we don’t agree on what that means.) I imagine quite a few of my honourable opponents must feel the same way, even if they seem to have more stamina than I do. Logically, what this means is that we must be arguing at the wrong level. If, in a discussion, A says something that is true, and, in reply, B says something that is also true, and so on and so forth, without them ever agreeing, theory dictates they should examine their premises. And if that doesn’t work, they should examine the premises of their premises, until, finally, they reach common ground. In practice, it doesn’t always work that way, but talking about such things as democracy vs. civil liberties and referenda vs. delegated democracy helps clear some things up. To the extent that my disagreements with some of the other commenters are caused by our different appreciation for referenda, generally, there is no need for frustration. On such points, we can simply agree to disagree, and leave it at that. It would be nice to resolve some more sub-issues or premises like that, but I’m not immediately sure where to look…

Part III:

martinned Says:

September 14th, 2007 at 1:18 pm

@Robin (last time I meant to write to a number of other commenters at the same time): We almost agree on how the bureaucratic system works: the EU legislator, first and foremost, determines the kind of rapports that are to be written, etc. Where the legislation requires blanks to be filled in, this is usually arranged through comitology (where the MS again have the most important vote). Authority to do things is usually given either to the Commission, or to national authorities, but rarely such that the Commission can boss MS around without a direct basis in treaty or secondary legislation. (Example, what you would see is that a directive compels MS to write a rapport every three years about their progress on something or other, and then the Commission’s civil servants would be tasked with making sure these rapports are actually written, as well as with reading them.)

In addition to this, there is of course the Commission’s own authority under the Treaty, which is mainly investigative in nature and which I don’t think anyone would want to abolish. (Investigating state aids and measures having equivalent effect.)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, excess red tape is not an inherent consequence of the Community’s existence any more than it is a consequence at a national level of national government existing. Any state authority will always involve more red tape than a private corporation, because potentially more power is wielded with fewer guidelines as to how. Both at a national level and at the level of the Community, efforts are constantly under way to streamline the workings of the civil service, with varying levels of success. To the extent that one is unhappy about the efforts so far, the more constructive thing to do would be to suggest alternatives.

If your government blames the EU for discriminating against their own citizens, they might as well be blaming Santa Clause. I hardly see how that’s a problem for the Commission, or for the EU generally.

I’m not sure how good your German is, but earlier this month a study was published by the Swiss Commission against Discrimination: German version, French version, Italian version. They concluded that the Swiss system for deciding whether someone should be able to acquire Swiss citizenship, which requires a referendum in the person’s municipality of residence, is inherently discriminatory because it discriminates against muslims, non-Europeans generally and the handicapped. The recommendation is to use the same procedure as other countries, with a civil servant deciding. Referenda are democracy, but are they always a good idea?

I’m curious how EU member ship affected your business. Generally, one would expect that having access to the common market would give competitive business the opportunity to sell to more customers, would give uncompetitive businesses a problem, and would leave those trading in “untradeables” largely unaffected. However, I’m going to go ahead and guess that your problems weren’t quite that simple.

Would you like me to go over the general list again? Peace in our time, a strong voice of reason in international relations instead of many weak voices, economic prosperity due to a large common market, freedom and democracy guaranteed for all European citizens.

P.S. Cool story that I read about yesterday: In May 1940, while being busy doing the same thing he’d been doing in World War I, i.e. setting up an Anglo-French pool of resources, Jean Monnet went a few hundred steps further, and proposed merging the UK and France into a single country. Churchill’s cabinet accepted, but the French government resigned over this. (The French PM, Reynaud, wanted to sign on, but semi-fascist conservatives like Pétain were dead against.) Monnet’s French language wikipedia page explains it better than the English one.

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