I know it’s an old debate – but since I have returned to Brussels I keep stumbling into conversations that end up in arguing about what it means to be “pro EU”. Well, I happen to think that being labelled “pro-EU”, “europhile” or “eurosceptic” is rather silly. Here is why:
- I think MEPs did a good job amending the #connectedcontinent directive last week by specifying the questionable “specialized services” – but I am not sure I can support the ITRE Committee and the Commission in this process. So just because I think the policy outcome is positive I am considered a “europhile”?
- I don’t think Angela Merkel’s policy on ‘saving the euro’ has been very clever but I also realise the treaty limitations in these areas and the difficult political environment she had to operate in. I can distinguish between the “troika” mechanism, the role of the European Commission and German and Greek politics. So I may oppose the troika, understand the risks of eurobonds but think the fiscal compact could be counterproductive, at the same time I may think it is a good idea to impose stricter financial regulations on banks. Does that make me automatically a “anti-EU” for being anti-austerity or a “europhile” for supporting more regulation in a certain policy areas?
- I think the German car industry had an unhealthy influence on the German position in the Council when it decided on CO2 emissions. So would that make me “anti-German”? Or “anti-EU” because I think the EU’s climate policy is a failure?
- I believe the EU – and especially Catherine Ashton – did a good job during the Iran negotiations. But I know that member states still rule in foreign policy and that it is a policy field that often relies on external factors beyond our control. So yes, EU foreign policy can be effective over time but it lacks instruments to deliver short terms success stories. Does that make me a “europhile” for believing that member states can punch above their weight by using the EU?
- I don’t know what to think about TTIP. It sounds like a good idea but I also think people are overselling it and there is a real danger that consumer standards are being watered down. The process is not transparent so I criticize it – does it make me a “eurosceptic” or “anti- American”?
- Some EU projects are useful but some projects are clearly not thought through. At the same time EU institutions often lack the appropriate control mechanisms – and member states don’t want to invest in additional personnel. Am I now a “eurosceptic” for suggesting that the EU is not working because of the failure of a certain project?
- The Dublin 2 regulation is not working and is creating a “Fortress Europe”, tragedies happening in the Mediterranean on a daily basis. Of course we should change it – but member states are happy the way it is. Nobody wants poor refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa or Syria and nobody wants to spend more money on issues like that. Plus, the immigration “debate” in most member states ruined the possibility of a policy discourse. So, is critizising the Dublin 2 regulation “eurosceptic” for suggesting that “Europe” is partly responsible for the tragedies in the Mediterranean?
- Generally I think that a lot lot of problems are transnational and can only be dealt with by working on the EU level – from climate change to tax evasion and a range of cross border linkages. I think it should be easier (and cheaper) to travel by train trough Europe or vote in national elections where I pay my taxes. I think it should be easier to access health care and pension systems in countries I live in. I like to defend fundamental rights across Europe – of course I realise that we lack instruments to ‘punish’ Hungary or Italy. I naively believe that countries should not violate the fundamental rights of citizens it other EU countries (Hello GCHQ!). This sounds like common sense but it also make me a “europhile” for suggesting that the EU should play a greater role in these sort of issues.
- Many EU institutions are relatively transparent and easy to approach – except the Council. This is a problem – but it cannot be changed without the consent of the member states that don’t have an interest in changing it. Am I now a “eurosceptic” because I criticise a EU institution?
This list could go on. The question remains the same: What am I? A europhile or a europsceptic? Well, I think it is too easy to focus on these two labels – the reality is more complex. In fact we should stop using both labels! The problem is that we perceive the EU as some sort of non-political entity unable to change. But the opposite is true. As any national political system there are different political forces at play. On the EU level we are simply bad in identifying the actor that can be made responsible for a certain policy choice. (the irony here is that Brussels based lobbyists have a much better grasp of what is going on – so is it really that complex to find out? Questions about the quality of EU journalism spring to mind… )
Another problem is linked to competences – do we really know what EU competences are – or do we just believe what we hear from journalists or local politicians? We seem to mix up national and EU competences – as well the difference between a decision on the EU level, the involvement of national actors and the implementation on the national or regional level. It is Brussels, it’s all the same, isn’t it?
Just compare it with talking about national politics – criticising your government does not mean you want to overthrow the government. You simply want another government. In a federal state it is pretty normal to argue about the mechanisms how to distribute money between entities – but again, that doesn’t mean you want to abolish the system. If you don’t like a law you can protest against it and vote a different party next time – it doesn’t mean you want to get rid of the political system.
The same should happen on the EU level – citizens should be able to evaluate EU policy outcomes and vote in national and European elections accordingly. (I know this is a bit more complex – but in principle this is how it *should* be ) – and this is also how EU reform should look like. (link slightly unrelated)
The EU needs debates about different policy options. Basically the EU is here to stay – so if we want good policy outcomes we should argue about issues, proposals and counter-proposals.
PS: Yes, I know, the line on ” the EU is here to stay” will put me firmly in the “europhile” camp…