Miguel Angel Benedicto explains the crisis of the European Union, which is stuck behind an impasse of inefficiency: unable to act but in starts and leaps and following its impulses rather than working collectively. Benedicto believes that responding to day-to-day problems is not enough. The pressing issues of expansion, immigration, foreign policy, globalization, and the distribution of energy require intelligent planning, and frameworks for action for which the EU is unprepared. In order to avoid paralysis, the EU must put radical reforms into action to create change for both the short and long term.
Miguel Angel Benedicto is a journalist and consultant specialized in European Affairs. He directs “Facil Consultores” and presides over the association “Ideas and Debate” based in Spain. He is the coauthor of “Europa a Debate. Veinte anos despues (1986-2006)” and “La Mayor Operacion de Solidaridad de la Historia”. With his three degrees in Law, Journalism, and Political Science, he is a teacher of postgraduate studies at the University Complutense in Madrid and the University King Juan Carlos.
EUROPE IS IN CRISIS. Stuck behind an impasse of inefficiency, the Union has been acting on its impulses rather than organizing collective action to address the large problems confronting it.
A year has passed since the European Constitution was rejected with strident no’s by the Dutch and French referendum, and the citizens of Europe are growing tired of hearing the same old frustrating story. Yet, frustration is at the basis of the European Union. Making decisions is a lengthy process and when solutions do come about they are slow to act and incomplete. All one has to do is read the conclusions of the European Councils to understand that they are nothing but paltry, wishy-washy pipe dreams.
LACK OF INTEREST AND DRIFTING
The collective lack of interest that plagues the Union has gone hand in hand with a general drifting of significance towards inter-government. The expansion of the EU has not known how to direct itself, nor has it been accompanied by the necessary institutional change. Nor has the issue of globalization been handled in the proper fashion.
What’s more, the European Union has gone from being the project of elitists, to representing the interests of the people. More and more European citizens are taking their problems to the EU in the hopes of receiving answers at an international level rather than simply within their own countries. One example of this is the issue of immigration, a multilateral problem, which cannot be confronted alone by the individual member states. Yet, the European Union lacks the competency and budget to address these larger issues: the concerns of its citizens.
DEEP INSTITUTIONAL REFORM
An escape from the current crisis will not only require a day-to-day handling of problems, which the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, has suggested; but also a profound institutional reform to restore efficiency and operability to the Union.
The policy of daily questions is a shortsighted way of conducting business. Daily questions can help reduce the tariffs on telephone roaming or protect the rights of airplane passengers, but it will get us nowhere in solving the larger problems.
Europe needs to have a vision for the future. It needs to respond with intelligent planning and a framework for action to the issues of border limits for its new expansion, foreign policy, immigration, and the distribution of energy. These larger problems require complex, organized analysis and problem solving.
Europeans demand answers to these challenges; answers that can come from either a mini-treaty like the one proposed by French Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, or from radical institutional change.
For the short term, reforms should be accepted through political compromise of the member states, permitting, in an urgent manner, the outlining of a small treaty in order to overcome the current paralysis. The use of qualified majorities (as in matters of justice and of the interior) should be assured in this treaty in order to expedite the taking of decisions, stabilize the Presidency of the EU, the Minister of the Exterior, and the President of the Commission elected by the Parliament, as well as to drastically reduce the number of commissioners.
MORE RADICAL CHANGES
For the long term, the changes should be more radical: the creation of European political parties with transnational leaders, a Parliament that assumes legislative power with a control to elect the Commission and assign it responsibilities, and a European Council that would become a second house of the Parliament to represent national interests.
Anything else would only be a quick fix, incapable of shaking off the deep European fatigue that is settling across the continent.