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European Union: stop this muddling through

27 Mar 2017

European Union: stop this muddling through

Early this month European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker presented five scenarios for the future of the EU. Supposedly, on Saturday 25 March he would begin an open discussion with member state government leaders, but in reality Juncker placed tight restrictions on this. Each of the scenarios recommended by him would lead to an increase in power for Brussels, and the only one which would limit Brussels’ power, Juncker disqualified.

Emile Roemer and Dennis de Jong

Proposals which address the European Union’s fundamental flaws do not appear in Juncker’s list. That is a missed opportunity, because an alternative to the existing European Union is badly needed. To summarise, the options are as follows: muddle through; an internal market only; an EU with leading groups; more cooperation on fewer subjects; and the Great Leap Forward, a federal Union.

Inequality

None of the scenarios would put an end to fundamental problems in the EU, a Union in which the interests of big corporations and the financial sector come before those of the general public and of local communities. Neither the growing economic inequality in the eurozone, nor the rise of parties and governments which completely reject the European Union is even mentioned, let alone seen as a problem. Knowing that in the coming months Juncker will be bringing forward supplementary plans, for example on defence, a European Finance Ministry and direct EU taxes, makes it instantly clear where he wants to go with this: still more power for Brussels.

It is noticeable that in the White Paper which sketches out these scenarios, there is not a trace of a self-critical attitude when it comes to the functioning of the European institutions. As things stand the European Commission has an exclusive right of initiative and is taking on ever more policy areas. The European Central Bank is buying huge amounts of debt in a way which is scarcely accountable. Both institutions formed, moreover, parts of the troika which that brought Greece to the brink of the abyss. The eurocrisis lies dormant in the meantime, and southern and northern Europe grow more and more divided one from the other.

Both the budgetary policy and access to the internal market demonstrate that everything revolves around neoliberal interests rather than social and democratic values. The surreptitious step via budgetary policy to a political union with even more powers handed to the EU’s institutions is both undesirable and unnecessary.

New treaty

It’s time for a new treaty which offers the member states more political space and more power. In this, at least four matters must be addressed. The existing political Commission should be transformed into an implementing body. The strict budgetary rules must go. Member states must have the possibility to impose restrictions on the internal market, such as being able to introduce work permits. And there must be no further transfer of powers to Brussels without the people being given the right to express their opinions in a referendum. Furthermore, we must work actively to develop a plan B for the euro, an unsustainable currency which stands squarely in the way of a social Europe.

It’s good that Juncker has begun a discussion over Europe’s future, but other options must be added to the five which he has put on the table. Instead of thinking always inside the box, we must develop a treaty that gives member states the space to put a check on the negative consequences of the present policy. Far from weakening the European Union, this would strengthen it.

This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, on 24th March in the daily newspaper Nederlands Dagblad

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