All entries for Friday 16 December 2005

December 16, 2005

Why the EU will never work – a relatively optimistic assessment

Tony Blair is frantically trying to apply a sticking-plaster to the European Union in the form of a budget. I call it a sticking plaster, because the EU's budget is a bucket full of holes, with money leaking to a number of useless and morally reprehensible projects which have no justification at all. Step forward the Common Agricultural Policy for one.

But whatever the size of the budget, it won't solve the problem at the heart of the EU - an organisation which in principle I am in favour of.

The key problem with the EU is its inability to decide between 'One Europe' and the 'National interest'. What we're seeing at the budget negotiations is national interests coming out ahead.

France won't consider even a 'review' of the CAP because it fears losing €bns in subsidies to its farmers. There is no justification for the CAP (at least in such an over-sized form) that goes along the lines of building a stronger Europe. Its only justification is that it preserves jobs in an outdated and inefficient industry.

Britain is characterised as the Beast to France's Beauty, accused of taking a selfish approach to Europe, with reference to its rebate. But Britain seems to me to be a proponent of 'Justice', and fears that if it surrenders its rebate, it will never again have a bargaining chip with which to force reform of the CAP. Remember that by surrendering any rebate, Tony Blair is making himself the majority of the press' most-hated figure.

If Britain could engineer a system whereby the money allocated to the CAP was instead spent on structural funds to more worthy recipients than France, then I'm certain it would happily surrender its rebate. Maybe it's subconscious nationalism on my part, but I don't see any way in which Britain is being particularly selfish at the budget talks.

Incompetent, maybe. But selfish? Only in the sense that it is threatening to veto any budget proposals made during the next two Presidencies, which I see as a bargaining tactic. After all, European leaders love leaving a decision until the last minute, when the negotiators are becoming desperate for a deal.

But the CAP will never be reformed, let alone the rest of the budget, even if it is the only future for the EU. France created the Union for two reasons:
1) to keep Germany at arm's reach
2) to strengthen its coal, steel and agriculture industries.

The first aim is fairly irrelevant now, and coal and steel too have lost their potency. But France will never give up its agricultural subsidies, because it is almost the only reason they are still actively involved in the EU. They weren't heavily in favour of enlargement – their primary purpose of the Union is simply to ensure a large market in which to flog its goods, even if they could be produced more cheaply in African nations.

The only solution for the European Union is to abandon a country's right to veto matters which it considers have an adverse impact on its national interest. Yes, it will lead us down a more federal path, but it will also create a more equitable Europe, where decisions are made not because of which member-state is the best negotiator or who is most likely to wave around its magic veto, but instead decisions are made because they are right for Europe.

Note today, for instance, how Britain, Germany and France will thrash out a deal, and then present it to the other 22 members of the EU, telling them to take it or leave it. How is that equitable?

And if Europe was more equitable, had a more clearly defined and united purpose, would critics of the EU such as the Conservatives have such reason to be Eurosceptic? Is their quarrel with the EU per se, or the bureaucratic nonsense that is created when you have nation states constantly having to find a 'compromise' solution that suits no-one?

The only future the EU has is to abandon its 25 divergent national interests and adopt a common one. If it fails to do this – and rest assured, it will fail – then it will break apart.

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