12 April 2012 by Pelle Neroth
There will be a smiling person, and she will probably not have very much to do. I will probably bring a lot home, anyway. Then read it, then reflect a little: what is effective public communication? I mean, just considering it in their own terms. Public communication that attracts attention, then derision, can hardly be called successful.
Anyway, I have been reading an interesting but short book about the European Union from Palgrave where the author has interviewed a hundred of the European commission's top officials on conditions of anonymity. It's an enormous job, and George Ross's book* - a departure from the usual EU studies in that it is more journalistic in nature - makes for fascinating reading.
In the 2000s, a big focus on science and environmental policy was supposed to convey legitimacy to the European commission - but events in Greece and the financial crisis have put the member states, particularly Germany, firmly in the driving seat.
The Commission's golden age
Many Eurocrats think commission's the golden age was 1985-1995, the Delors era. Jacques Delors: technocrat, Catholic French socialist, red rag to the British bull. "Up yours Delors", said the Sun but the Single Market Act happened under his watch. He laid the ground work for a foreign and home affairs dimension, for monetary union and greater powers for the European parliament. It helped that Margaret Thatcher was isolated by her shrillness and the Club Med could be bribed with regional funds. The Germans were reluctant but then came the fall of the Wall, when they traded European Monetary Union for European acceptance for European unification and insisting that EMU would look as much like German monetary policymaking as possible.
The Commission's eclipse
When Delors's term ended in 1995, the Eurosceptic British pushed for an unknown Luxembourger, Jacques Santer, who would do fewer things but do them better. The federalist were in retreat, or in process of self destruction. The biggest supporters of federal Europe, the Italian Christian Democrats, collapsed in domestic corruption scandals. The European leaders who had pushed the European bicycle forward in the 1980s were replaced by the Eurosceptic chancer Jacques Chirac in France and German social democrat chancellor Gerhard Schroder, whose devotion to Europe was lukewarm.
While the reforms plotted by Delors like came to fruition, like monetary union, three weak commissions have followed. The Jacques Santer commission collapsed in a corruption scandal of its own, the Romano Prodi commission (1999-2004) was weak at communicating and Jose Manuel Barroso, who has been in charge since 2004, is a tactician who sees what the member states are prepared to put up with and plots a middle course. The member states and general public were suspicious.
Do we need Europe?
Eurocrats quoted in confidence have a host of reasons. The general public have no experience of war and have forgotten the community as a peace preserving construction; they take peace and prosperity for granted. The commission has not moved with the times either. The single market, which insiders call the EU's biggest success, increase intra European trade by a factor of several, has raised fears about the effect of neoliberalism and hot money on loss of jobs and security, Actually the tariff advantage of being "inside" the Union are much reduced with the advent of globalisation, as tariffs between countries are reduced to very little anyway. The virtues of free mobility have been turned into public fears about mass immigration. The social dimension to Delors's single market never really happened. The member states pulled in their horns when the commission extended its powers to issues that lie at the heart of sovereignty, like justice and home affairs issues. Former commissioners lament that the European commission gets involved in deciding the size of swimming pools. The commission stopped launching as many ideas as it did and the European parliament, described as being "full of itself" with its new powers, has less to do than before.
Rallying around climate change
In the late 2000s, the commission starting working on a new raison d'etre, constructed on promoting research, the knowledge economy, and combating climate change.
In the late 2000s the German EU presidency launched a package of an integrated climate change and energy policy. Climate change resolution would not only be a solution to the globe's problems, but the EU's institutional legitimacy problems. Climate change is a common threat all Europeans can agree on, and the perspectives cross borders and are too big to be handed by a nation state. It is a uniting project: the single market, on the hand, has been a fragmenting move, as EU states find themselves racing to the bottom on corporate taxes as they compete for global investment.
The Americans have their head in their sand about global warming and their militaristic approach to the world has failed; the EU meanwhile can export its multilateral DNA to the rest of the world. The EU could do what it did best, bestriding the world stage by acting differently, more virtuously, than an ordinary great power. But the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 was a huge setback for the EU's goals to be a soft power, coordinating the global climate change struggle. The EU's bargaining strategies were inadequate, and the common European mandate provide much higher standards than any emerging market country would be prepared to accept. "The EU and its grand plans disappeared in the chaos of the Copenhagen conference hall," Ross writes.
A German Europe
The stage we are now in seems to involve a still weak commission, but less sovereignty for the nation state as well. The great recession of the last two years, and the attendant Eurozone crisis, has been described as the greatest crisis in Europe's history, and many Eurocrats believe the EU always moves forward in a crisis. The solution - the competitiveness pact , to which Britain is not a signatory - may be a substantial loss of sovereignty, but the deal is chiefly intergovernmental, with the commission having little say. Pension reform, new rules to control debt, standardised rules on corporate taxation. National budgets will henceforth be reviewed n Brussels by voted in in national parliaments. There will be new sanctions for deficits. There are few mechanisms for Eurozone solidarity; everybody is being obliged to be German. It's Angela Merkel calling the shots; Germany is no longer content to be in a state of semi sovereignty under French tutelage in return for being accepted into the EU "community". The guilt about the war is truly over.
Fifteen years during which a loose Anglo Saxon approach to Europe has prevailed has crumbled with the loss of prestige of Anglo Saxon market liberalism. The French have not regained the ascendancy they had until the mid 1990s. The commission has become a servant to the member states. And Germany is the most powerful player.
*The European Union and Its Crises, George Ross, University of Montreal, Palgrave 2011
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 14 April 2012 at 12:26 AM by Pelle Neroth
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 12 April 2012 10:23 AM General
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