Six Principles For Rebuilding The European Union


(image by geralt via pixabay)

The European Union (EU), once considered a success story of post-war international co-operation, is at a crossroads. The European debt crisis, the refugee crisis, the rise of far-right movements and Brexit have shattered the belief in the EU’s future. Many think that the EU is doomed and that its demise is just a matter of time.

I don’t deny that the EU is in peril. Like many states and unions in history, it faces challenges. But I believe that a European political union is beneficial and in the long term necessary for the continent. I will explain in another post why I think so.

In the present article I would like to outline a few proposals as to how the EU could be reshaped and consolidated in a way that is compatible with the interests of the various European peoples.

It is a fact that the majority of the people in Europe do not want a strong central European government similar to that of the United States. It is also true that European states have conflicting, particularistic interests. In order to build up the EU, it is fundamental to take into consideration the desire of the people for local autonomy. Therefore it seems imperative that the member states of the EU should delegate to the EU government a limited amount of sovereignty.

Furthermore, public opinion in different European countries is diverse as far as immigration from outside the EU, economic and social issues are concerned. It is necessary to consider this diversity. The EU should not be perceived and not act as a supernational bureaucratic state, but as a common denominator for the peaceful co-existence and co-operation of various states.

On the other hand, the EU needs stability. The rise of nationalist and independence movements is a threat both to the European project and to the single member states. According to what I have called the “Lincoln principle“, separatism is tantamount to anarchy. No democratic state can exist if its borders are constantly negotiated and called into question.

In view of all this, I shall outline the following principles:

  1. The EU should have a fully democratically elected central government with limited powers delegated to it by its member states.
  2. The EU must be indivisible and no member state should have the right to secede.
  3. The debt of every member state is a responsibility of each state and the Union should not bail out any state that may default.
  4. Economic policy, taxation as well as tariffs towards non-EU countries should be state matters.
  5. The EU should have a common defense and border security.
  6. Freedom of movement should only apply to EU-nationals.

Let us now examine these principles more in detail.

1) The current EU government suffers from excessive bureaucratism and is detached from the ordinary citizen because it is only partly elected. The lack of an elected government perpetuates and deepens national divisions.

The EU should learn from Switzerland, a multicultural state that gives extensive powers to the local governments while at the same time maintaining a confederation. Switzerland applies the principle of subsidiarity, meaning that “nothing that can be done at a lower political level should be done at a higher political level.” EU interference in local matters should be kept at a minimum. This would reflect Europe’s extreme diversity while also safeguarding co-operation and peace.

The Swiss central government is responsible for foreign and security policy, for customs and monetary matters, for legislation that applies nationally and for defence. Everything that is not explicitly designated as a federal matter is responsibility of the local governments. The principle of subsidiarity should be the guiding principle of the EU.

2) Nationalism is a threat not only to the European project, but to each state. Secessionist movements have emerged as a powerful destabilizing force that might create a ‘Balcanization’ effect in Europe. With a multitude of different nationalities, especially in border regions, opening once again the Pandora’s Box of nationalism would harm the whole continent in the long term. Once again, Switzerland offers a positive example of a functioning multicultural state. The EU should preserve diversity and at the same time defuse potential conflicts. Therefore, the EU should be indivisible.

3) The Greek crisis showed that if a state with high debt is bailed out by states with lower debt, enmity and conflicts ensue. The EU must forbid bail-outs of countries that risk to default. However, a member state may decide to bail out the banking sector of another member state if its own banks are in danger, in which case the political and economic responsibility lies entirely with the member states and their governments.

4) Each state and region of the EU is diverse, therefore a common economic policy is detrimental to the cause of European development. States should have the power and flexibility to act in economic matters as they see fit for their own benefit. Member states shall be allowed to create special economic zones to promote local industry. In alternative, if all states agree, the principle of free market shall be maintained within the EU, but higher tariffs levied on non-EU products. A European Development Fund could be set up in order to finance companies in poorer regions.

5) A common defence and border security would allow the EU to patrol its borders and defend itself against foreign threats, including terrorism, more effectively.

6) One major issue regarding border security is free movement. Some states complain that free movement of non-EU nationals allows terrorists to infiltrate the continent more easily. Therefore, it is necessary to allow each member state to restrict free movement for non-EU nationals if it wishes to do so. Travel regulations should be implemented so as to guarantee that such restrictions can be applied.

Maximum local autonomy within a unitary European framework should be the goal of the process of political integration on the continent. A coherent system beneficial to the citizens and democratic in its structure is necessary to promote the cause of European democracy, co-operation and economic development.

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