Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Debate Europe Forum Launched by EU Commission

The European Commission on March 27, 2006 has started a public online forum on the future of Europe.

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for institutional relations and communication strategy, welcome visitors to Debate Europe by writing that:

"'Debate Europe' [is] our website for the wide debate on the future of the European Union. This website is our invitation to you to discuss with us your ideas, hopes and worries for Europe's future. With this site, we want to make contact with you and listen to what you think and propose."

They ask the question: "What sort of European Union do you want?"
and thus far offer three discussion topics:

1. Europe's economic and social development
2. Feeling towards Europe and the Union's tasks
3. Europe's borders and its role in the world

The discussion, open to all European citizens, is part of the Commission's Plan D for Dialogue, Debate and Democracy.

This kind of a project is surely interesting as it opens up an avenue for people to express their opinions on the EU. It is one vehicle to improve relations between EU citizens and the EU governing bodies.

However, we think that such a debate forum misses the main problem in the EU, which is the failure of educators, national governments, EU governing bodies and EU Member States to communicate convincingly to EU citizens why a European Union is useful and necessary in the long term.

In other words, the critical question to be discussed, in our opinion, should not be, "What sort of European Union do you want?", but rather, "Why is the European Union necessary in the modern increasingly globalized world?" Based on the answers to that question, one can then go to the next logical step to discuss the question as to what form such a vital and necessary European Union should take, beyond the unity which is already present.

EU citizens, through programs of information and education, should become aware of what Europe would be like without the European Union and what substantial losses by all citizens would be incurred by a Europe formed of insular small states, a model which has been the plague of Europe for as long as Europe has had a recorded history and which has led historically to the nations of Europe being nearly constantly at war. Indeed, it is quite clear that the major reason that the United States has surpassed Europe in terms of world political, economic and military power is because much of Europe has failed in the past to see that unification and a pooling of resources is the key to prosperity, stability and security for all.

It is in fact quite clear that the European Union has brought its citizens many advances which are now taken for granted. People travel freely within Europe without the former intolerable border controls. People are free to live in Europe wherever they want, an option formerly only open to the wealthy. Of course, most people will stay in their own home countries nevertheless, and that is a good thing, but one has the option to move elsewhere, if one wishes, and that is a personal freedom unparalleled in European history.

A united economic system is much more effective than dozens of small, totally independent states. Economists speak of economies of scale. We might speak of a "pooling of resources". A united economy of 500 million people has a much more powerful voice in the international sphere than single countries of many lesser numbers of people. In the long run, this benefits everyone.

The same arguments apply to a political union of the European Member States. A politically united Europe can exert a strong impact on world affairs which individual states can not hope to match. A politically united Europe has a chance to have its voice heard in large countries such as USA, Russia, China. In contrast, the individual nations of Europe have little or no influence on these nations. In fact, since Europe is not fully united politically at the present time and since it speaks in many tongues and is not united in its opinions, its influence on world affairs is far smaller than the number of its inhabitants would warrant.

On the other hand, the process of unification in Europe should proceed at a sensible pace and must take into account that it is a multicultural, multilingual entity. This requires much more education of the populace about the Europan Union than presently occurs. The fact is that your average citizen, indeed, even your average university student, has little or no knowledge about European Union institutions. But such knowledge and understanding of the political and economic system are essential if the fundamental "consent of the governed" is to be achieved.

Much more public relations work has to be done to assure European citizens that their individual nations and peoples will not lose their language, cultural heritage or character through their membership in the EU. Some think that such losses inevitably occur through a political union, which is a view simply not supported by the facts. Many regions of the United States retain their culture and character regardless of the fact that the country is politically united. For example, the Spanish-speaking culture in the USA has been prospering greatly in recent years, even in spite of the fact that English is the official langauge.

In Europe, countries such as France, which regularly appears in the world news through some new attempt to maintain their insular French language and system, are struggling against English as the world language not because of the influence of the European Union, but rather because France by itself is simply too weak alone to withstand the pervasive influence which the "United" States of America and other large "united" political bodies exert on the world. A strong, politically united Europe will be better able to preserve the character of its Member States. A divided Europe would ultimately be chewed up by the big powers and would be politically, culturally and militarily subservient to the bigger players on the world scene.

No one should have any illusions about the future. The achievment of a politically, economically and militarily united Europe is still a long way off. There is currently not even agreement as to the economic foundation of such a unity. As an example of the major problems faced, we refer to the March 22, 2006 article by Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post, "French Take to the Streets to Preserve Their Economic Fantasy" in which he writes:

"A telling poll released in January by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found that only 36 percent of French respondents felt that "the free enterprise system and free market economy" is the best system. That's the lowest response from any of the 22 countries polled and compares with 59 percent in Italy, 65 percent in Germany, 66 percent in Britain and 71 percent in the United States."

To those figures we can add the recent news of France warding off the takeover of Suez by Italy's Enel and the iTunes "directive" being considered by French legislators. It is precisely this kind of government by directive which the rest of Europe is not willing to tolerate in the EU, but which seems to mark the EU government style.

In any case, given that sentiment against capitalism in France, it is not surprising that France has rejected the EU Constitution, which of course is also grounded in the idea of a free enterprise system and a free market economy. In our view, it appears senseless to present France with ANY new EU Constitution, however drafted, because it is almost sure to be rejected.

Furthermore, it is very difficult to see how a European Union dominated by institutions located primarily in French-speaking cities (Strasbourg, Luxembourg, Brussels) will be able to move forward in the 21st century if one of the major players - France - basically does not accept the economic principles upon which the EU is founded. Indeed, one of the key questions to ask in Debate Europe should be whether all European countries should belong to the EU. We sincerely have our doubts about France, which appears to be the EU's greatest hinderance. Accordingly, if the future of the EU is to be debated, it must also be asked whether countries which do not support a free enterprise system and which reject the EU Constitution should be allowed to remain in the EU.

Hat tip to Alexander Balzan's article at EUobserver

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