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EU policies need to be clearer

The EU is gradually taking over the right of decision in more and more areas of policy. But politicians are saying nothing about it, and it is difficult for regular citizens to gain any insight into EU policies. So asserts a political scientist at LiU.

The EU elects a president and a foreign minister. The EU is opening embassies around the world. The EU has sole right in its role as trade negotiator. Collaboration between security forces and the police are strengthening drastically. The Euro countries guarantee each others’ finances.

The EU’s supranationalism is growing in many areas. But the process is unclear and largely invisible for citizens of the EU.

So says Lars Niklasson, lecturer in political science at Linköping University. He is researching the EU and EU member countries, and he sees a growing imbalance in the European decision-making system.

“Different countries have different traditions and models for decision-making,” he says, “and therewith also different views on what the EU is and ought to be. Even if the EU is necessary to deal with the challenges Europe has in common, it’s a problem that our decision-making systems don’t cohere.”

It is easier for countries with a federal system, like Germany, to accept the EU decision-making model, he argues. They are used to decisions being made at different levels. But for countries that function as a political unit, like France and even Sweden, it is more difficult to adjust. Their politicians want very much to pretend that they still have their national right of decision, even in cases where it has gone to the EU level.

“Leaders at the national level are being curtailed, but they want to ignore it. In France’s case, they are talking about an ‘offensive denial’. And in Sweden, we sometimes see how decisions come in through the back door. Our politicians don’t talk about what’s being decided in Brussels and the consequences.”

There is no doubt that the EU is on the way towards an increasingly federal model, Niklasson says, and compares it with the US. Power in Brussels is gradually increasing, just as it did in Washington during the rise of the federal nation of the United States.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re on the way. It’s moving in small, subtle steps, but we see where it’s going. The EU and Brussels are taking over more and more.

“After a long period of hibernation in the 1960s and 1970s, EU collaboration heated up in the 1980s. We got the Common Market, a European Central Bank, and the more developed money policy collaboration in the Euro. Agricultural, trade, and security policy are other areas where the EU has great power. Foreign policy is on the way. When the EU opens its own embassies that take over parts of the member countries’ tasks, the logical consequence is that individual EU countries close their own embassies.”

Welfare and tax policies are, for now, still national concerns. But the Euro crisis indicates that greater coordination is also needed there.

“Welfare policy is just around the corner,” Niklasson says. “We can’t have too great differences in various countries with a common economic policy.”

He emphasizes that these are charged questions. The EU is being criticised for its democratic shortfalls. But the critics are ambivalent. Should the process be checked and the right of decision left at the national level? Or should the EU’s democratic institutions, such as the EU Parliament, be strengthened?

“A number of debaters advocate the better promotion of policies in the Parliament. There are two political blocs, a majority and a minority bloc, and they need to be clearer,” Niklasson says.

Yes, EU policy as a whole should be clearer, he continues. More open debate is needed, where people can see who says what. Niklasson describes democracy in Europe today as hobbled. We are pulling for and changing up to a decision-making system at the EU level, but without properly taking the consequences.

“There is an expression in the US that reflects the situation quite well: ‘In Brussels they have policy, but no politics – in the member countries they have politics, but lack the power to make policy.’ ”


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Last updated: 2011-03-01