Tough Times for the EU

Daniel Prinz (Hungary, AC 07-09), Andrea Mihic (Switzerland, AC 07-09)

The European Union (EU), political, economic and recently somewhat military alliance of 27 European countries, is facing a couple of crucial changes. The organization, originally founded by six states (Belgium, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, France, Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany) intending to strengthen their positions in a US/USSR-dominated world economy, now has member states across the continent. Besides their unity in common values, they are certainly culturally diverse and therefore to some extent divided. Needless to say, Germany, with its 82 million citizens and its political controversies over immigration and social tensions due to high unemployment has different problems from welfare state Sweden with high tax rates and life quality. Luxemburg, a tiny country of bankers, being amongst the richest countries in the world (highest GDP per capita), is different from Hungary, a state of post-socialist transitional economy, coping with unsustainable welfare services, ineffective education system and macroeconomic disequilibrium.

The system of the institutions of the EU is complicated, diversified and according to many, indeed not transparent. The different stakeholders get their say in different places. The European Parliament (EP) is divided after political ideologies; the delegates of the countries with similar (?) programmes sit in a fraction. The European Commission is an executive body (often called the government of the EU), where at the moment each state has one delegate who is in charge of different areas of policies and who has large bodies working underneath. There are many more bodies which then finally make up the European Union. The EU changes its presidency every half a year, the countries take this position in a rotating system (Slovenia at the moment) and the Commission also has a distinct head (at the moment the Portugese José Manuel Barroso).

Inefficiency, high economic expenses (just think of the immense numbers of interpreters employed; travel costs for all the different delegates) as well as inability to make major decisions and therefore inability to develop are some of the core issues the EU faces today. These are partly due to the fast increase in the number of member states (the “big boom” in 2004 added 10 new states to the already present 15), the diversity of the states as well as the increase in the functions of the EU: Not only is it now the common body for what had been three separate entities before (European Coal and Steel Community, European Atomic Energy Community and European Economic Community), but it is also in charge of a common border system (Schengen Zone), a common currency (euro) and a common defence policy.

At the moment, the EU doesn’t have a face. While everybody knows who to link the American policies to and who the leaders of Russia are, nobody knows who on Earth Janez Janša is. He is the prime minister of tiny Slovenia, hence head of the Council and formally, the head of the EU!

A new treaty, designed to become the Constitution of the EU, attempted to cope with the difficulties at hand. The document however had to be approved by each and every member state, which did not happen: the population of Holland and France rejected it with a referendum in 2005. Following up from this crucial failure, the leaders compromised on the Lissabon Treaty, which was the result of infinite negotiations and efforts. Some of the most important changes proposed to be effective from 2009 onwards:

  • the EU would have a president to represent the organization in the world
  • the EU would have a person in charge of foreign affairs and defence (which, in fact, exists already)
  • from 2014 onwards not every country would delegate a member to the Commission, just two thirds of the states in a rotating system – so the Commission would give less attention to national interests
  • the EP would have a bigger role
  • the strict maths of voting in the Council would be easier, therefore more efficient, decisions would accepted more easily.

The problematic point, however, is the acceptance of the treaty. All the institutions of the EU have approved of it and so have 11 countries. But nothing is sure yet. Ireland has to hold a referendum over the issue and at the moment, the country’s opinions are divided. In Slovakia, the main opposition forces did not support the treaty in the parliament. In Prague and Berlin, concerns are voiced over the alleged loss of autonomy. Tough times for the leaders of the EU.

Another ongoing controversy is the issue of new members. The potential states to join are Croatia, Serbia and Turkey. Croatia’s way recently seems to be smooth, the negotiations are to be finished next year. Serbia is the first in the post-socialist region to seriously consider not to join the EU. As prime minister Kostunica said, Serbia will not be willing to co-operate with people who acknowledge Kosovo (the actual membership is preceeded by a treaty about stabilisation and co-operation). Moreover, Serbia still refuses to return some of its war criminals and it has a radical, fairly EU-skeptical government. The possible membership of Turkey is one of the biggest questions: it has a powerful economy and would become the second biggest member state in terms of population, therefore potentially changing the existing balance of powers in the EU. It would also be the first country which is historically not Christian. Human rights issues like the denial of the genocide of Armenians is another impediment.

Worsening macroeconomic results in prominent countries, tensions over the fact that some older member states still not allow workers from the post-socialist member states to work freely on their territories, debates over the limitations of common policies – tough times for the EU. It is here that we begin to ask ourselves:  Whereto is the EU heading? And what is its purpose? Are we trying to encourage a strong and widening co-operation, a federation, a super state? Or are we unable to eliminate national boundaries, due to our own limitations? One thing is for certain: If we do not start to appreciate cultural diversities and differences but find in them reasons that legitimize our controversies and failures to co-operate, then the EU will never be able to go beyond the fulfilling of wishes of individual member states.

-United World College Student Magazine –

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