On September 12 of last year, José Manuel Barroso, the Chairman of the European Commission, delivered his State of the Union speech to the European Parliament. In it he described a vision for the EU that is difficult for European conservatives to accept.
Barroso—like the Swedish Christian Democrats and the Swedish Moderate Party—belongs to the same conservative pan-European party (the European Peoples’ Party or EPP). But speaking as Vice-Chairman of the EPP’s youth wing (YEPP), I have to say that Barroso and people like him make it difficult for anyone in the EPP to be pro-EU.
All across Europe there are crises and many countries are in need of help. But Barroso—and other Eurocrats like him—mostly see it as an opportunity to demand an extensive transfer of power, for greater centralization. In his speech, Barroso suggested the creation of a banking union across Europe and argued that in the end the EU must become a “federation” of nation states.
This is a frightening development. Even though Barroso himself says that a superstate isn’t really the end goal, it is it hard to interpret his vision in any other way.
The banking sector in Europe could certainly use more transparent rules and could also benefit from better policy coordination. Those particular discussions must continue if we are to tackle any of the challenges facing Europe and address the vast array of problems that exist within the Euro-zone. At the same time, it’s important to remember that there are many different reasons for the fiscal crises in Europe; and different problems must be handled in different ways.
Large budget deficits, unsustain-able pension systems, and a lack of pro-growth policies are all funda-mental problems that have created today’s crises. A common denom-inator among political elites, large banks, and ordinary citizens across Europe is that they all have chosen to live well beyond their means, and none of them seem to have correctly assessed the risks they have under-taken. Today we are living with the consequences of these mistakes.
The fact that the Chairman of the Commission himself (Barroso) considers greater centralization the only reasonable solution to the crises is an indication of the problematic mindset that hounds all European policymakers. The only solution that many Brussels-based politicians can envision is centralization—or, as it often euphemistically referred to, “more Europe.”
Of course, there are many prob-lems that European member states have in common: aging popula-tions, crime, youth unemployment. But just because Europeans have problems in common does not mean that more centralization is the solution. On the contrary, in many cases, it can make the situation worse.
The euro is a good example of this. In those nations which share the common currency, it’s harder to fight the economic crisis than it is in those nations which have chosen to retain their own currency.
It would be wrong to blame all the problems now facing Europe on the euro; but it certainly hasn’t helped. The monetary union was created on a framework that wasn’t really built to handle a crisis like the one Europe faces at present. And any attempt to pursue more coordination or “deeper” cooperation—which is the policy preference among the Brussels crowd—is a serious threat to the EU. It is not a part of the solution.
A principle that could lay a solid foundation for wide-spread reform of the entire European community is the forgotten principle of subsidiarity. This is the idea that decisions should be made at the smallest, lowest level of authority able to effectively address a given matter. But time and time again, European politicians have shown that they are not interested in being restrained by such a principle.
In theory, every EU member state does have the option of informing the European Commission if and when they believe that a given EU proposal violates the principle of subsidiarity. But even if a majority of EU member states were to inform Brussels that they prefer to decide on something at the national level, the Commission can still override them and justify their decision in the name of “European unity.” Thus, “subsidiarity,” when used by Eurocrats, means that they get to decide what the proper level is for any given problem.
The EU’s disdain for local or national authority has been evident since Sweden’s own entry into the EU in 1995. Lately, we have been once again reminded of this fact, with the growing chorus of voices in Brussels clamoring for proposals such as gender quotas for the boards of all publicly traded companies; the introduction of EU taxes on all financial transactions; a wholesale ban of snus (snuff or smokeless tobacco) in all countries (other than Sweden); and, of course, the introduction of Barroso’s centralized banking union.
However, we at the national level are not entirely blameless. It is true that the EU has made it difficult for its member states to resist the centralization of power; but by not doing more to defend their autonomy, European member states themselves seem to have ended up as willing collaborators. In fact, it should be entirely possible for Sweden to choose to exit the EU if the EU were suddenly to move radically in an undesirable direction.
This should be Sweden’s right. That’s why Sweden’s Young Christian Democrats want to repeal the requirement in the Swedish Constitution that stipulates that Sweden must belong to the EU. Those of us who are active in the EPP—which includes Christian Democrats as well as Moderates—must take more responsibility for the center-right family in Europe. We must dare to bring up the problems that exist and be bold enough to propose alternatives.
Large parts of the parties within the EPP were once active in the “Yes” campaigns in support of EU membership and adoption of the euro. But perhaps it’s now time to swallow our pride and take up the fight against supra-nationalism. It is time to show that it is possible to have a more realistic attitude towards the EU—without necessarily arguing in favor of leaving the European project altogether.
The EPP family is the largest center-right political party at the European level. But unfortunately it includes some members (like Barroso) who are working in opposition to the vision of EU that many of us would like to see realized. What we think the EU needs is less supra-nationalism, as well as less centralization and less political interference—and most of all, definitely not a federation.