There’s a better way to unite Europe

There’s a better way to unite Europe

The European political year, grinding back into gear for 2018, is full of doubt, even woe. In the continent’s major countries politics are stuck, or likely to stick, in cul-de-sacs from which exit is difficult. Only in France, under the banner not so much of the tricolor as the injunction En Marche!is there official optimism and vigor.

Still, hope must spring eternal in an EU which works under the rubric of “ever-closer Union,” and that hope focuses itself on the youthful 40-year-old shoulders of Emmanuel Macron.

His plans for the Union are bold and aimed at relatively rapid integration of the economy, but also designed to be protective of European citizens, a bulwark against the chill winds of globalization. It will be a trick hard to pull off, but at least an injection of optimism into a torpid continent.

Brave as Macron’s plans may be, they lack the central, necessary element which would give them a chance of success against already-heavy odds. They frame the advantages of closer integration in terms of a more efficient economy and a necessary underpinning of the euro currency.

Many economists believe the euro is too fragile to survive ongoing shocks unless it has a kind of state backing similar to that provided by national central banks. Since the EU is at best a state-in-embryo, its currency’s fragility remains.

That makes sense to bankers and economists. But much of what comes out of the EU is not comprehensible to ordinary citizens, and the missing element in Macron’s project is a credible plan to bring the countries of the EU together. That integration cannot just make sense to an establishment, it must make the resulting state-in-construction understandable (again) and above all acceptable to European citizens on democratic grounds, with a parliament and other institutions whose functions they can both grasp and affect with their votes, their views and their protests.

We should reflect on what that integration means. It means that European citizens will have to accept a government, which rules at least initially in the financial-economic sphere, and which thus makes decisions affecting their incomes, jobs, pensions and much more. These decisions will be made not by Spaniards for the Spanish or Finns for the Finnish, but by ministers likely to come from other countries, whose names and biographies are unknown to most and who will be unlikely to speak their language.

Where these decisions hurt the pockets or the job prospects of the governed – as they are bound to do, especially in times of low growth – will these ministers command assent, even if grudging? Or will the populist-nationalists receive a shot in the arm, and lead a revolt – the more widely supported for being attractive to both left and right?

That missing narrative – how to get from national to European democracy – is the fatal flaw of the Macron project. That weakness is one which will haunt him not just beyond the borders of France, but within them, since his large majority over Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front conceals the fact that several of the candidates defeated in the first round of last year’s presidential election were almost as anti-EU as Le Pen – and with her, constituted a Euroskeptic majority.

Given the lack of a democratic “story” for the EU, the need is not to pursue an integrationist pipe dream, but to strengthen national governments and in doing so, address the gulf which has opened up between the haves (have higher education, have secure jobs, have good salaries) and the have-littles (have little education, little secure employment, little pay. )

But a move to centralize, and a further weakening of national administrations in favor of “more Europe”, is unlikely to work; it simply cannot be squared with a democratic polity which enjoys respect and assent. Better now to recast the Union as a loose association of friendly states, which agrees on policies and projects where these make sense, but which remains under the aegis of national governments – familiar, accountable and the guarantor of rights and freedoms.

*This abrided article is taken from Reuters

john lloyd, hdn, Opinion