Friday, October 28, 2016

EU Reform: Which way forward, after Wallonia?

Wallonia has given in and the EU-Canada CETA deal will be signed. But the decision of the German constitutional court that allowed the deal but said that member states (Germany) can decide to call it into question exists. So is the upcoming decision of the ECJ (European Court of Justice) as to which portions of the EU-Singapore deal are "trade", and thus can be voted on only by the EU, and which not, and thus require approval by member states' parliaments.

Wallonia claimed that its veto was driven by concern about globalisation. It was driven by its Socialist majority, which has been in power for quite a long time. The region, South Belgium in effect, has been the poor relative in Belgium's economy since the demise of mining and agriculture in the region.  While Flanders has prospered based on services and the role of  the Antwerp port in EU trade as well as light tech, Wallonia has not. Ryanair got aid to fly to Charleroi. Wallonia exports arms.

Wallonia has become a test case not only for the EU's future trade but also the future of the EU.

Some MEPs in Brussels/Strasbourg have claimed that there is no reason for member states to have a word in trade matters, even mixed. This flies in the face was a lot of people around the EU who want less Europe. They want powers returned to the member states. Eg the Visigrad 4 (Poland. Hungary, Czech Rep and Slovakia). Front National in France, the five stars (Grillo) in Italy, AfD and others in Germany, etc. Many just want no More Europe, no new Treaties.

Some EU leaders have come in favour of an EU army.

Is there way for some consensus or a majority towards one direction? The same, less or more Europe? Who wants a repeat of the Lisbon Constitutional Treaty debacle of 2005 (France and the Netherlands voted it down).  The EU has had its share of badly formulated Treaties, a result of very late night horsetrading. Nice was one of them.

The EU has come a long way. The Single Market (started 1/1/1993) was a major step forward from a mere Common Market. So was Schengen that allowed for removal of border controls. Maastricht was too (1992). It defined Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and led to Euro a decade later (now adopted by 19 out of the 28).

But lets start from the fundamentals. The EU has and will continue to have a major setback. Lack of the common language (sur-le-terrain). There are 23 officials languages. That affects the cost of doing business as well as mobility of workers.

The 28 states of the EU (27 soon) have very distinct histories. Some used to be colonial powers. Italy and Greece used to "rule" the world, a very long time ago. There are strong national identities as well as regional ones (see eg Belgium or Spain). Can there a European identity?

Well, my theory is that in this day and age, one criterion of nationality is: Do feel that decisions (political) take account of your POV and needs?

Wallonia did not think CETA took incorporated its concerns over globalisation. Greeks complain that feta cheese was not included in the list of products with protected origin. Scots complain that they will have to leave the EU while they voted to remain. In many countries it is felt that decisions made in the capital do not take account of their needs. In the US Trump got a boost arguing his was anti-DC establishment. Yet in the US, everyone considers themselves American.

It would be easier to unite Europe if there was a common enemy. In the past, competition with the US did some of that.

When interest rate decisions are made in the ECB in Frankfurt, do they take into account the needs of all the Eurozone or mainly its larger economies? In Germany, the lander are represented in the Senate (Upper House). In the EU the regions have their own body, the Committee of the Regions, but is that the key to their representation?

Some have said that Europe would be easier to manage if states were roughly of the same size. One cannot of course expect Germany France and Spain to be separated into regions to move the EU forward.

So is there a way forward? One that will engage most of 450+ mio citizens (EU28 minus the UK)?

Well, people from all over the EU are represented in the European Parliament. Some countries elect their MEPs on a national ballot some regionally. That means that some areas do not have their own rep in the European Parliament. But even if the did, could one person in 800 make a difference?

Some ideas will be posted in Part II tomorrow.

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Nick

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