The EU's failure has been to put politics above economics – instead the frontiers of big government should be rolled back, writes the leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists
We live in a different world to that of 1950 when the Schuman declaration was signed. Back then, half of Europe lived behind an Iron Curtain, and mass starvation was still a real possibility. Leaders like Schuman, Monet, Adenaeur and Spinelli proposed solutions to these challenges. With world war fresh in everyone's mind, ever-closer union was intended to prevent it from happening again. The Common Agricultural Policy was designed to secure the food supply. The social model was intended to help prevent people from falling into abject poverty or debased working conditions.
As the Iron Curtain fell and Europe was reunited, hundreds of millions of people were able to throw off the yoke of communism and determine their own destinies. When we think back over the past 60 years these policies were not without some success. However, today, the tools the European Union used to unite a continent and help its people are acting like a wedge, dividing them and driving them away.
In many ways – both in terms of policy and rhetoric – the EU still lives in the 1950s and many of these 20th century solutions have now become a part of our 21st century problem. European Commission President JosÚ Manuel Barroso told the centre-right European People's Party group's Europe day celebration that: "We must never forget that Europe is first and foremost a political project, even if it has been developed on the basis of economic co-operation. But the market does not play the central role. Our common values do: peace, respect for human dignity, freedom, justice and solidarity."
These comments demonstrate why we are in such a parlous economic state today: because the politicians are putting politics before economics, and the project before common sense. What is the use of Europe having common values if we lack the economic and, consequently, the political muscle to project these values? This obsession with navel gazing and political constructions has caused the EU to fade in relevance in a fierce global marketplace. Our greatest challenge today is to remain relevant in the world. We can talk about our values until blue in the face but if the rest of the world lives by the values of the new Asian economic hegemony then we are destined to conduct our favourite pastime in the EU: talking to ourselves.
But the EU not only faces a crisis vis-Ó-vis its place in the world. We also face a crisis of legitimacy with our voters and taxpayers. As I told the European Parliament on the May 9, the explanation for this is simple: the people do not trust the EU because the EU does not trust the people. Democracy is the principle of the rule of the people: that the demos is able to determine the future of public policy. But the principle of ever-closer union and its spin-off tools such as the euro have pushed power upwards towards unelected commissioners, the troika, or have enshrined it in EU legislation. The people are not able to fully determine their own destiny. We cannot go on taking them for granted. They are already moving away to ugly extremes in their droves. Yet we continue along the same path with our fingers in our ears.
So, what is the answer? Simple. Throughout history, governments that have rolled back the size and scope of their state have found that their people are freer and the country prospers economically. Democracy is enhanced, not only through the ballot box, but because people are able to make more decisions about their lives, their communities, their families, and their businesses – without the government on their backs at every turn.
There is a European value that Barroso does not mention: the value of small government. Of course not; the commission's agenda is to expand its competences and powers at every opportunity and using every crisis – aided and abetted by the parliament. However, the value of small government is the only value that may begin to reconnect the EU with an increasingly detached electorate, and prevent the decline of our continent in the world.
It is time we rolled back the frontiers of the EU 'state' and returned powers to levels where people are able to influence their own destiny. If the EU fails to live up to this most sacred of European values, it will go the way of all big governments: towards economic sclerosis, political turmoil and irrelevance. There is another way: and it is enshrined in the European Conservatives and Reformists' Prague Declaration
.Martin Callanan is leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists in the European Parliament