The EU institutions: do we really need them?
by our secret columnist in Brussels
What is the European Union for, and what would really be lost if its institutions were no more? Are they still a necessary part of the landscape?Schadenfreude asks the questions and gives the answers
It was a noble cause, the end of the European civil wars. Visionaries had tried for centuries, in vain. Whatever else you can say about Europe since the middle of last century, it has not been to war. Lives have been saved. But the very fact of peace makes the fear of war obsolete. It is now in the highest degree unlikely that any member of the European Union will go to war with another.
What else is Europe for? Some members are undoubtedly in it for the money. Europe supports their farming or finances capital projects or both. All are in it for free trade, including uniform regulation in areas like product safety, consumer protection, fair competition, ethical business standards. Currently some are benefitting from solidarity including financial assistance. The question is – with this achieved, are the institutions with their paraphernalia still a necessary part of the landscape? If they were quietly stood down, what would be lost?
Not a lot. The free trade rules would stand as long as the beneficiaries want them. A disputes tribunal could be subcontracted to the World Trade Organisation. Funding of development projects could belong to the European Investment Bank, raising its capital on the market. With threats of global food shortage European agriculture should have an assured future. When new products or processes need a base the various standardisation bodies could set up the framework parameters, which enterprises would find it important to stick to.
For foreign policy decisions, ministers could meet and adopt them. This does not involve legislation – neither now nor in future. Defence belongs to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, but with no obligation to join if neutrality is a national rule. The euro would remain the currency of those who want it, under the purview of the European Central Bank. There is nothing in the treaties about bail-outs except a ban on them. Nothing would be lost there.
There could be a European Parliament but to give it meaning it would consist of Europe-wide parties, with independents. It would not in general be involved in legislation, since there would not be much, but it could become the sounding board for what Europeans want to happen. Europol could continue to function as an information and intelligence centre. A Commission would not have a role but a small secretariat would be required for ministerial meetings, which would be infrequent. Central bureaucracy would be no more. There would be nothing for nationalistic groups to become worked up about. The New Mature Union would be as close as it will get and would not cost much to run. 'Twere a consummation devoutly to be wished.
EU lacks driving force at time of greatest need
There is little dynamism in the EU, so the bold initiatives talked about have little prospect of realisation – and the problem goes deeper than the bloc's error strewn response to the economic crisis, writes our secret columnist in Brussels