Thursday

18th Jan 2018

Opinion

Future of Europe is unity, not uniformity

  • Rather than more Brussels in Europe, we need more Europe in Brussels. (Photo: MedTech Europe)

Brexit, Le Pen and Geert Wilders. These are only three expressions of the new European discontent that trembles though the corridors of Brussels.

Amidst confusion and panic, and various attempts to display force, decisiveness and action are considered to be a remedy. Almost invariably the response is “More Europe”. And more Europe tends to be defined as more Brussels.

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That is the wrong way to go.

The discussion about new institutions and new ways to balance power leads to centralism, which will not make Europe stronger. Nor will it make difficult political decisions easier. Rather to the contrary, it will create the illusion that the EU is responsible for all of the shortcomings in our societies.

The belief that reforms of EU institutions can solve political problems is an illusion that will only provide an excuse for not showing political leadership in reforming Europe today.

Centralisation at the cost of subsidiarity will only make the EU more exposed to criticism and more vulnerable when people realise that average solutions do not fit.

We are a political union as well as an economic one, but above all we are a union of European member states and citizens based upon the rule of law.

I love Europe

I have lived in Europe my entire life and I am a Member of European Parliament, elected by Swedish voters to represent them on a pro-European platform. But I am getting more and more convinced that we need to change our perspectives.

The solution to the crisis is not changes to the European institutions, but changes in what is not working in Europe.

In Brussels, institutional competition is sometimes understood as rivalry between EU bodies, such as the parliament and the executive, the EU commission. But in the social sciences, this concept means that diversity in policies creates competition between various political alternatives, displaying how some policies work better than others.

The internal market has greatly enhanced this process, showing how and why some economies create more wealth and jobs than others and that those who are lagging behind should learn from those who are more successful.

This aspect of the internal market and the road to competitiveness, cohesion and convergence should be strengthened, not weakened.

Rather than more Brussels in Europe, we need more Europe in Brussels, in the sense that plurality provides more strength and better dynamics than average decisions and uniformity. We don’t need new mechanisms or methods of decision tomorrow, we need decisions and political courage today.

Catalyst of national reform

We need to do what we have set out to do: to fulfil the promise of the free flow of goods, services, capital and people across borders, a real energy union and a common foreign and security policy worth its name.

Brussels should be a catalyst of national reform, not its inhibitor.

Reform is needed in Europe, not in the EU institutions.

While the EU boasts five of the ten most competitive countries in the world, the World Economic Forum shows that some member states are facing huge challenges in becoming modern and globally competitive.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for such a variety of countries and situations. A Europe that focuses on the median will be stuck in mediocrity. That is not good enough.

We need excellence

The threats and the challenges we face today are of the same kind as the ones that once made us turn the vision of Europe into a legal framework of open borders, cooperation and solidarity.

We need to make all of this function better by being more courageous and decisive in order to make the union stronger with its policies, not by never-ending discussions on new institutions.

The 28 (or 27) social pillars, adapted to our differences, provides for more stability and social security than one pillar neglecting them all.

The openness over borders and between different models fosters something better than uniformity - unity. That’s the way to stay together in difficult times, standing strong as a unit and allowing for all of us to contribute in the best way possible.

There is a saying often credited the old roman Petronius Arbiter: “We trained hard—but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we were reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while actually producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralisation.”

This line of thinking is prevalent in the Commission White Paper and in the first scenario Jean-Claude Juncker presents as “Carrying on”. It is described as “unwieldy” and that such a path would “only deliver incremental progress”.

But what we need today is to develop what we have and what we are.

That is not simply to carry on, but to make full use of the proud achievements we have so far accomplished.

We should define a way forward that is characterised by unity, not by uniformity, and common goals rather than common societies.

Decisiveness on policies is needed today, instead of discussions on institutional make-overs tomorrow.

Gunnar Hoekmark is leader of the Swedish EPP delegation in the European Parliament and Member of the Committee on Economic Affairs.

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