Saturday

26th May 2018

Opinion

Ten Commandments to overcome the EU's many crises

  • The Juncker commission (Photo: European Commission)

I have been a strong proponent of European cooperation for the past 50 years and am sad to see how our dream of a united Europe has been destroyed by the many crises of recent years.

The monetary union was a faulty construction that lacked a political arm to govern the economies involved.

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The result was that Europe lost 8 percent of gross national product (GNP), compared to the US, after the 2008 financial crisis. We could have had the same growth rate as the Americans by taking real control of the EU economy. In fact, eight percent of the EU's GNP could have solved most of its economic problems.

The refugee crisis was not difficult to foresee and the expansion of Africa's population and its consequences should not have come as a surprise.

We abolished all EU internal borders without establishing strong common borders around the EU/Schengen countries. We were then taken aback when refugees started to move towards us.

We need urgently to control the EU borders, stop the illegal immigration industry and open up legal immigration routes for people from outside the EU with proper passports, visas and work offers.

Brexit could have been avoided if we had dealt with the EU's basic problems and given Europeans a slim, efficient and democratic Europe before the British people voted.

These three major EU crises led to populist victories in several countries. The EU has grown in popular support recently because people feel threatened by one country leaving it - not out of love for the Brussels institutions.

This is the core analysis that I have written together with the longest-serving Danish member of the European Parliament, Jens-Peter Bonde.

The book that we have written together is called 'What Next, EU?'

It contains ten proposals that would change things from continual crisis to a better Europe if they were to be adopted. We have been political opponents for many years. Then we met and succeeded in overcoming our differences. The result is this book that ends with 'Ten Commandments' to democratise EU.

We hope that you as its reader will also be willing to discuss our ideas on how to save Europe.

1. Close all tax havens and reform the EU currency union

* Forbid all tax transactions through tax havens if they do not offer full disclosure and information.

* Introduce common rules for taxation of all companies that export or have subsidiaries in other countries. It is unfair that big businesses can avoid paying taxes, while smaller companies and ordinary citizens pay the bill for those who have a better ability to pay.

* Introduce joint taxation of financial transactions and company profits to replace member states' and citizens' contributions to the EU.

* Either wind up the euro or let the monetary union be governed democratically, with greater emphasis on growth and employment than controlling inflation, and with the necessary willingness to show solidarity between the richer countries and areas and those that lag behind.

2. Create green growth

* Use the EU budget, the European Investment Bank and the European Central Bank to contribute to climate protection, green growth and job creation in the member states. That makes more sense than continuing the existing massive supports for those who own farmland.

* Adopt a sliding scale for countries' co-financing of green growth based on their financial capacity, so that the richest countries for example, would receive, say, 10 percent in grants while the poorest might receive 50 percent.

3. Establish a common refugee fund

* Inaugurate a modern 'Marshall Plan' for the countries of the Middle East and Africa, to create realistic prospects of local employment.

* Open our markets for duty-free access so that poor countries can export goods to us instead of people.

* The road to Europe should go through embassies, airports and neigbourhood camps, not be by means of overcrowded inflatable boats, with huge numbers drowning in the sea.

* Europe should be open to legal visa access, so we can close down the illegal immigration industry that robs and exploits immigrants.

* The EU budget should finance the cost of refugees and allow communities, organisations and companies across the EU to compete in offering solutions to the migration problem.

4. Enforce efficient border control and the right to welfare

* The common external borders must be effectively and humanely monitored with the help of EU budget subsidies. It is not fair to leave the bill and the trouble to the most vulnerable EU countries such as Italy and Greece.

* Ships with immigrants in them should be returned to where they came from. That is not pretty but it is necessary. Then it would be enough to have mild and friendly border controls at the Union's internal frontiers which would give greater security to citizens, for example by automatic scanning of car license plates.

* Member states themselves should have the right to restrict immigration by setting rules for minimum wages and distribution of domestic welfare benefits.

* The rules on free movement of people should be changed, so that citizens in different countries can willingly accept them.

* The EU must also act more effectively against cross-border crime, so that people can feel more safer and secure.

5. Open up and democratise the EU

* All EU meetings should be open to citizens and any document produced by the institutions should be publicly available unless a law or specific decision allows for exceptions.

* The EU Ombudsman, the Court of Auditors and the European Parliament's budget control committee must have the right to check all expenditures.

* All laws should be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers together and should be open to further amendment on the initiative of the Commission, the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament or the national parliaments.

* Delegated acts should also be open to amendment by a majority in the elected bodies. We can no longer have laws and regulations that cannot be changed by voters and their elected representatives.

* The European Court of Justice should avoid judicial activism and stop effectively making laws through its judgments. Laws should always be adopted by elected representatives who are subject to voter control. We cannot have far-reaching judgments laying down rules that can never be amended by the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers or the national parliaments.

6. We must be able to choose our leaders

* National Commissioners should be elected directly at the same time as elections to the European Parliament.

* It will be devastating for citizens' confidence if/when we must change to a smaller Commission in 2019. Smaller countries should feel represented in the government of the union by having their own Commissioner.

* A Commission that is without participation by every member state will lack legitimacy when the Commission adopts 70 percent of all laws on its own, and has the exclusive right to propose all others.

* The president of the Commission should be elected by the European Parliament and the presidents and prime ministers in the European Council together, as long as there is no European people ready to support direct elections of an EU president, as in the United States of America.

7. Begin reform with the national parliaments

* National parliaments should adopt the EU annual legislative programme and become better at implementing the principle of subsidiarity. It is not Brussels that should decide. The desirable direction should always be bottom-up rather than top-down.

* Adoption of laws should not primarily be a matter for ministers, officials, experts and lobbyists. The elected representatives of national parliaments should decide and control their countries' input into the decision-making process of the EU. National parliaments and voters must have co-influence and co-responsibility.

* All proposals for EU legislation could have a first reading in the national sectoral committee, a second reading in the European affairs committee and a third reading with the adoption of each countries' position in the national parliaments. Thus the voters can see whom to punish or reward on the next polling day.

8. Limit EU bureaucracy

* Laws and allocations of money should be adopted with a designated expiry date, so they expire automatically unless explicitly renewed.

* Rules for public procurement rules should be changed so as to create less frustration and more competition. Small and medium-sized enterprises should have better chances of winning tenders than they have now.

* All laws should be accessible by the citizens. It should be possible for citizens to read and understand legislation in whatever area they are interested.

* The many thousands of EU laws and even more numerous rules and regulations should be collected under the main legislative act, with appropriate attachments. Suggestions for changes in laws must be made visible. Today even experts often have difficulty figuring out the actual legal situation in relation to some EU laws.

* Knowledge of EU relations has become a specialty for lawyers and the 30,000 or so paid lobbyists in Brussels. European laws and their creation should in principle belong to all of us.

9. Greater freedom for member countries

* The Commission and the European Court of Justice should only be able to intervene in member states' decisions in instances where there are clear cross-border effects.

* This could be done by means of a European 'Freedom Act' that would limit the impact of the Union's 144,000 or so laws, rules, standards and judgments so that they only apply in relation to cross-border issues.

* Harmonisation needs to take place so that businesses and citizens experience the benefit of having one good standard rather than 28 different sets of rules.

* Common minimum rules should allow countries to adopt additional protection, for example in relation to climate, the environment, health and consumer safety.

10. Peace and free trade

* The EU should contribute to international peacekeeping and development by strengthening and supporting the UN and respecting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

* The EU should defend and respect human rights, both inside and outside the union.

* The member states should continue to decide whether they will participate in the EU common defence and Nato.

* The EU should remove customs and quantitative restrictions on the importation of goods as much as possible and enter into free trade agreements with every possible country and area.

* Trade agreements should consider the degree of development of different countries and respect the climate, environment, health, safety and public policy of the participating states and the EU.

* Mediation and financial compensation should be used wherever possible, instead of leaving decision-making and judicial authority to mainly multinational companies and their lawyers, as was the case in the proposed TTIP agreement with the United States of America.

Uffe Ostergard is a professor emeritus at Copenhagen Business School and the author of What Next, EU?

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