Parliament chief: 'the EU is not in a good state'
By Honor Mahony
European Parliament chief Martin Schulz has admitted that some of London's concerns about the EU are valid and that it is no longer acceptable to dismiss those who are critical of the EU as simply being eurosceptic.
In a press conference to mark the new year Schulz said he shared some of the "unease" with the EU that UK prime minister David Cameron outlined in a widely-reported speech earlier in the week.
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"This unease with the EU as it now is, is something that I share. I think there are many people in Europe who also have this unease" said Schulz. "And that's why I would really recommend that we don't label everyone who criticises the EU as a eurosceptic."
"The EU is not in a good state. We have to do better."
As flaws he pointed to the economic developments that have lead to more "social injustice" and a democratic deficit which he said was not so much to do with the European institutions themselves but rather with opaque EU decision-making
"Why do EU institutions meet behind closed doors. Everything that happens behind closed doors is anonymous and leaves open great room for interpretation." He suggested this only prolongs the practice of member states blaming the EU when things go wrong and taking credit for positive developments.
Much of the legitimacy criticism about the EU concerns the future role of national parliaments when issues considered to be the core of a sovereign state - such as budget policy - are increasingly being decided in Brussels.
Schulz suggested the EU should focus on what individual states cannot do on their own and at the same time be more willing to delegate to the local level. "We should be quite ready to delegate some of the smaller issues to member states."
"I would like to discuss that in this parliament," he said.
The German politician indicated he had undergone something of an epiphany since he first came to Brussels 19 years ago.
"When I first came here I was convinced we would have a united states of Europe. I really saw it as a kind of United States of America on European territory."
Since then he has realised "we are not going to make Texans out of the Germans or Californians out of the French."
The EU's democratic legitimacy issue is increasingly flagged by politicians. In his speech, David Cameron said there is a feeling in Britain, but also elsewhere in Europe, that the EU "is done to people rather than acting on their behalf."
But while there is awareness of the problem there is little agreement on what to do about it. One diplomat recently noted that politicians stress the central importance of democracy and involving national parliaments but in summit statements the issue regularly appears in the "and finally" part.