Leaders suffering from amnesia
By Alain Lamassoure (*) | Thursday 21 June 2012
The economic and financial woes plaguing Europe would be dealt with more effectively if those who govern the Union – in fact, the national leaders who meet for EU summits – did not suffer from incapacitating amnesia.
The Lisbon Treaty? Forgotten, even though its gestation period lasted ten years! By a fortuitous coincidence, it entered into force in late 2009, on the eve of the Greek crisis. Its system would have permitted adoption of all the necessary measures under enhanced cooperation. Unfortunately, the leaders preferred to put a new treaty on the drawing board, the ‘fiscal compact’, ratification of which will still take months as financial markets continue to rage out of control. The degree of amnesia is such that Nicolas Sarkozy, who in 2007 was the main driver of what he called at the time the ‘mini-treaty’, did not mention it once among the achievements of his term of office. Unfortunately, the illness also prevails on the other side of the Rhine: European policy veteran Wolfgang Schäuble is today proposing to relaunch political Europe by giving the Union a president elected by universal suffrage. Yet under the Lisbon Treaty, from 2014 the Commission president will be elected by the European Parliament following the EP’s own election, in other words, in fact by citizens themselves, as are the German chancellor and the prime ministers of France’s other 25 partners, and the mayors of France’s 36,000 municipalities.
The most recent EU laws? Also forgotten. During the night of 8 December 2011, at an umpteenth ‘last-chance summit’, Europe’s leaders negotiated for hours over toughening sanctions for poor budget management - sanctions that had entered into application on 16 November. Their finance ministers and the European Parliament had already agreed an overall scheme that included half a dozen ordinary laws (the so-called ‘six pack’). This strange phenomenon is reoccurring today with the idea of European bond issues to finance future investments. The project bonds were adopted three weeks ago by the European Parliament after months of negotiation with the same ministers. No doubt that in the absence of an agreement on pooling existing debt (eurobonds), the next European Council will present them as the latest decision, for which the new French president will assume paternity. Similarly, the voices in Brussels, Berlin, Paris and Frankfurt demanding European banking supervision do not make the slightest allusion to the fact that, in 2011, no fewer than four EU institutions were put in place: three authorities are in charge of supervising banks, insurance companies and financial markets, respectively; they are headed up by a Systemic Risk Council. Will a fifth be created before the other four even become fully operational?
The most ambitious European action plans? Also forgotten. The debate launched frenetically on an economic growth programme for the Union is tantamount to repeating, redeciding, copy-pasting, reinventing what was already solemnly announced in July 2010. On that day, the European Council adopted a ten-year plan, the ‘Europe 2020’ agenda. It had everything: a philosophy for “smart, sustainable and inclusive” growth rooted in the knowledge-based economy; a set of priority programmes (‘flagship actions’); and an exhaustive battery of evaluation criteria ranging from the share of GDP dedicated to research to the rate of employment of seniors or the number of early school leavers. After returning home, each national leader shelved the 2020 agenda: no one has talked about it in the national capitals for the last two years. Yet everyone chimes in on the anthem to growth and competitiveness.
At a time when all the national leaders are trying to find the right dosage between financial discipline and forward-looking investments, Europe can provide tremendous added value that costs nothing in budgetary terms: the correct use of a huge economic area of 500 million inhabitants. Two years ago, Michel Barnier steered through a full package of measures to tear down the walls that still break up the continent. But their concrete application is a trivial matter, unworthy of superhuman heroes, so our 27 Sisyphuses keep going back up the summit mountain but forget to push that boulder.
This degree of inability to ensure a minimum level of continuity of action creates a serious problem of governance for the Union. The European Council of 27 leaders is no longer the informal club of number ones agreeing on broad guidelines, as conceived by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, and it can hardly be the permanent executive board that coordinates, decides and supervises application, in short the government of Europe. It gives the image of a periodic diplomatic conference that opens with a family photo and concludes with an official statement intended to address the concerns of the day. And since the media have a very limited memory, especially when it comes to European affairs, we reinvent the wheel under different names: cycle, ring, disk, circumference, etc, with each leader commenting on the roundness of the object and parting until next time.
And Europe remains stuck in the mire.
(*) Alain Lamassoure is a member of the European Parliament (EPP, France)