January 2, 2013
In my opinion, one of the key momentums which will be decisive not only for 2013 but also for the medium-term future of the European Integration is the final outcome of the 2014-2020 budget discussions. It is not just about money although the financial stability of the EU integration is crucial. This budget contains also other important hidden messages. Three of them are the followings:
(Author of the photo © Davide “Dodo” Oliva)
1. the real opinion of Member States about the ‘Europe-project’;
2. the understanding of the European dimension of the crisis and the need for a common European answer; and
3. the institutional re-shape of the EP-Council balance
Let’s have a closer look on these ‘hidden messages’ from a pro-European perspective!
1. In international politics, the practice describes better the real intention of decison makers than rhetoric does.
Almost all European politicians are pro-European in rhetoric (except the usual ‘blaming Brussels for every unpleasant common decision made by ourselves’ effect). But during the negotiations, all negotiators will show ‘the white of their teeth’. If ‘cuts’, ‘savings’ and ‘rebate‘ remained the main buzzwords, it would show how important our common European project is in the reality for them.
Without serious concessions, without crucial financial contribution to the European project no one will believe that the EU Member States have a real interest in having a strong EU. And if this is the image the public opinion receives, the financial markets will punish not directly Europe but the single Member States, especially those whose currency is the euro and have serious economic problems.
2. Did Member States understand the European dimension of the financial crisis?
Let’s start with an evidence: this crisis is European and not only national. Therefore, only a European-wide crisis-management can be an effective answer.
Having a ‘weak’ European budget will be another sign that Member States did not understand anything about the true nature of the financial crisis. The financial turmoil has already passed long ago national borders and single Member States are simply not strong enough to overcome it alone.
A strong European budget could help Member States in this regard, but a weak and greedy budget will make the situation even worse.
Yes, some reductions of the EU budget could be communicated at home as a ‘victory’ of the national soveregnity against the ‘evil Brussels bureaucrats’ but it would not contribute to the European answer to the dept crisis at all.
Relevant decision makers must simply understand that European policies (agriculture, environment, transport, consumer protection, public health, energy, competition etc.) have a real added value to the national ones. Each euro spent at European level mean indirect benefits for national economies. Having a strong Europe is in everyone’s interest but – apparently- no one wants to make real sacrifices for that purpose.
European Funds are good examples to demonstrate Europe’s potential since these financial instruments make possible useful investments which would not be imaginable in some countries without European contribution due to the lack of adequate national resources.
We shall not forget: without a strong European budget, no economic growth can be reached at all.
Taking a simple example, the European budget can be described with the characteristics of the general term of ‘infrastructure’. Infrastructural investments (highways, digital connections, built environment, safe and clean environment, etc.) do not contribute directly to the productivity, but no high quality product can be achived without them.
3. Finally, the third hidden message is the institutional effect of the EU budget talks
Although we are talking about the importance of the democratically elected European Parliament, the real-decision makers are still the Member States through the Council and most importantly, through the European Council.
However, by accepting the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament has got much more power in budget talks than it had before. And this could be a real opportunity to use this power to underline the importance of the democratic legitimacy in the European decision making process.
The 2014-2020 budget deal would be the test of that power, since the quality of the final outcome might be an indicator of the European Parliament’s real power: the budget compromise will show if the EP is powerful enough to represent the interests of the European people. In other words, if the EP was strong enough to get real concessions from the Member States, it could re-shape the unequal institutional balance between the Council and the EP, which currently still favorises the Council.
We are looking forward to have a typical European compromise in that regard with great interest.
“He who loses wealth loses much; he who loses a friend loses more; but he that loses courage loses all.” ~Cervantes
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