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Introduction to a debate “The crisis of the European Union - What are we talking about?”

Strasbourg, European Parliament
08/03/2016
 
 

(1. A paradox)

I wish to start our discussion today with an apparent paradox. We all keep hearing about the crisis of the European Union, about the survival of the European Union... We have dozens of articles explaining everyday why the European Union is dying, or why it has died already. And yet - I can tell you from the pragmatist point of view which is mine, as one seeing things happening - we are witnessing the best cooperation ever between the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission. We have a stable European Parliament with a robust majority supporting the European Commission and its initiatives. We have never been so efficient at identifying problems together, at addressing them together, and at trying to solve them together. This is happening not only with the European Commission but also with the European Council. Take my word: there is now a habit - not to say a culture - of genuine cooperation between the institutions. Leaders play an important role. But this culture of cooperation is also supported by processes, such as regular 'trilogue' negotiations in the legislative field, the election of the President of the Commission by a majority in the European Parliament, or the implementation of Article 17 on inter-institutional programming, which is now being taken seriously by the Commission.

(2. A problem with delivery in a multi-level governance system)

So why is it then that people speak about a crisis of the European Union?

- My personal answer is that we are in fact in federal union, or - if you want to be politically correct - in a system of multi-level governance. And in this context, if you want this construct to work and deliver, the 'whole thing' - and not only some parts of the system - has to function. The good functioning of the European Union does not depend only on the institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg - the Parliament, the European Commission and the Council. If we really are in a system of multi-level governance, then the final quality of operations is not only decided on the central, higher or 'federal' level - or whatever we call it.

The final quality of operations is decided on all levels of the system. It is not only decided - to make it clear - at the level on which decision is taken. The final quality of the Union's output is also decided on the level in charge of implementation, on the level which has the administrative capacity to implement the decision.

(3. A crisis mainly on the national level)

My view is that - when we are speaking about the crisis of the European Union for the moment - we are not really discussing problems which happen on the central level or on the federal level. We are rather speaking of the national level. We are speaking about this level in our system which should be doing the implementation and which should be able to provide an adequate administrative capacity behind the decisions taken together at central level. This is - to me - the core issue. It is very important to bear it in mind if we wish to understand what is truly happening with the European Union. Let's not take for granted the diagnosis of those ready to press the panic button. Let's be specific. Let's address the issues on the level on which they are really located. Let's be precise.

Let's discuss the euro-crisis. The euro crisis is not really a crisis of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. The euro crisis has had its origin on the national level, within some Member States. The origin of the crisis lies with Member States not having done what they should have done in terms of structural reforms; with Member States having falsified their statistics; with Member States having refused to do the fiscal adaptations needed after the introduction of the common currency; with Member States in which banking supervision and prudential rules had been kept inadequate; with Members which had refused any more demanding rule on the European level for the financial sector.

Let's move on to the migration crisis. We are witnessing something similar. The European Parliament and the Council have passed - upon proposal of the Commission - European legislation sometimes ago. But this legislation was not implemented at all by some Member States. And where it has been implemented, it has not been properly and fully implemented. And even where it has been properly implemented in the texts, then it has not been properly administered. I have heard, for instance, a report about border stations. 90% of border stations don't have WI-FI connection. This is something very simple to establish. But - for sure - if you don't have access to the internet, it means that you cannot check the central database which may be available at European level. And if you cannot check the central database, you don't know if the person crossing is not on a list of people suspected for terrorist activities.

So, this is not an issue with legislation. It is not even an issue with the transposition of legislation. It is an issue with proper administration not on the European level but on the level of the Member States.

(4. A crisis in the implementation process)

So my view on the current crisis of the European Union is that it is not about a crisis of the European institutions. You can say - and I can agree with you - this is a serious crisis of the European Union. But this is not a crisis of its decision process, but a crisis of its capacity to implement and administrate. And, as we all know, this capacity to implement and administrate European decisions relies - in our current system - on the national level. Therefore - if we are serious about it - the crisis has to be addressed there.

(5. The lack of central (complementary) executive capacities)

The answer of the European Union to this crisis is that we cannot completely leave the executive capacity to the Member States. We need complementary functions on the European Union central level when it comes to executive capacities.

If we return to the euro crisis, we need to set up a €750 billion fund at the European Union central level which can help us out in case of similar crises in the future. This is exactly what was intended with the creation of the ESM.

If we return to the migration crisis, we need a complementary border control capacity, at the European Union's central level, if there remain structural weaknesses in border control on the national levels which cannot be sufficiently quickly addressed by the responsible Member State.

(6. The difficult transition from a 'Legislative Union' to an 'Executive Union')

To me what is now happening is that the 'Legislative Union' ,which was created long time ago, and which - from my view point - now functions well and quite smoothly, is now step by step, being completed by a kind of 'Executive Union' with complementary executive capacities at the central level.

(7. The emergence of a new business model for the EU)

So the so-called crisis which we are witnessing may in fact well be the birth-pain of a new European Union moving from the field of legislation - with slow and indirect impact on people's life, into the field of executive action.

And this executive action - even if it is complementary - is perceived much more directly by the people. It is also inevitably perceived as more interventionist on the level of the Member State, even if requested from there.

(8. The need for additional political legitimacy)

And it is therefore natural that this move towards a more executive type of action triggers new kinds of reactions in the public opinion on the national level. It is natural that it is accompanied with new issues about the legitimacy of the European Union to do go into this direction. Who can decide if the European Union - with its executive capacities at central level - should intervene or not?

(9. The necessity to discuss and address a larger number of issues at the European level)

To bring that sort of legitimacy behind a more 'executive' European Union, we firstly need the European Council. Why? - Because the European Council executes a kind of 'elevator function'. Only the 28 heads of States and governments gathered together can decide to 'elevate' an issue from the national level on which it usually lies to the European level. They have the legitimacy to do so. They can say: OK, now we move the discussion on border control on the European level, and we accept to deploy European border guards to complement national border control here and there. They can say: OK now we move the discussion on the management of future financial crises on the European level, and we accept to pool together €750 billion as a buffer at central level. In this fashion, the heads of States and governments are elevating issues from the national level to the European level, not only for legislative initiative but also for executive action.

(10. The shortage of capacities to support the European Council)

Once you have to manage the outcome of such a process, I am still convinced that it is much better done by the existing Institutions with executive capacities - mainly the Commission - rather that by any ad-hoc mechanisms or by the European Council itself. Why? - Because the European Council, which has the capacity to elevate an issue to the European level, does not qualify to be a strong executive body. Its executive capacity is in fact extremely limited. During the recent summit on the UK issue, the executive capacity of the European Council proved so limited that it was not sufficient to provide the German chancellor with a lunch. So she had to go and get French fries on her own.

It is not enough to provide analysis by itself. It is not enough to provide crisis management tools. It is not enough to provide follow-up on European Council's conclusions. This is why the execution of the guidelines for action agreed together on the level of the European Council has to remain where execution capacities at central level are available - and this is the European Commission.

Thank you.

 
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