It's your continent; and it's your choice

What Kind of Europe?
January 21, 2005

Loukas Tsoukalis, a brilliant analyst and a friendly critic of European integration, has for many years been a master of the details of its various systems, policies, methods and action plans. All this shows to full effect and with marvellous clarity in What Kind of Europe? , which offers a masterly tour through the labyrinth of the institutions and policies of the European Union and sets everything in its proper historical context.

This book will benefit students of European integration, but Tsoukalis aims to reach a wider audience, to engage the public with the dilemmas of the European project today. By laying bare many of the problems and deficiencies of the EU, he goes a long way to achieving this and further than any similar volume.

But he wants to achieve something else - to stimulate debate about what kind of Europe we want. Here, his enthusiasm for integration and the EU show. He sees clearly so many of the EU's problems: the lack of legitimacy in the whole arrangement is a particular failing in the monetary union; the lack of reasonable arrangements for fiscal policy in the context of a single monetary policy; the impossibility of constructing a coherent foreign policy; and the Common Agricultural Policy from start to end. But his responses are overwhelmingly along the lines of saying that there are difficulties and one must hope for solutions; or to raise suggestions that amount to further integration. Do we want this piece of integration or that piece?

But there are deeper choices about the Europe we want. Tsoukalis has little time for those minimalists who are happy to stop with free trade and floating exchange rates. But even if he is right about that, there should be many choices to consider.

Why should we presume that international cooperation on this continent must grow through the EU rather than through appropriate arrangements for each policy area? The institutional imperatives of the European Commission and European Parliament demand that the EU be the vehicle of integration when possible, but no logic demands it. So here is a Europe we might like: cooperative and integrated, with participation in each aspect of internationalism determined on its merits. There is no reason for Norwegian and Swedish students to pay different fees to study in the UK because one of them is kept out of the EU by the Common Fisheries Policy, is there?

What about a Europe that preserves the presumption that the EU and its institutions, specifically, must be the expression of our internationalism, but insists on their political maturity before they are allowed more power? It is common to lament, as Tsoukalis does, the lack of popular legitimacy in the EU, but where should this lead? To juggling powers, inventing elections and changing the rules for what counts as a political party in its Parliament? Or to saying that the functional integration of government will have to wait on the development of a sense of a European polity that will give rise to those cross-border parties?

Another possibility would be a Europe willing to abandon areas of integration that prove misconceived. A candidate is European employment law - a part of the EU's "social space". Much of this legislation was justified by the idea of "social dumping" - the fear that free trade would push governments towards excesses of deregulation to gain competitive advantage.

As it turns out, social dumping seems to be negligible, as Tsoukalis notes.

Indeed, the EU faces the opposite problem. The Lisbon European Council of 2000 declared, in a deregulationist spirit, that the EU was to become "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy" by 2010.

This was to be achieved by the "open method of coordination", which Tsoukalis says relies on "benchmarking and peer pressure" with the Commission as "secretariat", "catalyst" or "cheer-leader", rather than on regulation and common policies. Since then, sadly, commentators have derided the failure to make sufficient progress in that direction. It is not only among pessimists, as Tsoukalis suggests, that the Lisbon agenda looks like a bad joke.

Meanwhile, labour market regulation that is European in origin continues to be passed. More regulation of working time, apparently still being contemplated, is only one example. The issue is not the merit of the regulations, but the merit of centralising them and suppressing diversity in the EU. Once the myth of social dumping is exploded, it is hard to find a justification. But when a priority, with the deadline near, is to promote individual efforts at deregulation, it is bizarre to impose more regulations from the centre. We do not want a Europe where the cheerleader supports the other side.

So scrap the lot. The immediate effect would be very limited since the national regulation that implements European rules would remain. But nations would be free to repeal it. And it would help to make manifest the EU's determination, if there is determination, to promote enterprise in accordance with Lisbon. It would be true that if we did get that far, there might be other things we would want to scrap, but just raising the issue of what they are would be a step towards getting the right kind of Europe.

James Forder is a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford.

What Kind of Europe?

Author - Loukas Tsoukalis
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Pages - 240
Price - £25.00
ISBN - 0 19 926666 2

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