dimarts, 28 d’octubre de 2008

European divisions: The EU once more without answers

Resum de l'article publicat a la revista Catalan International View. Aquí la podeu consultar sencera.

Treaties are no more than legal documents at the service of the European Union. A fundamental question is ‘what kind of Europe do we want?’ However, the EU has been unable to come up with a unanimous answer. Ireland’s ‘no’ to the Lisbon Treaty has reopened divisions among those that support economic union and those that aspire to more political integration. In this global threat to the economy and with Russia playing tough at the Union's borders, what EU needs is not only a new legal framework but a real political leadership.

After Ireland’s ‘no’ to the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has been split in two. For some it is a chasm that divides European citizens from the political class. The EU, built from the top down as the result of political agreements in the distribution of influences, has to find a way to make the democratic process more transparent before the next round of European elections in June 2009. For others the European project has broken with its original objectives for the lack of a clear answer to the most basic question: what Europe do we want?

The eternal dilemma, unsolved by the current economic and political union, has returned once more to threaten its immediate future. A Europe that is more politically integrated not only frightens some of its citizens, but also most of its leaders. The veteran of all heads of European governments, Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, admitted recently that ‘between globalisation and the nation, there is an organised Europe’, but ‘we continue to act before public opinion as if our national government was the only one able to provide answers to our most immediate problems’. Fifty years of a common project have still not changed the inertia of blaming Brussels for the difficult decisions that must be applied at state level. It is as if ‘Brussels’ was an entity in itself when, in reality, it is a European Commission, whose members have been assigned by each of the Member States and approved by the European Parliament, and a Council of Ministers in which the 27 EU governments participate. (.....)

The shock brought about by the Irish ‘no’ and the new uncertainties in the process of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty have further weakened the already fragile European project. The European Commission’s capacity to initiate new legislation has been reduced to a minimum, unable to act in order to avoid any mistake. A mistake that might slow down a ‘yes’ to the Treaty or that may also affect the political career of its members just one year away from the renewal of Brussels’ executive. The poor leadership shown by this Commission has been the perfect excuse for those that defend the view, as the Council of Ministers would have us believe, that ‘the strict community processes, those of directives and an interior market, are practically finished, and that from now on it is much better to function with an intergovernmental mechanism’. This is because, as Nicolas Sarkozy argues, ‘there is life beyond the institutions’. The euro and Schengen are two great instances of cooperation between states that are held up as examples. If this view prevails, an EU made to suit its states would consolidate itself, to the detriment of institutions that were meant to guarantee the democratic participation of its citizens. (....)

Institutional weakness is translated into impotence on an international scale. Only the European Union initiative, under the leadership of Nicolas Sarkozy, to come with a cease-fire on the Russian-Georgian conflict gave some breath to a common foreign policy, even if negotiations where extremely careful not to damage strategic bilateral relations between the Kremlin and Germany, Italy or France. Beyond that, the EU appears trapped by its own Eurocentrism without realising that, little by little, it is losing its ability to face the new global arena. This Union of some 500 million inhabitants represents just 4% of the world’s landmass and around 10% of its population. By 2025, China will be the second largest global trading nation and India will occupy the fourth position, just behind the EU. Asia is imposing new forms of capitalism which reject Western values. China and India are putting into practice new foreign policies in Africa and Latin America. Russia has unveiled its new leadership under Dimitri Medvedev and the long shadow of Vladimir Puttin. The United States will do so from next November with Barack Obama or John McCain. Meanwhile, the EU continues to be stuck with the impossible reforms of its institutions. The disproportion of the situation is evident. Europe’s presence in the world is waning. The EU does not exist as a political entity on the UN’s Security Council, for example, or in the International Monetary Fund, because the European states of which they are formed want it that way. Among so much limitation it is not possible for the EU to be a credible actor in foreign policy. Without the Lisbon Treaty brought into force the European Union remains, for the time being, without a strong foreign policy, without the legal personality that would allow it to sign international treaties and unable to open doors to the new states born from the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. The EU has for too long been offering the carrot of membership to the Balkans, while the reality has continued to erode its credibility in the region. The Union lacks a permanent president (one that does not rotate every six months) to represent it to the world. In a shocking prove of realism, a leading member of the Ministers Council confess not long a ago to a group of experts that “we will never have a common voice in the world, our highest ambition should be to get a well trained choir”.

Ireland’s ‘no’ is not an isolated case. It is the same ‘no’ as France and Holland gave to the European Constitution. It is a ‘no’ that mixes an absence of knowledge, false arguments, dissatisfaction with the current national government and above all else a lack of confidence in the EU. The citizens, who in surveys define themselves as clearly pro-European, respond with a ‘no’ to changes that would reinforce Europe. Governments are too scare to suggest any consultation that could end with new arguments against their own taken decisions. The lack of confidence is mutual. (....)

In the following months there is important work to be done, not only to explain once again the European project, but also to really listen to what the citizens want from the EU. Over the years we have all learnt to view and value the EU with less passion and more pragmatism, but if this distancing and abstentionism by the citizenry is not dealt with, this sense of rejection will end up being a problem of political legitimacy. Dissatisfaction on behalf of the citizens towards the political class in general is exacerbated where Europe is concerned. The day-to-day work of the institutions have served to enhance this perception. The image we receive from the media is of a Europe that is undermining its own democratic demands: the controversial debate about immigration; the investigation into the CIA’s secret flights in EU territory; the reduction of liberties as a result of the fight against terrorism; arbitrary measures such as the inspection of liquids and airport security checks; or the surrender of personal information of all European passengers that fly to the United States. Such measures are interpreted as a challenge to the social European model, till now considered one of the key values of the European project. In reality, social Europe has always been the lowest common denominator of a union that, since its enlargement in 2004, has become ‘Britanised’ to coin a phrase. The new French president of the EU spoke on the ‘need to reconciliate European citizens with Europe’. However, the key questions are, ‘with which Europe?’ Followed by, ‘to what end?’ No one doubts that without the support of its citizens it will be impossible to continue to an ever-closer union. For those that want it, this much is clear. Reality has a habit of reminding us that we do not all want the same thing for this Union.
*fotografia de la representació de la Comissió Europea a Barcelona. Acte de celebració del 9 de maig del 2008.

dissabte, 18 d’octubre de 2008

crisi europea

Després d'uns inicis maldestres, de mesures nacionals sense consens i poca solidaritat, la crisi financera ha aconseguit redefinir el projecte europeu i la fortalesa d'alguns dels seus líders.

A Brussel·les s'acostuma a dir que la Unió Europea creix a cops de crisi. Probablement els 27 no estan pensant en més integració política però sí que han sabut demostrar una consciència europea.

La tempesta financera també ha resituat lideratges. Ha ressucitat al primer ministre Gordon Brown quan al seu país ja no se'l considerava gaire més que un cadàver polític. Irònicament, Brown, que havia allunyat Gran Bretanya del continent a una distància que recordava els millors anys de Margaret Thatcher, és avui un dels pares del pla que ha de salvar la zona euro. En canvi, la cancellera, Angela Merkel, ha passat per la incoherència d'haver d'aplicar mesures unilaterals urgents que només 24 hores abans havia criticat en públic. Fins fa uns mesos, Irlanda semblava el nen mimat per les subvencions de la Unió i el creixement econòmic, que li permetien dir no al Tractat de Lisboa. Avui és un dels països més afectats per la bombolla immobiliària i per la por a la contaminació bancària dels Estats Units. I l'hiperactiu Nicolas Sarkozy, que tants dubtes aixecava abans de l'estiu, ha liderat el joc en equip, arreplegant elogis a dreta i esquerra entre homòlegs europeus i als grans mitjans de comunicació del continent. Algú s'imagina que hauria estat de la Unió Europea si aquest semestre la presidència de torn hagués estat en mans de Txèquia, com passarà l'1 de gener? Un país majoritàriament euroescèptic, partidari de la desregulació màxima de l'economia, enemic declarat de Rússia i fins i tot insolidari davant d'un pla de rescat financer que ell mateix considera que no necessita. Com s'hauria fet front a la crisi de Geòrgia? a la caiguda dels mercats? o a les debilitats institucionals d'aquesta Unió? La resposta està en un text que Txèquia tampoc vol aprovar. El Tractat de Lisboa -que avui molt consideren tocat de mort- preveu que la UE tingui un president, escollit per un mandat de 2 anys i mig, que garanteixi la fortalesa i el lideratge necessari. Sempre i quan els 27 triïn bé, és clar.

*comentari per a L'APUNT de Catalunya Informació. 16/10/2008

dijous, 2 d’octubre de 2008

Dificultats per a Merkel

Angela Merkel es prepara per a una reelecció més complicada del que la seva popularitat arreu del país faria creure.

El final del monopoli de la CSU al land de Baviera, que diumenge va perdre la majoria absoluta que administrava des del 1962, debilita el suport tradicional dels conservadors bavaresos als seus germans de la CDU. I van ser els vots dels social-cristians els que l'any 2005 van decantar la victòria federal per a Angela Merkel. La crisi financera mundial i les previsions de recessió que la Comissió Europea ha diagnosticat per a l'Alemanya dels pròxims mesos acabaran d'enfosquir el panorama pre-electoral. Per no parlar de les sonades diferències que la CDU i la CSU han mantingut en els darrers temps sobre legislacions importants com l'impost de successions o la llei contra el tabac.

Per la seva banda, els conservadors bavaresos hauran de fer la seva pròpia neteja interna i consolidar un líder prou carismàtic com per recuperar la confiança dels quadres més joves del partit, cansats d'unes estructures encarcarades que s'han anat passant el poder de mà en mà durant dècades. Aquest canvi de lideratge també hauria de reflectir el canvi social que ha viscut el land més ric d'Alemanya els últims anys, cada cop menys catòlic i menys conservador.

Tampoc els socialdemòcrates dels SPD han sabut capitalitzar aquest descontentament que, en canvi, s'ha traduït en una alça de vots per a moltes formacions més petites.

D'ara i fins la pròxima tardor, Merkel haurà de córrer la cursa electoral lligada a una CSU debilitada i en plena lluita interna, i governant en una gran coalició amb els socialdemòcrates, que s'afanyaran a marcar diferències i a promoure la figura del seu nou líder, l'actual ministre d'Afers Exteriors, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Les enquestes, però, continuen apostant per la cancellera.

comentari per a L'APUNT de Catalunya Informació

dimecres, 1 d’octubre de 2008