Montesquieu Institute: from science to society

Masterclass 2012: Financial policies without political consensus is a stumbling Block

Friday, March 23 2012, 8:54

The present crisis in Europe has two causes.  First is the fact that the EU is no political union and the second problem is that there is a fundamental unbalance between North and South in the EU. This was the grand scheme of the lecture of March 2, 2012. The lecture was given by mr. Sjerp van der Vaart the head of the EP information office in The Hague.

The division in a northern and southern Europe causes problems. This is caused by the fact that the two regions follow a different economic cycle, have differing interest rates while they both operate in one monetary union. During the lecture a fiscal union was suggested as a possible solution. Again the recurring theme of legitimacy was brought up as an important issue. Any change that is suggested now should be supported by the citizens of the EU. The politicians should not forget this.

Another matter that is fighting for attention is the fact that national parliaments are unable to come together and put pressure on the actors in the EU arena. The new Lisbon Treaty has given them a bigger role, but this has still to be effectuated. The national parliaments can achieve a position where they are not mere rubber stamps on the decisions made by other, but where they can actually and effectively influence policies. They still have to learn to handle their new role, which is not an easy matter. Coordination and cooperation between them is vital and will take some time before is it effective. This new development has come late, perhaps too late. Muddling through has gone on for too long and has had little effect. This has affected legitimacy in a negative way.

How to deal with the present crisis? More cooperation between North and South must be a goal for the short haul. The gap between North and South must be eliminated. The change should not only come form the states. Citizens also have a responsibility and they should take it. The means to do so have under the new Lisbon Treaty been enlarged; formally and informally. The Citizens Initiative has given them the means to really influence the EU agenda. The new media could be an excellent channel through which they can influence the EU arena and agenda. Another issue is that education could help informing the citizens about their position in the EU and about ways to influence policies. The media should also be careful how they frame the news. Are they going for hypes or do they (also) inform the citizens in a neutral way with the aim of improving the knowledge about the EU.

During the discussion the main topic was, it’s a drag by now, but a fundamental one, legitimacy. It remains a central issue. Europe is not transparent. This issue is a matter that is neglected by politicians. How is the influence of citizens translated into policies? Is the new narratives stronger than the “old” ones?  The old one being a Europe without war and economic and financial cooperation, while the new one adds that the ultimate goal is that Europe is a Union of citizens as Jean Monnet envisaged. This means that Europe should become a Union of states and citizens with a European identity where states and citizens cooperate. Although the current crisis has shown that this may be a difficult road to travel, it might just be the solution for a European future.