Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

European Agenda for Citizens

The EU Commission claims to have by now a “policy driven agenda for citizens” but a closer look reveals here is just another top down initiative based on very, very vague promises to do something about employment and other issues of concern to every citizen. Yet the gap between EU institutions and citizens as addressed as key problem of democratic legitimization by Habermas has not been bridged so far, and this despite all kinds of efforts by the European Commission i.e. public consultations, open hearings, open method of coordination, Platforms for a structured dialogue with Civic Society etc.

In a press release of the European Commission (reference: IP/06/595) the announcement is made on 10/05/2006 that:

“Delivering results for Europe: Commission calls for a citizens’ agenda”:"The Commission has today adopted an ambitious policy agenda for Europe’s citizens. This is the Commission’s contribution to the June European Council, picking up the messages the Commission has received from Plan D and the national debates during the period of reflection called by Europe’s leaders last year. It is time to match dialogue with delivery.”

Strange to hear is that the Commission has apparently picked up ‘messages’ entailed in Plan D (presumably after the ratification process of the European Constitutional Treaty grinded to a halt) and moreover taken over some suggestions from ‘national debates during a period of reflection’. The fact that no one heard about or participated in such debates is self explained. This initiative by the Commission was called for by European leaders of the Member states especially in view of the debacle the European Union got itself after the failure to ratify the Constitutional Treaty.

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission asserts that:

Today is a milestone for my Commission. Over the last eighteen months we have successfully addressed many of the issues that were deadlocked when I took office. Today, we are adopting an ambitious, policy driven agenda for citizens. That requires a concerted effort by member states and the EU institutions alike. There must be renewed commitment to Europe. The way to strengthen public confidence in Europe is through results. That is the way to create the conditions to deliver an institutional settlement”.

But which issues have really been addressed? What is here the measure of success? On part of the citizens it can be easily shown that there prevails an absolute absence of knowledge what the Commission has been up to as of late.

Indeed, the problems with the European Union begin with much being said and done in the name of Europe but what appears upon closer look more like operating in a legal vacuum. With it goes the pretension that there is something like a legal base for its actions, when in fact after the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty there is no legitimization and even less a European perspective on how to resolve this problem of having no legal base safe for existing treaties. This is because the failure to ratify the Constitutional Treaty (after the 'no' vote in France and Holland) implies equally a rejection of the European Convention as a method to draft such a Constitutional Treaty. The European Convention was, however, an effective organisational tool for a very much needed debate about Europe. Everyone who participated in that Convention admitted at least one common thing, namely that all problems had been put on the table. They could have been used as to measuring success and failures of EU institutional reforms and progress made in the deliberation between EU Commission and Citizens with regards to a Europe wide agenda applicable to all. Invaluable was that the European Convention did seek and found a dialogue with Civil Society.

Of course, the European Commission and the Presidency of the European Union must after such a failure take recourse to former treaties while preparing for some kind of replacement. (Note of editor: the latter became the Lisbon Treaty). Since all these treaties signed by member states are self contradictory, as they never envision that these states are superseded by a EU state, they did face the contradiciton between citizens and EU institutions. That is something the European Convention wanted to overcome with its proposal. It was based on the principle that all citizens are equal with regards to the EU institutions even though their contents were largely, if not singularly determined by the Member States and their representative structures at the European level.

As to success stories, it has been widely acknowledged that the European Union has failed to fulfil its ambitious Lisbon agenda. That was a call to make Europe a highly competitive knowledge society. Most of the discussions attempt to follow up on that failure but a rapidly expanding European Union to 27 members and perhaps more in near future challenges the institutions and the kinds of decision making processes having become by now an obscure object of shared or co-responsibility with the outcome more likely an impasse than a forward looking strategy to rectify the situation caused especially by the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty. The crisis of legitimacy results out of an ever growing gap between policy makers and citizens, something Noam Chomsky has addressed as one of the four major issues in the world.

It has hard to see where the European Union has come even close to a ‘policy driven agenda for citizens’. Rather this claim of having such an agenda acts like a smoke screen for vested interests being negotiated out between member states and businesses while at the same time the European Union has buckled under a heavy tendency to more Nationalism, see Poland but also Holland or the United Kingdom. This tendency is reinforcing the kind of re-nationalisation of EU programmes which had set in already by 1999. It was clear at the start of the then new Commission under Prodi that a further weakening of the European competence level was intended by all as if safeguarding their own interests was the only sensible thing to do in an expanding Europe.

Listening to Citizens



                 Revolving doors of entrance to EU Commission for Education and Culture

It is possible to make reference to the gap between citizens and EU institutions, as does Jürgen Habermas, in his book "Ach, Europa" (2008) to the risk for any citizen to get lost in the corridors of seeming or anonymous power. For the European Commission is mostly unpretencious and quite open for questions, even though the reputation and criticism may want to make believe that the opposite is the case. But for anyone having the courage to approach simply off the street someone working for the European Commission, there must be found some keys for entry. One of them has to be to know at least someone working within the Commission so that the anonymous body of high ranking European civil servants takes on a familiar face. But that is not all. It takes some socialization in European projects to know how things are structured and why it would be false to speak of European civil servants. They are much more political while working directly in the knowledge that they are doing things for Europe.

Naturally the reference to a gap between citizens and European institutions calls repeatedly for at least symbolic gestures. Hence Barroso’s assertion that the Commission had finally a citizen’s agenda was elaborated upon by Margot Wallström, Vice-President for institutional relations and communication strategy. She claimed: “With this agenda, we demonstrate that we have listened to citizens. Citizens want to have their say. They look for European leadership; even if they have mixed feelings about membership in the EU or the way the Union works. They trust the European Union on policy delivery." Intelligent in this statement is to hide an obvious contradiction: first it is underlined that citizens want to have their say and then, in the next sentence, it is claimed that they look for “European leadership”.

Citizens are not satisfied on how the European debate has been organized since the failure to ratify the Constitutional Treaty. Moreover, member states like Holland declare that treaty is all but dead and buried. Revival efforts by Austria and by German chancellor, Mrs. Merkel are registered but perceived as predictable failures. That has some obvious and some lesser known reasons.

First of all, the current debate does not address at all existing problems and issues although they had been identified by the European Convention and even a consensus prevailed at that time that all the problems of the European Union had been put on the table. Secondly, if there is to be learned anything out of the failure to ratify the Constitutional Treaty, then the reasons for rejection have to be taken very serious. Among them range imposition upon the Constitutional Treaty by the Member States upstaged the European Convention's proposals (Book 1 and 2) by adding a third book without prior consultation. There is also a justified fear to be committed to something which cannot be changed if it turns out to be a disaster although here the European Convention as a model of consensus seeking method could be a viable option. Opposition to the Constitutional Treaty came as well from religious organizations who objected to the exclusion of religion as one of the values and factors contributing to the unfication process, and consequently Mrs. Merkel proposes to include religion in the next draft and thereby ignores the wisdom of maintaining Europe as a secular society. Thirdly, it is the citizens that feel themselves to be left completely outside any of the European deliberations processes more conducted by 'representatives of representatives' due to member states and their bodies (a combination of European and National bureaucrats) determine what gets on the European agenda, what not. Here the Council plays a pivotal role. Fourthly, the expansion of the European Union will make it ever more difficult to define the agenda out of a learning process initiated by European programs and which would require, ideally speaking, the European Commission learning from the outcomes of their implementations. Decentralization and Renationalization of these programs make that staying directly in dialogue with the European Commission impossible.

Unfortunately these programs e.g. Interreg III B - CADSES grind to a halt. There is above all a problem of money flow (a delay over one year now - January 2006 - January 2007) with no one really taking the responsibility to resolve the impasse. One reason for this is no one assumes anymore the political responsibility while the missing European perspective alters the motivations of all actors. Consequently especially NGOs and external experts hired by the projects for their expertise find it difficult to get paid at any predictable time while the political authorities struggle with complex administrative procedures linked to pre-payment schemes without knowing when even signed off financial reports shall result in due payment. The uncertainty makes risk taking less and less likely as if the European Union has not enough problems due to a lack of time horizon and of incentives to make these vital investments in the future. This is all the more the case when this future appears no longer as one common to all but fragments into various and partial time dimensionswith no structures in place to bring together all actions for the benefit of the social and economic cohesion of the European Union.

The real crisis of the European Union can be called a crisis in the 'morality of payment'. Louis Baeck uses this term to describe the reason for the break-down of the Soviet Union, only then a crisis loomed on the horizon when miners where not paid their salaries three months in a row, while within the European Union there are often incurred delays in payment of up to one year, if not more.

A crisis in the 'morality of payment' means there will be no more innovation, new real investments made. Things shall be replaced then more and more by highly speculative, equally incompetent activities lacking substance. Indicators like protection of the environment and upholding cultural diversity in Europe say already that the European Union has gone down a path of destruction rather than constructing something meaningful for the common future.

What conclusions the various political groups have drawn out of that debacle, can be seen that none of them have any real answer to the growing European crisis. Nothing is worsewhen European leaders like Barrosso himself claim to have successfully addressed all issues and this by listening to what citizens have to say in order to substantiate withsuch a‘false claim’ the legitimacy of what policies the European Union persues at the moment. Nothing has been done to organize and to promote discussions between citizens and the various EU institutions.

The European agenda:

The Commission’s agenda is rooted in the strategic objectives of prosperity, solidarity and security, with the continued focus on jobs and growth. But, as the debate on Europe shows, there is a gap between the action Europe takes and the public’s perception of Europe’s role. To regain the confidence of the public, the Commission will harness all its resources, both internally and externally, to deliver solutions to the issues raised by citizens. This is a policy response centred around a citizens’ agenda."

So let us look what is to be understood under a citizen's agenda? The Commission sets out twelve policy initiatives to deliver a Europe of results, amongst which are following concrete proposals:

A forward looking single market review,

An agenda for access and solidarity, in parallel to the single market review.

Delivering better access for EU citizens to their existing rights, and greater awareness of those rights, by proposing an “entitlement card” for all EU citizens.

Improving decision taking and accountability in justice, liberty and security policies, through the use of existing Treaty possibilities

Now all of these are peculiar constructs. First of all, a single market means to open up the internal market to all kinds of services from management consultancy to cleaning and repair tasks so that firms can operate not merely within their own national market, but throughout the European Union. Secondly, how will it be possible to organise something parallel to global forces driving the market? Rather than speaking about a European agenda, the European Union would be wise to address the global agenda but out of different local perspectives. Thirdly, what claim is that the European Union will provide to citizens a better access to their Rights by planning to give them some kind of ‘entitlement card’? As if citizens are made into pupils who are allowed only then to access their Rights if they earned these cards e.g. like nowadays immigrants having to go through all kinds of tests and checks, and even then they have little or not Right to participate in the political process since that is reserved as foreseen by Joschka Fischer to the elite of Europe.

Europe has gone too far to the Conservative side while people are no longer interested in speaking their minds about European affairs. There is a loss of interest since decision taking and accountability in justice, liberty and security policies through use of existing Treaty possibilities falls far short of what would have been the case if there had not been this failure to have ratified the proposed European Constitutional Treaty.

And speaking about Rights, the European court of justice has just declared it to be illegal for the European Union to pass on flight data about every passenger flying to the United States to the United States within 15 minutes after take-off. Since 9/11 legal Rights have been handled in a most corrosive manner and again the top down explanation is simply a given, namely that everything is done out of security reasons. That is no longer the European Union meant to stand up on behalf of the citizens against further encroachments upon their Rights by the United States and other forces acting globally.

There is something else in need of being said. As pointed out by economic historian Prof. Louis Baeck Europe has "a very mediocre record of economic growth and 13 million unemployed". This calls not for a constitutional debate, but for much more “efficient economic and monetary policies with visible social results". If not rectified, he is of the opinion to quote Goethe that there is "a widening gap between Dichtung and Wahrheit”. It means that the gap between “the rhetoric of the EU-professionals and the real situation has never been so wide”.

Louis Baeck has been advocate of economic historical analysis that does not embrace either European Centrism nor a heavily leaning on the Atlantic tradition based on a strict separation of economy and culture as advocated by the United States. Most recently he has published an article on www.planetagora.org about “the various stages of globalization”. The intention behind this most recent article he explains as follows:

This to illustrate that globalization is not that "universal" but rather a cover for different experiences. The Americans come out with a new macro-economy on a global not a national scale like conventional macroeconomics. Especially the Europeans stay with the "national" accounting. The Central Bank of Frankfurt are the monetarists of 2 decades ago. And the islamophobia, the unwill to reform and the pessimism in our continent make that we are the red lantern of the (trajectories).” (letter by Louis Baeck 12.4.2006)

In noticing this sadness and pessimism dominating in Europe, he adds that it gives him the feeling that “something is burnt out in Europe and we play still schoolmasters for others, see the comedy towards Teheran.” (letter by Louis Baeck, 24.5.2006).

Hatto Fischer Athens 29.5.2006

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