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EU Failure to Deliver a "Policy Driven Agenda for Citizens" (2006)

The EU Commission claims to have now a "policy driven agenda for citizens", but a closer look reveals it is just another top down initiative based on a vague promise to do something about such general things as employment and the gap between EU institutions and citizens.

In a press release of the European Commission with reference: IP/06/595 Date: 10/05/2006 it is announced : “Delivering results for Europe: Commission calls for a citizens’ agenda”

The Commission has 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.”

It is strange to hear 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 something from ‘national debates during the period of reflection’. The fact that no one heard about it or participated in such debates is not 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 into after the failure to ratify the Constitutional Treaty.

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission made even the claim 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”.

Which issues have been addressed? What is here the measure of success? On part of the citizens there is an absolute absence of knowledge what the Commission has been up to. The problems with the European Union begin with much being said and done in the name of Europe is 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 the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty means there is not even any ‘moral’ legitimization.

Of course, the European Commission and the Presidency of the European Union has taken recourse to former treaties but as they are so self contradictory, something the European Convention wanted to overcome with its proposal, everyone can assume what they like and still not comply. The way state deficit budgets have been handled is just one example.

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.

Indeed 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

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 European Constitutional Treaty. Moreover, member states like Holland declare that treaty is all but dead and buried. Revival efforts by Austria and by the newly elected chancellor of Germany, Mrs. Merkel are registered but perceived as predictable failures. This has some obvious and some other reasons.

First of all, the current debate if at all existing no longer addresses the problems and issues identified by the European Convention although it was a common consensus at that time that all the problems of the European Union had been put on the table. Then, if there is to be learned anything out of failure, then the reasons for the rejection have to be taken serious. It is that the citizens feel themselves to be outside the European deliberation process while the member states and their bodies (in reality a mixture of European and National bureaucrats) determine what gets onto the European agenda. Thirdly, the expansion of the European Union has made it more difficult than ever before to define the agenda out of a learning process as initiated by European programs being implemented.

Today these programs are coming to a grinding halt. There is a problem of money flow and of accountability at all levels. This is because the European perspective is missing and therefore what many NGOs and external experts made possible for political authorities, namely to work for long stretches without pay because considered to be an investment in a common future, that is no longer the case. The real crisis of the European Union is the ‘morality of payment’ having become so bad that conclusions out of the break-down of the Soviet Union can be drawn. Louis Baeck, economic historian, said rightly so the Soviet Union broke down because people were no longer paid. This ‘morality of payment’ crisis means also no innovation, new real investment is made. Things are replaced more and more by speculative activities but they do not have the substance, do not protect the environment and they do not heed the cultural diversity of Europe.

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 worse then some appointed European leaders like Barrosso himself claiming to have successfully addressed all issues and this by listening to what citizens have to say in order to substantiated with this ‘false claim’ a self acclaimed need for more leadership. 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 as a citizens’ agenda?

The Commission sets out twelve policy initiatives to deliver a Europe of results. Amongst the concrete proposals are:

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 no longer are 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 gab 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


This article was first published in heritageradio


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