June 27, 2008
Upon reading Robert Kagan’s commentary in the International Herald Tribune today (“Sliding toward irrelevance“), it’s tempting to quote the old adage that the people in democracies get the governments that they deserve.
Mr. Kagan, author of the well-argued book “Of Paradise and Power” in 2003, argues that petty nationalism and navel-gazing are undermining Europe’s chance of playing a bigger role on the world stage, and that the people of Europe don’t seem to mind.
The problem is, the people deserve better. And not just the people of Europe, but of the world.
Like it or not, Europe and the rest of the world are intertwined. European kings and clerics spent centuries trying to plunder, colonise, enslave and “civilise” their neighbors and overseas territories. France and the United Kingdom have seats in the United Nations Security Council. France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom are members of the group of eight major industrialised nations. Europe is the world’s largest donor of development aid and an inspiration to countries in Africa, Asia and South America that see advantages in sharing sovereignty with their neighbors. Europe and the United States are the world’s largest trading partners. Europe cannot escape responsibility. It can only botch the job.
This has been said before, but what Europe really needs are leaders who will stand before electorates and explain how the European Union adds value to what individual national governments are able to deliver, then rally support behind European initiatives.
Two decades observing the European Union both from Brussels and its member states has taught me that “Brussels” as an institution, or collection of them, can’t do this talking. The message has to be delivered in people’s own languages, by national leaders whom they respect. These could be members of the European Commission (one reason I think that returning to the notion of keeping one commissioner per member-state isn’t such a bad idea). They could be members of the European Parliament. They could be a future elected president of the European Council or a European foreign minister. But in the end nothing beats national leaders, the people that that European voters can most easily hold accountable at the ballot box. The fact of being directly elected confers upon them political responsibility and credibility that “Brussels” as a whole will never be able to replace–at least until EU leaders themselves are directly elected, a day that I hope to live to see.
The question is, how can national leaders be persuaded to sing the praises of the European Union?
For starters, I propose the creation of a European scoreboard of sorts, a means of keeping track of how often national leaders speak about Europe, what they say, and what they don’t, and awarding lashes and laurels accordingly.
If a national leader gives a speech on the environment, for example, and suggests that his or her country alone can solve a global problem, that merits a lash. If the added value of European cooperation in addressing climate change merits mention, that earns a laurel. And so on for all the priority subjects. An independent organisation, or group of organisations representing journalists and civil society, should keep score and announce the results at least once a year, as well as just before any national elections.
The European Commission used to contribute to this kind of “name and shame” exercise, but this particular Commission seems to have capitulated to powerful national interests to refrain from doing so, perhaps in exchange for future political favours. That is a shame, because the annual tally of infringement procedures is an obvious whip for member states that refuse to implement laws that they themselves have signed up to.
If the Commission won’t name and shame European leaders on European issues, someone else should.
Let’s stop talking about Europe being unaccountable.
Let’s hold our own national leaders accountable for what they do and say about Europe.
EUvangelistAuthor : euvangelist