Le Lien - The Link
syndicalisme européen, citoyen, participatif et unitaire
April 2013 – n°33
Foreword: Resist any efforts to undermine the European Public Service
The process of reforming staff regulations, like the talks on the MFF, is now entering its final stage.
The opportunity to provide the Union with the kind of budget it needs to drag Europe out of the crisis and to guarantee young people a present and a future consisting of something more than bitter disillusionment has been allowed to slip away.
A lack of vision has merged with an absence of political ambition, exacerbated by nationalist sentiment rejecting the need for “more Europe” in the face of the challenges of globalisation. A willingness clearly exists to renege on the social commitments made in the wake of the Second World War since, clearly in some people's minds, over 40 years of crisis is nowhere near enough.
If we can look beyond the description of what is going on which we are being served in pure Orwellian "newspeak", we see that the project of European integration is further weakened by ongoing discussions. The same goes for the European Public Service which, in less than ten years, has been subjected to two reforms disguised as modernisation and savings which serve only to undermine the organisation.
So what remains which can still be done now?
On the budget debate front, nothing is yet set in stone. Governments are beginning to seriously question austerity policies. Our President himself has his doubts on the matter. And the Parliament has not yet had its final say.
The wheel is still spinning, nothing has yet been signed, there is still room for manoeuvre. We all have a hand in our own fate, and our action may make a difference in the apparently unchangeable way things are developing. The staff must fight back. You must sign the letter which 4000 colleagues have addressed (see below) to the Presidents of the three institutions to ask them to provide the Union and its Public Service with the budgetary resources which are absolutely essential to them.
The Commission and the EP must reject the attack on the staff regulations which the Member States insist on proposing in their aggressive way. Both these institutions must fight to protect the role they have been granted under the Treaties, particularly the Commission’s right of initiative and the EP’s right to share in decision-making.
The Commission and the EP should be in no hurry to reach a hasty conclusion in the current talks. The fact is that persistence and the steadily worsening crisis are multiplying the number of voices in many of the countries of Europe demanding a change of course.
It is essential to ensure that this social dialogue be maintained and respected throughout the three-way talks between Commission, Council and EP. Social dialogue is a fundamental keystone of our democracies, as was recently stressed by the Commission itself.
The development of executive agencies in the Commission: between necessity and marketing?
Nobody could have been unaware at that time in February when the DG RTD was adopting an ambitious in-house communications plan that the DG HR had tabled an agonised document entitled “How can we make the executive agencies attractive?” According to this, it was absurd for the Commission to manage its research budgets directly, since direct management is ineffective (as critics have claimed time and time again about the Court of Auditors). By setting management matters aside, the Commission would be able to devote its efforts to more noble matters, such as political development (“policy activity”). The claim was hardly new, since six executive agencies had already been in existence for a number of years. The aim, however, is to put the finishing touches to this trend by handing to these agencies all the direct management activities of Europe 2020 and by seconding 1,000 staff members from the DGs as quickly as possible. Many of the staff members are permanent members – at the present time, permanent staff and temporary agents form a minority (less than 25%) of agency staff, with contract staff forming the majority.
How will these 1,000 officers be chosen, and how will they be persuaded? Or in other words, what personnel policy is in operation here? What positions are we talking about? How will transfers to the agencies, between the agencies and between the agencies and the Commission be organised? By raising these questions but not coming up with any clear answers while still insisting on the urgency of the situation, the DG HR has managed to sow discord among the agency personnel and the Commission personnel tasked with organising the transfer to the agencies.
Another interesting coincidence now arises. It is not by chance that the DG HR paper on the attractiveness of the agencies has emerged while the most recent European summit witnessed the Council calling on all Institutions to reduce staff. Having been very biddable for a number of years, the Commission is endeavouring in this way to remove staff from Heading V of the Financial Perspectives, by actually cutting staff numbers (without any public analysis of priorities, giving the false impression that excess personnel are to be found everywhere in the Commission) or, indeed, by transferring jobs to the agencies. In actual fact, transferring staff from the operating budget to the agencies would make it fairly easy to scupper Heading V quite quickly.
The fact remains that if transfer to the agencies is to be accepted, some specific motivation must be produced, staff must come out ahead, or at least not behind, and they will need a safety net in the form of a possibility of a further transfer should the initial experience with the agencies prove unsatisfactory. And this is where the DG HR is finding it hard to persuade Commission staff of the merits of the agencies. It should be borne in mind that these executive agencies have in particular been granted the right to 3A contract staff or temporaries, personnel in most cases having been previously trained as contract agents at the Commission. Management responsibilities such as those of division heads or the equivalent have been entrusted to seconded officers who, in the Commission’s departments, would have had less opportunity of becoming a unit head.
In other words, islands which are largely separated and autonomous have been set up specialising in the management of Community funds, managed independently by a hierarchy which is only feebly supervised by the Commission, rather like the “technical assistance bureaus” in the 19080s and ‘90s, and where the staff were “unattached” in practically every sense of the word. It is obvious that under these circumstances transfer to the agencies can come to look rather like internal exile. In addition to this, it should be pointed out that the Commission has harmonised no personnel policy for the agencies. These have grown and existed almost in isolation, without advice or direction from their parent DGs or from DG HR, to the extent, for example, that the agencies do not have full access to SYSPER2.
The Commission does seem to understand that it should have a greater hand in the development of the agency personnel policy. But it should be obvious that it would be impossible to set up such a policy in a matter of days, particularly given the weight of the inheritance of the past.
Here are a few examples of these tangled problems.
1) The agencies are presented as more “effective”, but there is a complete absence of any official – or indeed independent – report supporting these claims. We have been looking forward since the end of 2012 to a report/balance sheet of the pros and cons of the extension of the agencies, and we are disappointed to find that this report is to be drafted by, of all possible units, DG ENTR. There will thus be no opportunity to ensure that the debate is objective or that the agencies are legitimised. Such reports as are available from the Court of Auditors admittedly containing somewhat cursory indicators suggest that the agencies are no more effective than the Commission departments.
2) We already know that the agencies are cheaper than the Commission departments, since the bulk of their payroll consists of contract agents who are paid considerably less than the Commission officers. But surely that advantage vanishes if, in order to alleviate Heading V, a significant number of permanent staff are transferred to the agencies?
3) The Commission claims that it wishes to free itself of management responsibilities in order to concentrate on “policy”. Leaving aside a few unconvincing comments made by the DG HR on mobility between the agencies and Commission departments, nothing has been said about the articulation between “policy” and management: who, for example, will be responsible for justifying the results of European projects to the other Commission departments? What political priorities will be used as the basis for the negotiation of research priorities (assuming they will be negotiated at all…)? Nobody seems capable of supplying a properly thought-out response to this kind of crucial question.
4) The DG HR seems to be under the impression that the Commission’s 3B agents will be able to join the agencies while still retaining their contracts. We appreciate the dismay of the 3A contract agents condemned to less generous salary arrangements than the 3B contract agents, particularly since they had mostly come from the Commission departments and had been obliged to give up their 3B agency contract. Two weightings, two measures, to say nothing of the fact that mobility between the agencies is still very unclear.
5) In order to persuade permanent staff to join an agency, the DG HR appears prepared to create a proliferation of management positions. Directors could join agencies where they will find themselves answering to… another director, in this case, the director of the agency. We find ourselves overwhelmingly sensing the situation which afflicted the Mexican Army – too many officers, too many hierarchical levels… and a great deal of pressure on the contract agents or temporary staff without a position of responsibility. The example of the EEAS reveals the issues which this kind of personnel policy can create: too much bureaucracy, cumbersome operations, lack of motivation, and so on.
6) Objective criteria will have to be sought to separate officers currently in management roles in the DGs, and hence the natural candidates for the agencies, from the others. On this question, recent DG RTD job description analyses have been shown to be deceptive: there are actually very few "Project Officers" to be seconded to an agency. There is, moreover, a good reason for this, because since 2000, staff have been pressured to make policy, with project management seen as secondary (and thus mainly hived off to the ENDs)! This means that if staff members care about career progression, they should involve themselves in policy (or coordination)! Result: a shortage of “Project Officers” at the DG RTD, and this means that project management is less effective. It is a vicious circle.
7) The Commission would like to promote mobility for officers between both the Commission and the agencies. However, by proposing secondments of indeterminate length as a rule, and knowing that the Commission staff are supposed to be cut by at least 5% in the years to come, it is clear that it will be very difficult for an officer to make his way back from the agencies to the Commission.
8) And finally, several of the Commission DGs are concerned about the transfer of staff to the agencies. Will they share the same approach to mobility? Are there any agreements in place between them whereby the number of seconded staff can be divided fairly? How can you rationalise the choice of contract agents among the DGs and ensure that it is fair and equal? No answers to these questions have been forthcoming.
More examples of potential problems can be perceived, but it is obvious that they need to be analysed, and structured solutions sought for them:
• via a genuine perception of articulation between policy and European fund management in the framework of Europe 2020; and
• via a personnel policy which intelligently tackles mobility and career issues.
This will only happen if a clean break is made with the thoughts and practices of the past. If the Commission manages to reduce its staff numbers in the short term, will it also be able to persuade its staff to go and work in agencies in order to become involved in long-term operations which will be useful for Europe? The situation seems to be currently at a stalemate…
Internal competitions: Redressing the injustices suffered by the ‘post 2004’ colleagues
U4U supports the holding of internal examinations as one, at least partial, way of redressing the injustices inflicted on staff recruited after April 1 2004. However, the Administration’s current proposal is inadequate. In a petition launched by U4U, currently bearing over 1,000 signatures, we are calling for what we see as a minimum:
- 3 exams – two
in 2013 and one 2014 – in place of the single one envisaged;
We think that the organisation of three competitions will have a beneficial influence on the staff and will boost the promotion of other colleagues who may have failed the competitions or decided not to bother.
This is why we are asking you to please support our appeal addressed to DG HR.
BREAKING NEWS: CoRePer mandate for the Working Party on Staff Regulations, on the matter of the reform
Following the decision to reduce the Heading V budget of the Multiannual Financial Framework, the Working Party on Staff Regulations of the Council, consisting of representatives of the Member States, met again, after February 8. The first information to be highlighted is that the Member States’ representatives are still divided as to the staff reforms to be applied.
This being the case, the CoRePer and the Irish Presidency have agreed a mandate for the Working Party on Staff Regulations, dated April 5 2013. This mandate invites the Commission to produce a report on staff levels in order to progress towards the 5% staff reduction from 2013 to 2017 and calls upon it to begin to implement the Council Conclusions.
The Presidency paper reiterates the freeze on salary adjustments for two years and sets down the period: 2013 and 2014. This freeze is to be added to the measures proposed by the Commission in its proposal dated December 2011.
The CoRePer mandate reneges on the agreement of the Summit of February 7 and 8 2013, particularly as regards a reformed Method for adjusting pay and pensions. The text restates the fact that a decision had been made to reintroduce a new levy at 6%. This statement fits comfortably into the Council Conclusions; this means that the system would be retained in its identical format (bracket, terms and conditions. etc.), with the exception of the levy, which is increased from 5.5% to 6%. The text of the Council mentions no immediate reintroduction during the period while salaries are frozen, but the CoRePer mandate does. The way U4U sees it, such a reintroduction would be illegal: if the Council orders the suspension of the Method for two years, it must also suspend, for the same period, the levy which is intrinsically linked to it like a counterpart. If this should turn out to be the case, U4U would support any action taken by an officer or agent placed before the Court of Justice for breach of the principles of the Method and precedent.
However, the CoRePer mandate is ambiguous on the possibility of imposing the solidarity levy on pensioners, which is contrary to the terms of a "reintroduction" of a 6% levy, since pensioners were not previously concerned. U4U also believes that, should this be the case, the CoRePer would be going beyond the Council Conclusions and that imposing this levy on pensioners would amount to obliging them to pay the levy for a second time on a deferred salary on which they had already paid the levy. This proposal that an income be taxed twice is scandalous.
In this context, the CoRePer is urging the Working Party on Staff Regulations to accelerate its efforts and complete its work as quickly as possible – early May – at least as far as the following points are concerned:
1) Measures should be proposed to reduce the cost of pensions in the short and medium term and in particular to raise retirement age and reduce the possibilities of retiring without penalisation. It will also be necessary to increase the pace at which measures are implemented and reduce the transitional period. This text does not exclude other measures.
2) A reformed Method should be proposed to adjust salaries and pensions on the basis of the principle of parallelism with national civil servants’ salary evolution. The CoRePer is proposing that the automaticity of the Method be linked to certain capping, which would be in breach of article 65 of the Staff Regulations, politically unjustifiable and a flagrant breach of the principle of the parallel evolution of European Public Service salaries with those of the Member States’ officers, which has been enshrined in European law since 1972. Why should European Public Servants be excluded from the entirety of the payment adjustments from which national Public Services benefit? Is the aim to attack European Institutions by gnawing away year after year at the salary levels of European Public Servants? Here again, if this is to be what happens, recourse must be sought before the Court of Justice.
3) Lastly, the Council proposes to boost the efficiency of the European Public Service, and to link career development with responsibility throughout all careers, not just for AST9s as proposed by the Commission. In real terms, this means that an AD would not be able to go beyond AD9/AD10 level without becoming a Unit Head, and Unit Heads would be unable to go beyond AD13 grade without becoming Directors. A freeze on careers like this accompanied by a position system would have a dramatic effect on the independence of the institutions and would allow the Member States to take over.
The CoRePer is concerned by the fact that in the absence of new Staff Regulations, the present Staff Regulations will remain in force and that as of July 1 2013, the Commission would be obliged to table a salary adjustment proposal and the Council would have to rule on this proposal. Since it is highly unlikely that an agreement will be reached before July 2013, the Commission must act. If it does not, U4U will support action before the Courts for the implementation of article 65 and compliance with the law on the matter of salary adjustment for 2013.
In conclusion, attention should be drawn to the fact that 9 Member States have adopted an aggressive position aimed at dismantling the European Public Service which merely reinforces tentative precedents.
U4U appeals to the Commission and the Parliament:
- to refuse to reintroduce a 6% levy, while the Method is suspended, and to suspend this levy while the salary adjustment is frozen. Any other position would be in breach of the law and precedent;
- to refuse to change the levy parameters, since the Council Conclusions refer to the “reintroduction” of the levy at a rate of 6%. In other words, all elements remain the same, with the exception of the rate, which rises from 5.5% to 6%. Consequently, pensions should continue not to be affected by the levy and the bracket should remain the same as during 2004–2013 period;
- to apply in all aspects the principle of parallel salary evolution between national Public Services and the European Public Service and to reject any restriction (static or dynamic) on its effects. Breaching this principle would negate the basis of the Method and would destroy an instrument which has worked perfectly for 50 years;
- to introduce a salary adjustment proposal, for 2013, and to apply article 65 of the Staff Regulations should Council negotiations continue beyond the end of 2013;
- to reject the demarcation between AST and AD careers which, apart from the deleterious effects this measure would produce for colleagues recruited post-2004, would ultimately undermine the principle of the Public Service as a career structure, reinstating a system based on position, hence undermining the independence of our Public Service;
- to preserve the level of the pensions and the parameters governing the pension system, to which Vice-President Sefcovic has made a commitment;
- to refuse to go beyond the Conclusions of the Council of February 2013 on the MFF and the 2.5 billion EUR, as has been proposed by some Member States (see the paper of the 9), but rather to seek by all possible means to go back on the 2.5 billion in savings in order to preserve the capacity for action of the European Public Service;
- and finally, on the assumption of a 2-year freeze on salary adjustments, U4U calls upon the Commission to reinstate levels, at the end of these two years, to nullify the effects of this freeze so as to limit the effects this will have on the remainder of the working life and the retirement of the staff of the Institutions.
What follows the Staff Regulations review procedure?
In May 2013, on the basis of the Working Party on Staff Regulations talks, the CoRePer will establish the position of the Council on the Staff Regulations draft revision. It should be noted that if the Commission takes part in the meetings of this Group, it does so in a technical capacity.
Parliament has already stated its position within the ROTH-BERENDT report.
Informal three-way talks have opened. The likelihood is that a joint policy position will be decided upon in July 2013 and finalised in the autumn for each Institution.
Staff will be formally consulted before the final adoption of the revised Staff Regulations by the Council and the Parliament in the context of the Consultation Committee (CoCo), on the basis of the revised Council decision of 1981, in the terms of the new decision-making and legislative framework of the Treaty of Lisbon. It should be noted that the Parliament has refused to take part in the Consultation Committee at this stage.
The plan is for the revised Regulation to come into force on January 1 2014.
Talks within the Working Party on Staff Regulations: what will it discuss?
The three-way discussion meetings have begun. The CoRePer has instructed the “Working Party on Staff Regulations” to clarify the proposal of the Council. The nature of this mandate is such that it will make it possible for those Member States whose genuine goal is to weaken Europe by attacking the European Public Service to lodge demands of a very extremist nature.
The “Working Party on Staff Regulations” is tasked with reaching an agreement on the following points by the end of May, while still remaining within the guidelines laid down by the CoRePer:
1. a definition of the method to be applied for the adjustment of our salaries. This method should be based on the principle of parallel evolution with the salary structures of the national Public Services and could operate automatically, with, however, a capping effect (say, a maximum of 2%), or with an automatic reduction of 0.5% per year, or even with the two limitations in parallel;
2. a two-year freeze on salary adjustment (in particular with the aim of achieving the additional savings desired by the Council) which might affect the 2013 and 2014 adjustments;
3. a 6% solidarity levy to also apply over the salary freeze period;
concerned with pensions, restrictions on early retirement and the
terms and conditions of the raising of the retirement age should have
a significant effect on the cost of pensions. Everything is on the table,
particularly a potential modification of the annual accrual rate of 1.9% or
2%, or even a possible change to the 1/3 – 2/3 division between staff and
are under consideration in terms of career progression, particularly as
regards the connection between grades and responsibilities for ASTs, ADs and
6. Overseas or expatriation allowance would also be “revised”, in that some Member States would be asking for expatriation allowances to be graduated or even cancelled after 10 years.
7. Other points
All these measures –most of which are, fortunately, demands only made by the most extreme MSs – would come on top of what is already to be found in the proposal made by the Commission in December 2011, to wit:
• 5% staff cuts;
While we already know the initial position of the Commission, it remains to be seen what will be the final positions accepted by both Commission and EP in the face of the insatiable demands of the Council.
Institution staff to their Presidents: act now for the future of the Union!!
Over 4,000 staff members have addressed the Presidents of the European Institutions to ask them, in the light of the economic crisis, to reinforce and strengthen the role of the Union, "the only structure able to provide solutions on the scale of the problems currently facing us".
In this letter, rather than having them cut the resources available for European action, they are calling on them to promote a much more ambitious and future-oriented approach! This letter stands as an appeal for the global and long term effectiveness of the European Institutions and contains some concrete proposals, such as the following:
• to actively
promote the adoption of an ambitious, more independent budget, one more
equal to the global challenges facing all Member States, challenges for
which the only effective solution will be at the European level;
This letter is
signed by the "EU STAFF FOR EUROPE" (Members of the Personnel Group to
protect the European project and the EU public function).
Resolution made by the staff and contract agents’ rally of Tuesday April 23
Over 300 staff and contract agents rallied in response to the appeal by the Contract Agents’ Collective. This was a relatively low turnout, due to the persistent doubt of the AC colleagues, who no longer quite believe in the possibility of obtaining success from the Commission on the whole of their proposal. (View photos of the rally).
A single resolution was put forward at the rally by all staff associations, which was unanimously adopted.
"We, the contract agents, temporary staff and permanent staff members of the European Institutions, meeting here this Tuesday April 23 2013,
Acknowledging the fact that contract agents work for reduced wages, with no security and no real career or promotional prospects. The savings measures envisaged in the establishment of the budget resources for 2014/2020 will make their situation still worse. These staff are vital to the satisfactory operation of the department;
the fact that the Commission has expressed a willingness to consider their
We call for the full involvement of the Institutions so that the provisions of the new Staff Regulations, favourable to the thousands of contract agents working for European integration, shall become a reality: in the discussions concerning the reform of the Staff Regulations, the Commission should obtain from the Council, with the support of the Parliament, the extension of contracts to 6 years and access to the internal competitions;
We appeal to the Institutions to set up a new career policy for insecure staff which will improve mobility, careers, promotions systems, social dialogue, etc.;
We invite the Staff Association to make our positions known and appreciated by all the Institutions."
Adjusting our salaries: cases before the Court of Justice
This is the state of the cases currently before the Court regarding salary adjustments and salary contributions for pensions :
adjustment as on July 1 2011 (+1.7%)
Adjustment of "pension contribution" rate on January 1 2011 (-0.6%)
- C-453/12, Commission / Council (action for failure to act) – written procedure in progress;
adjustment as on July 1 2012 (+1.7%)
"pension contribution" rate on January 1 2012 (-1%)
U4U Europe training schemes (U4eUrope)
The U4U training programme is designed to provide members and interested parties with skills and analysis basics to boost staff representation and Staff Association action.
Where: U4U room
– LOI 80 - 2/206
sessions are scheduled:
Proximity: our meetings where you work…
What stage has
reform reached? What are the crucial issues for permanent, temporary or
contract staff? What initiatives would be helpful to staff members?
U4U regularly organises meetings to reach out to the colleagues, to listen to their specific difficulties and to inform them of priorities, issues and the goals behind Staff Association action.
U4U has a permanent representative in each DG, to whom you can refer all your questions.
Unity, yes, but out in the open!
United trade union action is justly seen by staff as essential, particularly when the European integration process is wavering and its Public Service is under threat.
Unity of this kind is all the more essential when the Public Service, rocked by a wave of bad reforms, is now witnessing the growth of disparity and insecurity at its very heart. In the current context, given the limited resources available to the staff for resistance, attitudes and distinctions are making their appearance based on categories, generations and the like, which are resulting in people turning their backs on each other, encouraging an every-man-for-himself attitude.
You don’t have to be a genius to realise that only a united front on the part of the staff can defend it effectively, one which is shaped by a shared perception of the European Public Service, which factors in each individual’s expectations and forms them into common aspirations.
The current reforms to which we have been subjected have provided no shortage of partisan, class-based attitudes:
- whether it
takes the form of contract staff situations, where it is possible to witness
colleagues belonging to different sub-categories showing no interest in the
demands of others, or indeed battling exclusively for their own;
The discussion will certainly continue, and with serious concentration!
FREE OPINION: Will the European Union survive in 2024?
Ed: the editors of The Link / Le Lien have decided to introduce a "free opinion" section to stimulate discussion on matters concerned with European integration. The freely expressed opinions, which we feel are essential to involvement in a valuable debate on the construction of Europe, in no way, of course, reflect the views of The Link / Le Lien.
Will the European Union still exist in 2024?
Europe was a beautiful idea. It was to be a space for peace and reconciliation between the combatants after a particularly brutal war; a third way between the superpowers who were squaring up to each other in the Cold War, even while the founder countries belonged to the western bloc; a space for social progress and prosperity, thanks to a common market; a welcoming haven for the Mediterranean countries emerging from the fascist-leaning dictatorships, easing their way to democracy; and then a welcoming haven for the former members of the Soviet bloc for the same reason; a space for solidarity, helping the impoverished regions to catch up; a mechanism to stimulate the sharing of fundamental values and for harmonising social rights on a higher level, in other words to ensure that those who had never enjoyed such rights would acquire them.
European integration was to take place in a wider context of relaxing borders, limiting sovereignty when peace was threatened (hence the creation of a UN Security Council), of decolonisation and development aid to the Third World. It was to be a constructive utopia, generating real progress, albeit partial and fragile.
The success of European integration has created its own obstacles. Even before the current crisis, some regions or wealthier nations had begun to wonder why they needed to continue working towards such long-term solidarity, especially as new members were burdened by serious needs. Oblivious of past mistakes and particularly of the lethal effects of unrestrained nationalism, some nations claimed the right to stand above it, thus freeing themselves of the obligation to negotiate with their partners and to accept compromise.
The temptation to turn in on themselves was especially buttressed by the economic transformations brought about by poorly understood and over-rapid globalisation. Some nations experienced greater difficulties than others in substituting their former activities which had fled to the emerging economies with new economic sectors, and the fact is that some countries have simply failed to do so. The transfer of skills to non-industrial jobs was not easy for many workers, and for some was simply impossible, despite occupational training schemes. Many found themselves doomed to long-term unemployment leading into difficult retirement. Neither the European Union nor the national governments had any idea how to set up an industrial and economic development policy capable of managing the changes which were the outcome of trade liberalisation policies which had triumphantly and even blindly marched in, only to profit a handful of huge industrial and banking organisations.
The crisis born of the sub-prime mortgage shock (the outcome of a deregulation policy actively implemented by governments) made things much worse. The thoughtless nationalisation of banking losses led to an explosion of national debt, or in other words, of taxpayer debt. The banking crisis morphed into a financial crisis, then into an economic crisis. This was a cataclysm that was all the more terrifying for Europe’s citizens as the Union publicly spotlighted its impotence and incompetence at summit after summit. Each European summit produced statements announcing solutions which were speedily followed by a further deterioration in the situation leading to yet another summit. The solutions adopted became more and more painful for the people of some countries, which attempted to cope with their bankruptcies by exorbitant fiscal pressure, slashing retirement pensions, axing jobs and recently raiding the people’s actual bank accounts. Nor are the citizens of the countries spared in any way comforted, because it is all too clear that the threat can swiftly spread to other nations. The European social model is under serious threat. Even in the wealthy countries the order of the day is sustainable austerity. And now Germany herself, so far the top of the class, has begun to worry about the potential consequences of her unpopularity among the other countries.
Incompetence is twinned with illegality. The Troika is a symbol this. A mysterious concept whose name hints at Soviet despotism, consisting of technocrats with no peoples’ mandate to command, unpopular measures, scorn for the democratic Institutions they are supposed to protect, the recipe is almost perfect. The European Union, with its complex Institutions which ignore the separation of powers and the answerability of the executive to a lower Chamber, its Council taking the most serious of decisions unmonitored and beyond appeal, has none of the democratic characteristics which render political power acceptable to the citizen.
accusation unfair? After all, it must be admitted that incompetent action
notwithstanding, the Euro has been saved. Does the illegitimacy of what has
happened cloak the fact that the governments sitting in Brussels are
The European Union seems all the more like an untameable monster, indifferent to the people’s wishes because in the countries which comprise that Union, citizens can vote as they please, left or right, and it has absolutely zero impact on the course being followed by the Union.
It is hardly surprising that such a political vacuum creates Euroscepticism. Institutions which have no real added value which the people can see with their own eyes are doomed. Experts will, of course, explain that only Europe has the critical size needed to interact with the large economic blocs which occupy a globalised world. But nobody pays any attention, because in the first place there is no shortage of small states which display a highly satisfactory economic performance, and in the second, the European Union has utterly failed in its mission to defend an area of shared prosperity.
The disillusionment expressed by the people regarding the integration of Europe reveals a movement which is thoroughgoing and powerful, and it will be very hard to turn it around. We have already reached a stage where all appearances suggest that if a referendum were held today in the United Kingdom, as the present government has promised, it would choose to stop spending right now. And indeed, Eurosceptic movements exist in all the other countries, some of which are gathering considerable momentum and are in a position to be able to help forge a negative majority opinion as to the pursuit of European integration.
So will the European Union still exist in 2024? If current trends continue, nothing could be less certain. For a long time now, the national governments have been riding roughshod over Community decision-making processes and the feeble powers of the Parliament, taking powers back or duplicating them, indifferent to the ensuing budgetary waste. They encourage local corruption by the misappropriation of funds, made possible by deliberately complex procedures, thumbing their noses, year after year, at the reports issued by the Court of Auditors. The EU has already become little more than a shadow-play, a structure which is little more than a puppet which can conveniently take the blame for decisions taken by national governments. They have murdered the European dream.
And yet a genuine European Union has never been more essential. No solutions exist for any of the grave problems which bedevil Europe which are not common to all. Only a single unified European voice can really carry any weight in the global discussion. The a contrario demonstration of this is provided by the simple fact that although they may have this voice, the EU governments never stop coordinating with one another, their managers never cease meeting. They are very aware of the fact that a return to the nation states in Europe would mean that decline would accelerate, that although it might seem comfortable at first, it would swiftly lead to the destruction of values, wealth and even the identities of the nations of Europe.
Is it possible to reverse the trend?
The European Union must rediscover its relevance to the citizens, and such relevance can only emerge from a European political project. This will not be achieved with fancy words and sententious expressions, in which nobody believes any more. A European political project must offer real solutions for the huge challenges which face us all: unemployment, retirement pensions and social protection, education, economic and financial governance, and so on. This political project must be credible, in other words it must be supported by a budget and a structure capable of putting it into effect, unlike the pathetic ‘Lisbon strategy’ or ‘Europe 2020’.
The structure of EU governance must become a democratic structure, a structure which complies with the constitutional principles followed at the national level in the Member States. The principle of one person, one vote, must be respected at the level of the Lower House, that is, each Member of Parliament must be elected by a roughly equal number of citizens. The Upper Chamber can represent the States. The executive power must be separate from the legislature, but must be answerable to the Lower Chamber. A constitutional monitoring mechanism must be in place so that the respective powers of the Union and the Member States can be protected. The Union must have its own budget and its own resources. This democratic simplification is the necessary condition for electors to be able to understand the issues and genuinely use their votes to press for the policies they have chosen.
For the EU to survive until 2024, the foundations will have to be rebuilt. An important step in 2014 will make it possible for us to understand whether survival is possible: the European elections. Will these elections witness the absence of usual debate on European issues to the profit of purely national issues? If the answer is yes, the EU will be dead in 2024. Shall we see the organisation of political parties as European groups with shared political tendencies, presenting a genuinely European programme and putting forward a team which will form the future European Commission if elected? If the answer here is no, the EU will be dead in 2024. Will these elections hear of the lessons learned from the crises and the re-establishment of an EU equipped with the powers, structures and budget needed to frame a genuine European political agenda? Again, if the answer is no, the EU will be dead in 2024. Will the European families of political parties be proposing a genuine European programme crafted to provide a response to the major issues which beset us today? If not, the EU will be dead in 2024.
The 2014 European elections are almost upon us. If those who still believe that a political Europe is essential to preserve our kind of society fail to organise at the European level, fail to present their solutions to the electors and let things fall apart, then there is every likelihood that between now and 2024 the EU will disappear.
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responsable de la rédaction :
équipe de rédaction : Paul Clairet, Fabrice Andreone, Sylvie Vlandas, Tomas Garcia Azcarate, Kim Slama, Gérard Hanney, Sazan Pakalin, Agim Islamaj, Yves Dumont, Rafael Marquez Garcia,