"Yes" to a single Union
Last Saturday, on the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, European Union member state leaders signed the Rome Declaration. The document was expected to outline the direction to be followed by the European community over the coming years.
Prime Minister Beata Szydło, about to attend the European Union Summit in Rome, emphasised at yesterday’s Integration of Europe – the Anniversary and the New Opening conference that celebrating the signing of treaties which had resulted in the forming of the European Union has been sullied somewhat by current developments, such as the process of Great Britain leaving the European Union and overall uncertainty as to the general direction followed by the organisation.
The Community’s unity will be of major importance to the European Union’s future. “A number of concepts as to how to handle the crises will appear. The ‘multi-speed Europe’ slogan is frequently repeated. The Polish government is critical of such an idea,” the Prime Minister declared. Mrs Szydło remarked that a certain speed differential is obvious—e.g. with regard to European Union member states being part (or not) of the euro zone, or the stage of integration within the Schengen area—however, the Prime Minister believes that “such developments are practically automatic in respect to sovereign states and of no major consequence to overall co-operation, while the formal sanctioning of a multi-speed community is nothing but a new and very serious centrifugal force, disintegrating Europe and forcing more uncertainty and chaos to our co-operation mechanism. It encourages the creation of sub-groups, to exclude, and to walk away from joint decisions,” the Prime Minister said.
Two-Speed Concept Spells Disintegration
While such a move may seem attractive from the perspective of a number of European Union member states, Poland believes that it is disadvantageous to the Union in its entirety. “The European Union needs changes and improvements to whatever is not working properly. Yet we will not reach that objective by applying two speeds: we would disassemble the project instead of fixing it,” said the head of the Polish government.
According to the Prime Minister, one area of improvement ought to involve greater empowerment of European institutions, usually perceived today as being disconnected from actual issues suffered by member-state citizens. The context involves an appeal for the role of national parliaments to be increased within the Community. Concurrently, protection mechanisms should be applied to the common market—under the circumstance that economically stronger states, and the European Commission itself, show protectionist tendencies and are actually targeting limited access to more competitive markets for companies from economically weaker member states.
Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Konrad Szymański announced that Polish postulates carried by the Prime Minister to the Summit have been phrased unambiguously.
“Our intentions concerning the Rome Declaration—conditional to the Polish Prime Minister signing the Declaration—are obvious. We want the Declaration not to open a gateway to rifts within the European Union, we have no wish for the European Union to be divided or to take self-weakening action,” Szymański said. Poland further expects the European Union’s social agenda not to limit the common market—specifically the market of services and labour for Polish and Central European employees and service providers. Defence policy-related entries ought to stipulate that activities in the field shall not be engaged in at the expense of or separately from NATO, but rather as a joint undertaking with the Organisation. “Finally, we wish for the following to be said out loud: any concept of returning the European Union to Europeans will require taking the path through national parliaments,” Vice-Minister Szymański added.
Artur Kowalski, Nasz Dziennik
The European Union is not flawless; any reasonable debate concerning its future must relate to issues from which the Union suffers, or, at the very least, identify measures to alleviate them. Until today, the EU has been moving forward, even with its notable defects; however, the concern that, under specific circumstances, they might result in a serious crisis is fully justified.
Over recent years, the Union has been forced to face a number of crises related to finance, debt, Britain and migration. The overall impression is that the Community is only capable of focusing on a single issue at any given time, leaving other, less urgent affairs on the back burner. The Union has to learn to resolve current problems while working on strategic initiatives, and to communicate its efforts and accomplishments in a straightforward manner.
Nobody has any doubt that it is the very foundation of the Union. Yet the issue does not involve its potential absence; it involves its boundaries. Wealthier countries are showing solidarity by sharing their riches with the less affluent. EuroLand countries showed solidarity in pitching in for states in debt crisis. The migration crisis and the concept of sharing the migration burden on an equal basis among all Union member states proved to be the ultimate frontier of solidarity—the question is how far does responsibility for helping others within the EU extend?
Many former commissioners are given positions in the private sector, giving rise to ethical doubts: Former President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso is working for Goldman Sachs today while Neelie Kroes, who used to handle Digital Agenda, works for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Viviane Reding, Karel de Gucht, and Siim Kallas had no problem finding jobs in the business sector either. While everything is in accordance with Commission regulations, it does mean that the “revolving doors” of Brussels leave a bitter aftertaste.
There is no unambiguous concept as to managing it. The Community only makes sense if the rules are identical for all—yet hanging on to them for dear life may bring a result contrary to the desired effect. Although fisheries are Norway’s lifeline, Brussels wanted to force the country into its regimes, which resulted in a double negative in accession referendums. On the other hand, excess derogations from set rules are harmful as well. British derogations are an example, as they had failed to protect the Union against Brexit.
While Union leaders love emphasising unity, the Community is actually divided by numerous differences: between affluent and non-affluent countries, between the North and the South, between the old and new Union. Since the old are given more rope, Paris has not been concerned with the critique of an excessively liberal fiscal policy for a long time. The North is dominated by protestant thriftiness, meaning a consensus concerning less restricted Greek bailout rules is no mean feat. The wealthy have a dislike for price competition, hence their intent to make the secondment of cheaper employees more difficult. In most cases, these rifts can be alleviated thanks to in-house EU opinion-sharing, but it can also be assumed that they will put the Community to the test many times in the future.
While the way of spending the Union’s money is a thing of compromise, Brussels is becoming increasingly aware of the fact that the compromise no longer matches reality. Under conditions of global competition, allocating enormous funds to agriculture or structural funds may trigger major doubt—which is why the EU budget may well expect a revolution during the next financial forecast.
DRIVE AND LEADERSHIP
Numerous European Union initiatives have been driven forward thanks to Franco-German force. Actually, European Union member states expect initiative and direction-setting from lead actors in many matters (Germany’s uncompromising position allowed the introduction of sanctions against Russia). A problem arises when a leader is in error, as with the case of the migration crisis. Chancellor Angela Merkel underappreciated other EU member states’ objections to the open-door policy—resulting in serious repercussions to the Community, and a contribution to the Brexit debacle.
THE CORRECT COURSE
Until today, the Euro-optimism spirit allowed an assumption that the Community has but a single direction to follow in terms of its development: that of an “ever closer Union”. Regardless of earlier suggestions that the concept does not necessarily enjoy full social support—such as the French “non” and the Dutch “nee” in the mid-2005 European Constitution referendums—Brexit (and appeals for further exits) have served to showcase that the EU is not universally received with rapture.
Jakub Kapiszewski, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna