EU: Not Ready For U.S. of Europe


The origin of the European Union dates back to 1952, when six nations formed the European Coal and Steel Community. The Treaty of Rome (1957) broadened the relationship into a Common Market, known as the European Economic Community (EEC). A European Court of Justice (ECJ) followed to monitor compliance. A Customs Union (1968) was added to abolish duties between members, and to set a common tariff as to foreign goods.

The EEC grew to 12, as the UK, Ireland, and Denmark enlisted in 1973, Greece was added in 1981, and Spain and Portugal joined in 1986. The Schengen Agreement (1985) gave EEC citizens the right of free movement in and out of the other member states.

The EEC became the European Union (EU) in 1992, under the European Union Treaty. The EU soon grew to 15, as Sweden, Finland, and Austria signed up (1995). Questions arose as to how much power the EU should have, and what authority should be retained by the states. While customs and commercial policy were yielded to the EU, many other law-making areas remained national. Although the EU had a Parliament, questions arose as to the number of votes each state would have in the EU. To correct some of these issues, the Treaty of Nice (2000) was ratified.

At the same time, the EU created an Economic and Monetary Union (1999). A European Central Bank opened in Frankfurt, which issued the Euro (2002), and abolished national currencies. Britain, Denmark, and Sweden opted out of the Euro, as criteria were set for new EU states, before they could adopt the Euro. The states no longer governed monetary policy, as the Central Bank set interest rates. Although the Bank opposed deficits by national governments, members retained control over fiscal policy. Critics of this said the EU could not maintain tight monetary policies, while states were allowed to have expansive fiscal policies.

The EU states made an attempt to be guided by one written Constitution, in lieu of a series of treaties, but the effort failed when France and the Netherlands rejected it (2005). Nevertheless, 10 additional countries became members of the EU in 2004, and Bulgaria and Romania brought the number to 27 in 2007.

The states of the EU are currently administered by a 27-member Commission, which is their primary source of legislation. The Commission has the power to issue regulations and directives to states. The EU also has a 27-member Council of Ministers, which has the final say on most legislation. Since each state has one vote in the Council, smaller countries have disproportionate influence. The European Parliament is a 732-member elected body, but it has no general law-making power. It must base what it does on existing treaties. It may challenge the acts of other institutions and reject budget proposals, but the Council remains more powerful. Since the Parliament is relatively weak, issues of representative democracy have been raised. The EU also has a 27-member European Court of Justice which has the authority to review: EU treaties, the conduct EU institutions, and enforcement actions brought against the states.

While the EU currently has law-making functions, they are largely limited by treaty to common market issues. They have no authority to legislate regarding national pensions, or health care, for example. The EU has no general power to tax and spend. Under the current arrangement, it would be difficult for a majority of states to change the behavior of another country.

To complicate matters, it will be a real challenge in Europe to take benefits away, because people have rights to them under various Human Rights Treaties. Europeans enjoy the right to collective bargaining, and protection in the event of an unfair dismissal at work. They have a right to fair and just working conditions. They have a right to social security and health care.

The immediate problem in the EU is national governments control their own fiscal policies, and the crisis of the Euro is without a mechanism to save it. The difficulty in creating a fiscal union, or a political union which would entail a loss of state sovereignty, is the strong sense of nationalism that exists in most European countries. A radical change in thinking will definitely be needed before the peoples of the EU could ever become a United States of Europe.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s