Sunday, February 21, 2016


The EU member states have reached an agreement which create the conditions for P.M. David Cameron to defend the UK's membership in the EU on the June 23rd referendum. The outcome of this vote remains, nevertheless, uncertain.  Six UK cabinet ministers will still campaign for a British exit!

The UK achieved a "special status" deal in the 28-nation bloc, insofar as it forgoes all that which doesn't square with London's views, while at the same time still being able to have enough critical mass to weigh-in on the EU's future.  The other members can hide behind the "ever closer union" shield, but this "cover" can hardly hide the underlying frustrations which are piling up.

The EU is becoming unpopular inside and is losing appeal outside.  It is considered a bureaucratic, intrusive aberration while the condescension rules the comments abroad. True, the Brussels, Luxembourg, Strasbourg slow motion process lacks glamour. The many problems relating to governance, policy making, a bankrupt common foreign and defense policy, monetary affairs and immigration have overshadowed the achievements.  Indeed, whereas other less ambitious projects have failed, the EU continues to be a unique and ambitious laboratory which propels adjustments between countries with different and often formerly opposite footprints.  Europe might appear aged, tired--and it is all of that--but it is also a continent which tries to minimize the negatives and to generate a forward looking story-line. This is all the more admirable since it now has to cope (poorly until now) with an immigration wave which endangers its culture, demography, secularism and security. 

The American media indulge too often in generalizations which are often unfair and historically untrue. The EU is neither some Comecon-bis nor a socialist behemoth. From the BeNeLux to Maastricht, giant strives were made to consolidate a new form of solidarity and cohesion.  Even the former enemies, out of ex-Yugoslavia, are slowly returning to some form of normality.

The real fundamental question is if it would have been better to continue with a few like- minded countries or if there is no other way forward than to expand even further. It is clear that the original Treaty of Rome spirit has outlived its former glorious time. The new realities which had to be addressed are responsible for creating a distance and, unfortunately, an indifference between the EU and the citizen. Brussels stands for most of what the man-in-the-street hates:  lobbyists, political expediency in the attribution of responsibilities, profiteering and an almost total lack of transparency. The former family of Six has become a multinational without recognizable face.  The EU, and in the first place the Commission, should follow a path of proximity rather than a repeat of endless Brussels meetings which take place behind the walls of architectural monstrosities.

The UK precedent might have its followers.  Former EU enthusiasts, like the Netherlands, look more to the Atlantic than to Brussels, and they are not alone. Weak states like Belgium see in the EU not an end in se but a life vest against drowning.  The Brussels machine survives but the contradictory motives of its backers weaken its credibility and its conviction capital, which is almost spent. Instead of "lollipopping" first-class member states, Brussels should consider a self-examination and more even policies. Weight watchers have to come in fast to avoid alienating the citizens and risking to be seen as a syndicate of profiteurs.

The UK made a move which was selfish but normal, given the lack of empathy which exists in the British public. The Commission and the Council gave-in because they couldn't find any credible counter-argument to stand their ground.  David Cameron's bet was a good one...on condition that the referendum will confirm it.
Others took notice!   Some day they might even follow .

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