Perhaps Europe’s biggest problem is that the European Union is unreformable. The European Union itself has generated 80,000 pages of regulation, known as the “Acquis communautaire“. When the new members joined from Eastern Europe, they were made to swallow the whole of the acquis communautaire, with minor adjustments, mostly by timing.
This is not an accidental development. The founders of the E.U. were afraid that the Union which they always envisaged would be eroded by successive changes. They wanted to create a ratchet of “ever closer union” which only permitted the E.U. to move in one direction. When the Laeken Declaration committed the E.U. to greater liberalisation and democracy, that led to the Constitutional Treaty, which was rejected in the Dutch and French referendums.
The Constitutional Treaty and its successor, the Reform Treaty, took little or no notice of the Laeken commitment to greater democracy; they are both centralising treaties, where the Laeken Declaration was supposed to initiate at least a modest movement of liberalisation.
That can be seen by the transfer of powers in the new constitutional treaties. Every transfer of power runs from the national to the European institutions. There is no single movement of a “competence” from the E.U. institutions to the nations. Proposals for reform in terms of democratic subsidiarity did not survive the convention process. This is just as much true of the Reform Treaty as it was of the original Constitution. As Valerie Giscard D’Estaing recently observed “You wouldn’t be honest to tell the British voters the substance of the text has changed – because the substance has not changed.”
My own view is that this inability to reform – which amounts to an ossification of European institutions – is dangerous to the survival of Europe. To use the old Marxist formulation, the defence of the acquis communautaire is subjectively a support for Europe, and is so intended by the Europhiles, but is objectively an attack on Europe’s long term survival. Institutions which do not have the flexibility of reform have a limited life span.
The best example of this is the European audit. This month the European Court of Auditors has refused to sign off the E.U.’s accounts. Their statement could scarcely be more damning, “Errors of legality and regularity still persist in the majority of E.U. expenditure due to weakness in internal control systems both at the commission and in member states.”
This is not merely a fringe problem about the joke items, like non-existent Greek olive trees, or the 50 million euros paid to Southern Italian farmers for surpluses of citrus fruits, where neither the farmers, the fruit nor the buyers actually existed. The areas of expenditure on which the Court of Auditors has given an adverse comment come to 57 per cent of the overall Budget.
This is bad enough. Strict auditing is an essential element in healthy government. Yet this is the 13th year in succession when the Court of Auditors refused to sign off the European Union’s accounts. The failure to reform the system, in the face of such serious failings, is the real worry. In any normally run democracy, one failure of this order of magnitude would bring down a Government. Thirteen successive years would threaten any regime. Yet the E.U. sails on, and passes “reforms” which actually transfer further “competences” to a system which cannot reform itself.
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