The EU: A balance of sovereignty and centralization
The European Union faces a number of problems that are inherent in the forming of a union out of disparate member states. One such problem is the integration of the various states without causing a loss in the individual vigor of each member state that is involved. There is also the problem of creating an effective European government whilst avoiding over centralization and the progression to a Federation of European states. In a sense, the progression to a EUnited States of Europe. The notion of this sort of union is one that sits on the edge of any discussions of the European Union and its further integration. The temptation to move in this direction however needs to be rejected, for the creation of a New Europe in this image would be to destroy the unique contributions that each member state brings on its own. For the purpose of this paper I will be focusing primarily on the Draft treaty of the European Union which was adopted by the European parliament on the 14th of February 1984, and reflects the continuing preoccupation with the problem of a community that is too weak in relation to its member states; whereas once a union is established with competent abilities and powers and majority voting, the problem will then become a union the is too strong in relation to its states. This balancing act between creating a European Union that is effective, while at the same time respectful of its local governments and the integrity of its member states, will be discussed further in this paper.
Looking at the last three decades of European integration we can see a remarkable account of integration and an example of effective shared rule and participation. In the European Union this goal has gone from myth to reality. Historically, most federations or unions of member states have either dissolved or become full-fledged Federal states, with the central government being the dominant power over the affairs of the various member states. While the European Union is still young, it is a remarkable exercise in the making of a working federation. Thus far, the individual nation state has retained its strength, and actually been sustained by the wider structure of the EUnion. In the EUnion, sovereignty has become truly shared. Most commonly the typical expressions of sovereignty are the control of ones own currency, diplomacy, policing, and defense. Currently the member states of the European Union are in the process of subscribing to a common currency (the Euro-dollar), a European court that is to have jurisdiction over selected areas of law, and a common defense policy. An interesting point to the process of the union is however is that by the very preamble of the treaty it is never supposed to arrive at the logical end point of a centralized federation. It is determined to lay the foundation of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe. The implication in the phraseology is that the process of integration is to go on for ever, never actually arriving at the end point of a foundation of a union among the peoples of Europe. The idea of a European union is not to be a substitution, but a balance between the individual nation states and the supranational structure. This balance is a difficult one to establish and maintain. As was mentioned in the opening paragraph the European Union must avoid over centralization, whilst still being an effective supranational structure.
For a quarter of a century Europe operated under the policies and political capital that was invested in the Treaty of Rome. Many economic sectors were transformed by the common market that was established within that treaty. The European community has also done an exemplary job at resisting the market fragmentation that dogged the member countries in the thirties. This resistance of fragmentation has allowed the European bloc to move towards becoming a trading bloc that is on the level of the United States. A problem however was that the Institutions of the European Union were not effective to promote development. The right of veto, while a reassuring safeguard for countries to keep them from being pulled into agreements or institutional constructs that they were unhappy with, hampers the ability for the European Union to take effective actions. Rather than discussing issues and problems for extended periods of time and taking weak or late action, the Draft Treaty proposed that a system of majority be required to make, or enact economic changes.
The Draft treaty did not go so far as to remove the need for unanimity when it comes to amendments to the treaty itself and to the aspects of defense and foreign policy, but in the issues of economics, one of the primary aspects of the Draft Treaty was that it was no longer necessary for the Union to have one hundred percent support in order to enact changes. If the system of the Union is to be uniform, the law of the Union must take precedence over national law… this is not a question of political supremacy, but simply a condition of consistency.
In order to establish the essential elements of an economic union, the economic laws of the union must have supremacy over the laws of the individual member states. It is not possible to have a working union if all of the member states are not in accordance to the overlying economic policy. This requirement makes it pretty much a given that the economic laws must all be under the control of the European Parliament and not left to the individual member states to enact as they see fit. In order to have competent functions in this system, this aspect must be centralized.
One of the points that we are coming to is of the critical aspects of government in the EU to be effective, or competent, while balancing intergovernmental sovereignty. The need for the EU to be effective and not just another toothless international entity is a major argument for increasing the authority of the EU in as many aspects as possible, thus allowing the EU to be able to address problems and issues that cross the national borders of its member states. What the EU must do is create and design institutions and procedures that allow it to make these kinds of supranational policy decisions while still allowing for sovereignty of its Member States within that framework.
The other big question is of accountability. Previous to the election of the European Parliament by the people of Europe, there was great concern about the accountability of the decision-makers at the EU level. The decision-makers were essentially appointed and then left to their own devices. This situation did, however, seem to keep the decision-makers partially in check for a while, knowing that they were with the authority of being elected by the people. With the recent election, ministers are making larger changes and greater moves towards policy, feeling that they now have the approval of the people and the mandate from the people of Europe, which in a sense they do. However the turn out rate for the elections was much lower then the average rate for national elections. So the ministers do have the mandate of the people, but not the sweeping approval to mandate that they may have wished for. This kind of control has given the European Parliament license to move towards being more of an effective government. The problem with effectiveness, though, is that in the case of the European Parliament it leads towards a loss over sovereignty once again on the level of the Member States. This catch twenty-two is likely the most significant problem that the EU faces.
Another of the major questions is what policies need to be essentially integrated and which ones can be left to the individual member states? At what point does the effectiveness and competence of the European Parliament lead to over centralization and a loss of the level of self-determination that each state should enjoy? European Union social policy would be considered more intergovernmental mostly by lack of concrete policy. In fact, most legislation passed in the EU is to promote social issues, while leaving out specific policies to do so. As far back as The Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957, there was a stipulation for equal pay for equal work, however this policy was largely ignored, and the only reason it was even mentioned was for economic reasons, France was worried about unfair competition. The 1970?s were a time of revolution in the United States, and quality of life issues were suddenly in the spotlight. The EU was affected by this, and was forced to react by promoting both the improvement of life for workers in all of the EU, and the equality of benefits for all members of the EU. The individual country?s biggest concern, however, was the latter, since industry was likely to move to countries with looser standards of benefits to its workers.
The European Regional Development Fund was agreed upon in 1973, and launched in 1975. The idea was to fund the development of poorer regions, in addition to the funds from the national level. These funds could only be used to improve infrastructure, and promote new jobs and industries. However, in keeping with the intergovernmental social policy of the EU, it was left up to the specific nations what regions would be selected for these funds. In 1989 the Social Charter was introduced, and, although the ideas were large, in reality it did very little. The idea of the Social Charter to promote fee movement of workers, improved working and living conditions for workers, programs for equality of gender and age, protection of children, and many other social issues. Unfortunately, it was very short on specifics for reaching these goals, and very little was actually done. Britain opted out of the Social Charter completely, arguing it was not interested in being involved in what they felt was a ?socialist charter.? The Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1991, included some social goals, however since Britain did not want to go along with these, it opted out, and allowed the remaining 11 members to form a social community without Britain. The opting out of Britain led to the division of the EU, and it became questionable whether any of these social goals could be met. In reality, decisions on equality are not made based on the desire for equality, but rather are made for economic issues, more specifically, free trade.
As a result of this lack of interest, most of the policies on social issues remain at the nation level. While most in the EU can agree upon the importance of establishing a coherent social policy to further the integration of Europe, it is doubtful supranational policies will ever pass as a result of the differences of culture and ideology of the member nations. Unfortunately, it seems that social policy will have to remain at the will of the EU?s primacy given towards the ?free-market,? and the welfare of the citizens is, and will continue to be, in danger of disintegration.
Perhaps, some argue, in order for the Union to be competent, it should be able to regulate the tax rate of any member country, to tinker with individual economies, to have a say in any of the budgets of any government organization, and have jurisdiction over school curriculum in order to insure that all students within the Union enjoy the same sort of privileges. Regulate the heath system within any country in order to allow European citizens the ability to access heath care wherever they are working, and to put a road through any part of a member country in order to create an even level of infrastructure throughout the union. While the EUnion is a long, long way from being at the level of this sort of control, and would never presume to go so far as to attempt to regulate all of these social aspects, it is something that needs to be discussed as a significant policy in the future of integration of the Union.
In order for the European Union to protect the cultural, social, and sociological differences of the various member states of the EU, others argue it must stay relatively decentralized. However, in order to insure that the EU functions smoothly and effectively many would side for more centralization. Yet, this leaves the door open for the central government to move easily into more and more areas of regulation, sliding closer towards an over-centralized government that loses the diversity of the individual nation states. Most Europeans are aware of the dangers of over centralization, and resist it at any level of government.
Thus, we come to one of the great dilemmas of the EU. How to create a union that is effective but does not hamper the need (or demand) for decentralization. Over-centralization would undermine the civic order, and suppress the vitality of the national, and local governments under it. The Draft Treaty makes provisions that state, “The Union shall only act to carry out those tasks which may be undertaken more effectively in common then by the member states acting separately, in particular those whose execution requires action by the Union because of their dimension or effects extend beyond national frontiers.?
The problem arises with the interpretation of such a statement. Some will interpret the statement as an argument for decentralization, whereas others may see the flexibility of such an article as license to increase centralization. History in the United States shows just how liberally this sort of flexible authoring can be stretched. The US constitution was designed to allow the federal government to “regulate commerce” among the several States. This was only intended to allow the federal government control insofar as to help it regulate the economy. In the US these two words have been interpreted so liberally by the Supreme Court that the Federal Government has gained a lot of control of many aspects of the ?free-market? economy. While it is possible to ask what the problem is with this, it bears ominous tidings for the EU considering how similar the loose wording is. By 1942, the courts in America had moved that any activity, be it local or not, that exerted a substantial effect on inter-state commerce, irrespective of the distinction of “direct” and “indirect” that was originally placed upon the option of government control.
The question of whether or not a task can be “undertaken more effectively in common” is one that also opens the door for more and more moves towards centralization. The Federal Republic of Germany had a similar set of legislation that stated that “In so far as is necessary for regulation by federal law exists, because the preservation of legal or economic unity demands it, in particular the preservation of uniformity of living conditions extending beyond the territory of and individual Land.” This provision has been interpreted liberally also, allowing more and more power to be taken from the individual territories and placed in the control of the German Federal government. The Draft Treaty also has the same sort of wording in it. “The progressive elimination of the existing imbalances between its regions.” There are also similar statements stating, “policies of the Union shall ‘promote’ the progressive elimination of the existing imbalances between its various areas and regions.”
While it is possible to say that the preamble of the treaty does help to protect from over-centralization of its member states by stating the need to respect the assorted cultural and historical identities of its various member states, this sort of statement is often not enough protection against central governments who are often more concerned with regulating economies as seamlessly as possible, and not concerned so much with maintaining diversity, social welfare, and historical identity of those areas.
Yet, the European Union seems (so far) to be the exception to the trend towards over centralization. The steps towards integration are moving step by step with little resistance to the actual process. The truth is also that against all of the theoretical and natural progressions towards over centralization the European Union has remained a Union of Member States in which none have lost their identity, and all have maintained their sovereignty. The steps towards integration have helped to create a more internationally powerful coalition of states as opposed to a single European Federation. What must be kept in mind, however, is that the European Union is still relatively young and there is still a long road ahead. We are just now getting into some of the more tangible and visible aspects of integration, particularly with the phasing in of the new currency. The next ten years will show whether or not the EU is able to create an economic union of unique member states, while maintaining their individual identity, culture, and social welfare.
The integration of Europe remains a work in progress. The future of the European Union rests in the ability to balance supranational and intergovernmental. Specific policies of the EU can still be labeled as one or the other, such as social issues, which remain intergovernmental, and monetary policy, which is largely supranational. If the EU is to hold together, all policies must also maintain that same balance. If this is true, much work still needs to be done, so that the clear lines between supranational and intergovernmental no longer exist. With the amount of diversity of the members of the European Union, it is questionable if concrete policies can be passed to accomplish this monumental task.