Friday, May 09, 2003


Today is Europe Day, also called Schumann Day. 9 May 1950 was the day on which Robert Schumann, one of the architects of European union, set out his principles for a European constitution.

Schumann Day is not yet an official holiday in the UK though I beleive some European countries now mark the day. The European Commission certainly celebrates it. We've already got May Day and the late May Bank Holiday, so another holiday this month probably wouldn't go down too well. Time will tell, but maybe in 20 years or so we'll ditch May Day and mark Europe Day. (And, there are those who want to celebrate St George's Day - we're probably the only country in the world that doesn't honour it's so-called national day. St George was not English and has as much to do with Venice and Turkey as London.)

Today is time to reflect on how we got to where we are as well as look at the future of Europe. The fundamental principles of European union have their roots in the aftermath of the second world war: the need for political and economic union to prevent war. The European Communities have done much to create a stable economic force. The jury is still out on the political union.

I like to think of myself as a good European. I subscribe to the ideals of a community of economic and social good. The EU is more than a customs union and the founding fathers of the EC and other institutions meant it to be more than that. Schumann also recognised that the idea of a nation state would not be subsumed by the Communities. The EC and now the EU were not meant to be a super state although European law is supra national.

In the UK, at least, we value our nationhood. We do not want of become part of a super state (as I'm sure is the same elsewhere in Europe). But, there has been abroad consensus that elements of European integration serve the British people well. The idea of removing tariffs and other barriers to trade brings about economic strength. The movement of capital is essential in that regard. On the social side, many parts of the EU have benefited from the concept of cohesion - in short aid to underdeveloped areas. That, of course, has been attractive to many entrants - Spain, Ireland and now the nations of Eastern Europe.

On the debit side, the Common Agriculture Policy is a mess. CAP leads to waste. It isolates agriculture from the vagaries of the true market. It is not unique in the world as the US pumps probably a greater proportion of tax dollars into its agriculture. True, if CAP were abolished overnight it would have profound affects on rural communities. At the same time, it helps block our markets to those in the under developed world.

There is a common misconception that the EU means that Brussels dictates to the UK. It could not be further from the truth. The European Commission is the executive arm of the EU. It is the European civil service. It does not dictate just like the British civil service does not dictate. National governments through the Council of Ministers and, increasingly the European Parliament (members of which we vote for) decide on policy. So please don't believe the rubbish you read in the UK press. However, the Commission has a poor reputation because the Commission, as a whole, is hell-bent on increasing its competence over all matters economic and political. But, then you would expect that.

Europe only makes the press for silly things like EC Directives on vegetables or some such thing. What the media needs to recognise is that the politics page should contain as much news from Strasbourg or Brussels as it does from Westminster.

In a year's time, we will see the union grow with the accession of states from the former Soviet block, plus Malta and Cyprus. This is a big test for the European ideal. It at once strengthens the union (and increases its size) and dilutes it as each of the new members is poorer than the current members. I think the strength outweighs the weakness.

Meanwhile, there are other challenges like (for the UK, Sweden and others) the euro; a European consitution; how to get European citizens to realise that they are European citizens.

Long live Europe. Long live the UK.

:: Posted by pete @ 09:12