Friday, December 26, 2003

Hi Tom,

regarding your questions yes, every 5 years elections are held in which the members of the European Parliament are chosen. The last election was in 1999 and 626 MPs were chosen to rfepresent some 370 million European citizens. Since I am now 38 years old and have been voting since I was 18 (obligatory in Belgium) I have cast my (European) vote four times.

Now if you permit me to elaborate on that, as for:

a.) The European Parliament (the EU's "House of Representatives")

The parties of all member states are merged into "supranational mother parties" according to their relative position in the political spectrum. So politicians who are known to be christian democrats in Belgium (CD & V), the Netherlands (CDA), Germany (CDU) etc... all group together in the so-called "European People's Party" (kind of confusing isn't it? - you would suspect such a name would be chosen by leftist parties). After the 1999 elections this party became the biggest fraction in the EP, with the socialist fraction being the second largest.

Being the biggest fraction in the EP apparently did not enable the European Christian Democrats to get an explicit reference to Christianity in the draft of a European Constitution.

Uh oh. "European People's Party"; socialist fraction the second biggest one... yes I see you yankees shaking your heads again at the notion of a leftist Europe... and true it is, unfortunately enough.

Anyway, so next year we will have the next edition of the European elections. Soon 450 million European, old and new ones, heh heh, will have to go to the ballot box.

b.) The European Commission (the EU's "Government")

Well, the Chairman of the European Commission, the European PM so to speak, is appointed in the first instance by the governments of the member states, only afterwards his appointment is mandated by the EP. This is called "double legitimacy". Current Chairman is Romano Prodi, an Italian.

The Chairman then appoints the members of the Commission (what you would call secretaries). Approval of the governments is needed, afterwards the whole equipe's appointment needs approval from the EP.

For all the fuss being made around the EU, since the EU's budget is still quite small in comparison with the combined budgets of the sovereign member states, the EU seems to have trouble attracting the big political guns of the respective countries. Talent goes where the money is, I guess. As the EU will evolve towards a true "superstate" in, say, 30 years (?), the roles will be reversed (an almighty and financially extremely powerful "federal" government and relatively weak member states). Then the political heavyweights will flock en masse to the EU's top levels, for sure.

Indeed, while some of you may have heard of Prodi and Chris Patten (the EU's "Foreign Minister") I doubt the names Michaele Schreyer (budget), Pedro Solbes Mira (Economy), Guenter Verheugen (EU Extension) or David Byrne (health) will ring a bell. Basically they are all second graders in the national policies of their native countries.

Regarding the second part of your question Tom, yes, the EU has already created a massive amount of legislature, to the extent that it is now felt necessary that some simplification is mandatory. E.g. in Belgium European laws form already between a third and a quarter of all laws Belgian citizens are subjected too.

Kerry I will elaborate on the distinction UN/EU later on but now I still have wooooooooooork to do. Sheesh, and it's already 11.50pm. Aaaaaaarrrghhhhh!!!!

Merry Christmas everybody (late, I know it)

Monday, December 22, 2003

Oops, apparently no 1,000 character limit here. Don't be afraid, when I said I hoped it would be a long ride, I also hoped it would not be a long, hard slog.

I'll try to keep it entertaining but if I had to clarify only a little bit of the EU I really had to make it this long.
Before I start with this, my first contribution in what I hope will be a long ride, I would like to thank Tom and Kerry Dupont for the chance they have given me in expressing my views as a European. I hope I will be able to shed some light from “our” perspective on issues that are of concern to both Americans and Europeans.

As a European, I am a bit puzzled by the apparent sarcasm with which the nonconclusive EU Brussels summit of 12-13 Dec. was covered in American media. What was all the fuss about? Basically there were two main issues: the “agreeing on” of a first draft of a European Constitution as well as finally reaching a consensus on voting power between the 25 member states when, on May 1st 2004, 10 new countries will be joining the European Union.

I have often been musing that what the EU needs more than anything else is a good PR team. One that is able to clarify to the broad public the sense of this seemingly endless series of summits (Maastricht, Schengen, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Nice, you name it…) as well as the deeper, underlying meaning of there being something like a European Union at all. Americans don’t have to worry about being puzzled by “Europe”, its countless institutions, its trade wars with the US, its spawning out of a plethora of laws etc. etc… To most Europeans, and by this I mean indeed a vast majority of European citizens, the emerging supranational body leaves them just as clueless as Americans.

A brief historical sketch of how the EU became the EU is in its place:

a.) May 9th, 1950: Robert Schuman, France’s Foreign Minister, proposes establishing the ECCS, the European Community of Coal and Steel, with the aim of integrating the steel processing industries of six European countries: France, West-Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. In 1951 through the Treaty of Paris the ECCS is a fact, it is the nucleus of what will become the EU.

b.) In 1958 the Treaty of Rome establishes the EEC, the European Economic Community, composed of the countries mentioned above. Its aim is the economic integration of its member states. Customs duties between them are abolished, there will be free movement of goods, persons, services and capital, as well as a common policy on labor, agriculture, social issues,
transport and trade.

The Treaty of Rome is also important because here already we see the emergence of a political dimension, as the EEC is provided with:

• a Council (some kind of advisory body)
• a Commission (the executive body)
• a Court of Justice
• a Court of Auditors
• a Parliament (Assembly)

c.) The EEC scores a major achievement in establishing common prices for agricultural products

d.) The Treaty of Brussels (1965) merges ECCS, EEC and Euratom in the European Community (EC).

e.) 1973: the EC expands with the UK, Ireland and Denmark joining.

f.) Greece joins the EC in 1981.

g.) Spain and Portugal join in 1986.

h.) The Single European Act of 1987 provides for a single internal market.

i.) A milestone is the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. Maastricht is of paramount importance because for the first time
the European Unity (EU), as the EC was renamed at the treaty, outspokenly vows for:

• establishing a single European currency
• a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)
• a common military policy, to be implied by the WEU (West European Union, a till then sleeping
institution meant to coordinate military efforts by EC countries)

After Maastricht European citizens slowly begin to realize the European Community is a supranational economical AND political body which will have an increasingly important impact on their lives. The very notion of a “superstate in being” is becoming more and more apparent as the European Commission (the “EU’s “government”) and the European Parliament (the EU’s “House of Representatives”) start truly behaving like the executing and law issuing bodies of such a state.

j.) Austria, Sweden and Finland join the EU in 1995.

k.) The European Central Bank (ECB) is established in 1998, charged with preparing the issue of a single currency.

l.) In 2002 12 EU nations introduce this currency, called the euro. They thus form the European Monetary Union (EMU). Conditions to enter are embedded in the so-called Stability Pact (1996), which requires participating nations to reduce their budget deficit to 3% of their GDP as well as limiting their debt to 60% of their GDP.

It is important to understand the sheer magnitude of the administrative and legislative work involved with creating the EU as it is today, over the decades since WWII. For almost sixty years the world was in turmoil and news headlines were made by the Cold War, countless conflicts on all continents including the European continent, the demise of the colonial empires, the emergence of China and recently India as major international power brokers, economic crises, environmental problems, the Middle East etc. etc… During all this time European statesmen and visionaries silently laid the foundations of and started building a European superstate. Very likely in the beginning it was never meant to be that way but as more and more goals were accomplished and institutions established the vision of a single economical, political and (over the last decade) military union became a tempting goal at the horizon. While the world was watching the power politics of the US and the Soviet Union and hordes of brutal dictators worldwide got more attention than they deserved, European soft-spoken presidents, premiers and technocrats built up the infrastructure supporting the unified Europe. Since a lot of money was involved in building accommodation for the hundreds of representatives, the thousands of their staffs and cabinet members, aides etc. and the tens of thousands of the new “Eurocracy”, it was inevitable that scandals would emerge. Nevertheless, the building anger resulted in vast complexes and halls across its member states, but principally in Brussels, Belgium, where the European Parliament has its seat, as well as countless subordinated organs and institutions.

On the other hand, the EU’s maiden trip in trying to implement an effective common foreign policy when faced with the humanitarian disasters in the broken up Yugoslavia proved such a disaster that the US had to hurry to their help to break the stalemate.

So where has the European Union arrived today? And where is it heading to? (to be continued)