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Blog VoxEurop

  • UK local elections: Manchester – a new capital for Britain?

    VoxEurop
    05 May 2017

    Apart from London, large urban areas have often been under-represented in the British political debate. Now this could change, as Greater Manchester and other cities have their first elected mayors – a novelty which might help to address some of England's growing divides.

    A couple of months ago, The Economist suggested that Britain should move its capital from London to Manchester. Bagehot's case was partly based on short-term pragmatic grounds (i.e. the poor state of the Westminster facilities), but also on serious long-term political concerns. The latter were directly connected to the fundamental redefinition of the UK as a polity in the wake of Brexit and of the growing unease in Scotland. It is actually because of this ongoing process that London will certainly remain the capital of Britain in the foreseeable future: Brexit alone will make the government and the parliament way too busy in the next years, they will not be able to address such an additional issue.

    Yet the case for moving the British capital to the North of England is not ill-conceived. "Look at Britain today and you see a country wracked by division": the political and economic divides between North and South, cities and countryside, London and the rest, are becoming deeper and deeper. These divides are clearly mirrored by the difficulties encountered by the main political parties in addressing the different realities of the UK with a coherent, convincing message. Especially for Labour, the dilemma is clear: messages that work in some areas of the country do not work – or are even counterproductive – in other areas.

    While London will remain the British capital city, an interesting development is taking place in Central and Northern England these days. On May 4 the main urban areas have elected their mayors: for the first time ever, the greater areas of Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham are now governed by single, visible, directly elected mayors – as it happens for London. It is a process in keeping with the devolution of powers begun some twenty years ago, and more specifically with the “Northern Powerhouse” project put forward by David Cameron's government. Under that scheme, the main urban areas could be given more powers and a more coherent governance.

    Until now, British political life has either taken place at the level of local councils and constituencies, or at the national level. Contrary to all the other big European countries, in the UK cities and regions exist as mere social and cultural realities, they rarely manage to express their distinct voice and views in the larger political debate. As Jonn Elledge put it in The Guardian, «England is about as ludicrously over-centralised as a country can be without actually slipping into dictatorship.»

    It is largely thanks to the fact of having single representatives with a strong mandate that Scotland and London are the only entities which manage to enter the Brexit debate. The newly elected mayors of the big English urban areas will also be able to voice the concerns of their citizens, many of whom did vote to remain in the EU. They are expected to put forward a more open and dynamic vision of the future of the UK, challenging over-represented conservative views on the one hand and London's exceptionalism on the other. After all, cities like Manchester and Liverpool have already been some sort of global capitals in the past – from the slave trade to the industrial revolution, from the Beatles to football.

    In his piece calling for the shift of the capital from London to Manchester, Bagehot makes one suggestive point: in Europe, "the countries where right-populists are doing best are those in which elites are concentrated in single geographical enclaves: Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm, the Randstad, Vienna, Budapest. Those countries where the right-populists have done less well are those in which the elite is spread between two or more centres: Germany, Canada, Australia, Spain, Belgium (and indeed Scotland)." There are probably other factors at play, but geography does matter. To be sure, physical geography cannot be changed: Britain is bound to remain an island – but political geography can be changed indeed, and mayoral elections may matter in this respect.

    Photo: Manchester Panography. Ben Watkin/Flickr

  • Media freedom: Even Europe is no comfort place for journalists

    VoxEurop
    27 April 2017

    The Council of Europe published on 21 April the results of the first large-scale survey of journalists across Europe. More than two-thirds of the 940 journalists who took part said they experienced physical assaults, intimidation or harassment on account of their work in the past three years. As the Association of European Journalists’ Representative for Media Freedom, I described the survey as a ‘wake-up call’ to national governments in Europe to review their laws and practices to better protect press freedom. And added that ‘This survey demonstrates how the increasingly hostile working conditions for journalists reflect dangerously repressive tendencies in states across east and west Europe, and a shrinking of the space for free speech and the proper scrutiny of state power’.

    The Council of Europe study Journalists under pressure: unwarranted interference, fear and self-censorship in Europe, provides first-hand evidence that violence and threats, intimidation by police, online harassment and fear of unlawful or secret surveillance have all become commonplace risks to journalists who report on matters of public interest. Improper pressures from employers as well as from political or other powerful groups often lead journalists to practice self-censorship.

    The AEJ was one of five organisations which supported the conduct of the survey by experts from the University of Malta. The others were the European Federation of Journalists, Index on Censorship, International News Safety Institute and Reporters Without Borders.

    The same day was also marked by the release of the annual Report by the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe on the State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe . The report highlights a dangerous tendency towards ‘legislative nationalism’ . It also provides data showing that close to half of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states fail to satisfactorily guarantee the safety of journalists, with an increase in violence against journalists, criminalisation of the media’s news gathering work, and growing threats to whistle-blowers and the ability of journalists to protect their confidential sources.

    Cartoon by Silvano Mello / Cartoon Movement

  • French Presidential Election: The European single market, a scapegoat for the candidates

    VoxEurop
    21 April 2017

    Three out of the 11 candidates for the highest office have pledged to withdraw France from the European Union. Not to be outdone, most of the others have spoken out against the restraints imposed by the European treaties and "Brussels bureaucrats". France’s politicians are pretending to have forgotten the benefits of integration.

    One of the highlights of the only debate featuring all eleven candidates in these elections was the discussion about the posted workers directive. Most of the contenders – from the far left (Jean Luc Mélenchon) to the far right (Marine Le Pen) – have been viciously criticising this widely unpopular legislation. Even the centre right candidate François Fillon, who is meant to be pro-free trade and free market, has promised to "completely revise this directive" in his program.

    Another issue raised during this presidential race is the relocation of home appliance giant Whirlpool’s factory from Amiens (Northern France) to Poland. Far from being the only one virulently criticising the move, the socialist candidate Benoît Hamon has declared that the corporation should “immediately and entirely reimburse all public grants unduly received” through the CICE (Tax credit for employment and competitiveness). While this may sound like a good idea, it is in practice impossible since the stated objective of creating jobs is in no way mandatory for businesses, and pertains more to the government’s utopian wish list.

    These tirades, which characterise the opposition to the free movement of workers and capital, challenge the very idea of a European single market. Let us not forget that it was Jacques Delors, a French socialist, far from being the most fervent partisan of unbridled and immoderate capitalism, who gave the impetus to this European single market through the Single European Act. He simply remarked on how establishing a genuine domestic market would benefit Europe as a whole.

    Incidentally he was right, given that the single market allowed for the creation of almost 3 million jobs, and raised the EU’s GDP by more than 2 points between 1992 and 2008. He lay the foundations for the “four freedoms” that are nevertheless yet to be fully guaranteed, and may never be. The creation of a single market is more of a continuous process rather than a stage reached at a given moment, and the directive on posted workers contributes to this process.

    The document is certainly imperfect since it does not include standardisation of social welfare contributions. However, the presidential candidates’ vehement and hardly constructive opposition to it reveals a more general distrust of everything that comes from Brussels, particularly concerning economic matters. Despite this, it should be noted that thanks to the EU:

    • French exports to the EU amount to €271 billion

    • Many French people — 650,000, according to the register of French citizens established outside of France, which reflects only part of the reality — live in another EU member state and benefit from the same social and labour rights as nationals.

    • French consumers have the right to buy goods from all around Europe without having to pay customs duties, and are guaranteed that these goods meet French standards.

    The list of advantages to integration is longer still. French companies massively invested in Central and Eastern Europe after the 2004 expansion, revitalising them and contributing to the development of the French economy.

    However if there’s one distinctively French characteristic, it’s wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too. The European provisions that candidates have recently been denouncing contribute to a whole that largely benefits French citizens. If each national government began putting spokes in the wheels of the European project by vetoing texts that require sacrifices from certain groups of population, the EU wouldn’t get very far. European solidarity entails making concessions in certain areas in order to gain in others.

    Just four days before the first round of voting, the gaps between each candidate are so narrow that the media are talking about a “four way battle”. Among them, Marine le Pen is advocating for a complete exit from the EU, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon wants to impose his vision of the Old Continent on the other 26 European partners. If this condition is not met, he has threatened to take France out of the EU — a far cry from the EU’s culture of consensus.

    Should we be worried about a "Frexit"? We certainly cannot exclude this possibility, but France is a nation capable of measuring the scope of its decisions. And it certainly wouldn’t want to draw a line under the numerous advances brought forward by the EU — not only the single market, but the euro, the Erasmus program, the European research programs, and the guarantee of living on a continent of peace.

    Translated from the French by Felix Constant-Hynes

  • AEJ debate on the future of Europe: Voices from the European parliament on Brexit and beyond

    VoxEurop
    03 April 2017

    A chorus of discordant voices rang out in the European Parliament in Brussels as AEJ journalists met with MEPs from all parts of Europe and all the political groups for two days of lively debates in the run-up to the UK’s delivery of its ‘Brexit letter’, on 29 March. The event took place as the EU sailed into unknown territory beyond its 60th birthday and the UK prepares its own lifeboat to disembark from the mother ship.

    A chorus of discordant voices rang out in the European Parliament in Brussels as AEJ journalists met with MEPS from all parts of Europe and all the political groups for 2 days of lively debates in the run-up to the UK’s delivery of its ‘Brexit letter’ on Wednesday. The event took place as the EU sailed into unknown territory beyond its 60 th birthday and the UK prepares its own lifeboat to disembark from the mother ship. William Horsley writes:-

    ‘This is a sinking ship’, Dutch Liberal MEP Marietje Schaake said about the EU, which she herself has tried to reform in the field of civil rights. She blamed big retreats in the EU’s handling of refugees and migration, and the ‘exploitation of fear’ that she says has taken hold among parts of Europe’s population. ‘Europe turns 60 in the midst of its worst crisis ever’, echoed Juan Fernandez Lopez Aguilar, the Spanish Social Democrat and ex Justice Minister. ‘Europe ‘is frozen, paralysed’, he complained, telling the assembled AEJ journalists that Europe has failed to unblock a crisis of extraordinary complexity that has dragged on for ten years. That crisis included failures to manage Europe’s external borders, to respond to the humanitarian crisis of refugees, and to find answers to popular disaffection and unrest.

    There were voices of hope, too. Lopez Aguilar saw hope in the powers vested in the Lisbon treaty, at least on paper, to build a true Europe of values, with social rights and the rule of law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights with its supposedly binding force. But member states, he claimed, had behaved in appalling ways, by fighting the Commission when it sought to assert the common purposes of the EU concerning the basic rights of its citizens and the fair treatment of refugees and migrants.

    Several MEPs who spoke on the Future of Europe saw the option of a ‘multispeed Europe’ -- put forward as a possibility in Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s recent White Paper -- as a chance for a fresh start. Manfred Weber, the German CSU politician who leads the biggest grouping, the EPP, in the European Parliament, said that Britain had made a historic mistake in deciding to leave the EU. No European country, he said, could defend itself alone against extremism or the cyber-actions of terrorists. The remaining 27 EU member states would be tough in the coming Brexit negotiations, he declared.

    Mr Weber added that he ‘could not understand’ why prime minister Theresa May had not already guaranteed the rights of the millions of other EU citizens living in the UK, so leaving them in uncertainty as well as the UK nationals living on the continent. Some journalists present recalled that other states and senior EU representatives had said publicly that no specific matters could be settled before the actual Brexit talks begin -- not even that pressing human issue for some 4.4 million people across Europe.

    After Wednesday’s Brexit letter the first talks are likely to start in May or June. And Theresa May said on Wednesday that among the British government’s first priorities will be to reach a mutual accord with the ‘EU of 27’ on the question of the status of EU nationals living in the UK and vice versa. For the European Commission Michel Barnier has said the same.

    As for the consequences of Brexit, the Flemish MEP Anneleen van Bossuyt said she feared that the UK’s departure would mean the loss of a counterweight to the influence of Germany, with its strongly federalising tendency, and of France. The UK, she said, had fought for better regulation, free trade, and subsidiarity. Belgium as one of the smaller countries, would need to find new allies, as she put it.

    The panel discussion about Brexit, with four UK MEPs from various political positions, provided a glimpse in Brussels of the heated and many-sided debate which has engulfed the UK over the past year.

    Charles Tannock, a Conservative MEP, made very clear that he is opposed to Brexit and Theresa May’s hard-line approach to it, despite his party affiliation. He saw the UK’s decision to leave the EU as a ‘selfish and destructive act’ by the British. He saw huge or insuperable problems ahead for UK negotiators. The ‘hard’ Brexit’ approach of the UK government was mistaken. The EU side would show itself united and the UK would be unable to achieve the goals it had set out in the time available. Transitional arrangements would be necessary for some time afterwards. And he was not ready, he said, to give up the fight to avoid what he expected to be disastrous consequences for Britain. He would fight to keep the UK inside the EU if that was still possible.

    The MEP for UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party), Roger Helmer, said it was ironical that his party’s position was closer to Mrs May’s than was Charles Tannock’s, as an anti-Brexit Conservative. Mr Helmer set out his goals: for the UK to be free of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, have strict control of the UK’s borders and migration, and a tough line on payment of any debts demanded by the EU. He wanted no form of ‘quasi or would-be EU membership’ after the UK had separated in two years’ time. The EU, he added colourfully, should be ‘put out of its misery’.

    Martina Anderson, an Irish Republican who sits for Sinn Fein in the European Parliament and served as a minister in the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland after the Good Friday agreement of 1998, saw Brexit as ‘absolute madness’ and a threat to peace and stability in Ireland. She recalled that at the times of ‘The Troubles’ there had been 277 crossing-points between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, heavily guarded by armed British soldiers as part of the UK’s deadly conflict with the IRA. The prospect of bringing back any border checks for people or trade as part of a new external EU border between the Republic as an EU state and Northern Ireland would be unstable and dangerous.

    Sinn Fein wants a designated special status for that border to maintain the present open border, but Brexit would create a new situation. Ms Anderson pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement was based on the assumption that both Ireland and the UK were inside the EU. It also allowed for the possibility of a referendum in Northern Ireland on the creation of a united Ireland – an option which Sinn Fein had raised in the context of Brexit. So the breakup of the United Kingdom could be a consequence, either in Northern Ireland or in Scotland, where the Scottish parliament has demanded a new independence referendum.

    Richard Corbett, a Labour MEP who worked as an adviser to Herman Van Rompuy, the first President of the European Council, said that to create the kind of new, close partnership with the EU after Brexit that Mrs May had promised would require a vast amount of work by officials. They must deal with over 7000 issues now handled by EU laws and regulations --such as what to have instead of the UK’s membership of the EU’s Air Safety Agency. He ridiculed the hopes of the British minister for Brexit, David Davis, that the UK's future trade with the rest of the world could be a substitute for its current trade with the 500 million people in the EU's single market.

    Brexit campaigners had lied, he said, by suggesting that leaving the EU would be cost-free, and even that 350 million pounds a week in British payments to Brussels would be used instead to boost funds for the national health service. The Labour party was determined, when Brexit-related bills are presented for scrutiny in parliament, to hold the government to its pledge to win the same trade benefits with the EU as the UK has enjoyed as an EU state. Otherwise Labour MPs would vote the bills down, making it hard for the May government to get them through.

  • Data journalism: A new network for European data-driven news

    VoxEurop
    31 March 2017

    We are pleased to announce a new data-driven endeavour that will support European journalists. In October 2017, the European Data Journalism Network – EDJNet will start producing, sharing and publishing data-driven news content on European affairs across Europe and beyond. It aims at providing news media across Europe with trustworthy and rigorous content and support, and at providing the general public with valuable editorial tools for better understanding Europe.

    The content produced by EDJNet will be available for free through a specific multilingual and open source website and on EDJNet partners’ own website.

    EDJNet has been set up by a consortium of European media outlets led by Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (Italy) and VoxEurop (France), in close partnership with three other outlets – Alternatives économiques (France), Spiegel Online (Germany), EUObserver (Belgium) – and three data-journalism agencies – Journalism++ (France); Local Focus (Netherlands) and Journalism Robotics (Sweden). Eight other media – two data journalism newsrooms (BIQdata at Gazeta Wyborcza in Poland and Pod črto in Slovenia) and six major outlets (Askanews and Internazionale in Italy, NRC Handelsblad in the Netherlands , El Confidential in Spain, H-Alter in Croatia and Ouest-France in France) – already take part as EDJNet partners in this broad network. These partners have a cumulated potential audience of 70 million unique monthly viewers and the network will be open to new associates.

    EDJNet transnational board will:

    • Produce data-driven investigations, in-depth articles, explanatory stories and features, as well as infographics, videos and short reviews in up to 12 languages.

    • Develop automated tools to increase newsrooms’ productivity to report on European issues and curate existing data-driven resources, tools, stories and news to encourage users to follow and cover EU affairs.

    • Provide tailored, on-demand advice on data-driven news to journalists through its helpdesk and webinars.

    • Engage in news co-production and content sharing with other media outlets across Europe by setting up editorial partnerships and content syndication.

    Content will either be produced by single partners or jointly by two or more of them. Content will be adapted and localised to fit partner’s needs and reading habits of local audiences.

    The project will receive a grant from the European Commission, yet EDJNet and its members enjoy complete editorial independence.

    Interested media can check www.edjnet.eu as of October 2017.

    Meanwhile, more news on each partner's website, and at #EDJNet and #ddj.

    Contacts:

    Nicole Corritore

    Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa

    corritore@balcanicaucaso.org

    Gian Paolo Accardo

    VoxEurop

    editor@voxeurop.eu

  • The Rome Manifesto: A vision for Europe

    VoxEurop
    24 March 2017

    Ahead of the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the signature of the treaty of Rome, on 25 March, the German-Italian Centre for European Excellence Villa Vigoni and the non-profit association United Europe, a pro-European initiative headquartered in Hamburg organised a group of leading young European scholars and professionals who have put forward an ambitious proposal for the renewal of the European project.

    IN THE BELIEF that the European Union of today is unfit to face the major challenges of our time,

    IN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT that the European future is in the people’s hands,

    IN THE CONVICTION that European unity, rather than division, is the best way forward,

    we, as young Europeans, have come together 60 years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome to stand up for Europe.

    We believe that it is our duty as the next generation to contribute to the shaping of our common destiny, and we invite every European to join us in this endeavour.

    WE, THE YOUNG GENERATION

    These are turbulent times. The world around us is changing quickly and often in contrast to what we expect. In Europe, too, extreme nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise, endangering the democratic values the generations before us fought to establish. European unity is under threat.

    We, the young generation, see it as our duty to not only uphold Europe’s legacy, but to strive for its urgent renewal. Our lives have been shaped by the ambitious project of a politically united Europe. We are the first generation released from the political divisions of the Cold War and from the harsh confrontation with our neighbours.

    We have experienced open borders and easy traveling, a single currency and common citizenship, education exchanges and new technologies, all of which have allowed us to meet other Europeans and concretely enhanced our conviction of belonging together.

    This is why with this Manifesto, we wish to set out how we see our future together: how our common identity is shaped; why we need European integration; how we can put people at the heart of the European project and what concrete institutions and procedures we propose for our European Federal Union.

    THE EUROPEAN MOSAIC

    If we wish to live together in peace, prosperity and solidarity under one roof, we must understand what it means to be European: we can take pride both in our own country and feel at home in the rich diversity of other European countries, cities and regions. These components exist in harmony and are not mutually exclusive.

    “European identity is a mosaic, rich and colourful due to the diversity of its pieces.”

    European identity is a mosaic, rich and colourful due to the diversity of its pieces. This diversity cannot be lost without losing the essence of the mosaic itself. As the Greek myth of Europa shows, migration flows have always been a part of it, both challenging and enriching our identity. Everyone can be European regardless of one’s place of birth and can contribute to the shaping and to the future of the European project.

    Our identity is neither static nor monolithic; it evolves as we meet and speak with others. Being European means to be an active part of a broader community, facing common problems and embracing a common destiny.

    THE EUROPEAN HERITAGE

    We do not need to learn to be Europeans, we just need to recognize that we already are. Our identity is built on reconciliation after terrible wars and cruelties. Our history binds us together as does geography.

    Ancient cultures and religions – the Greek and the Roman, the Jewish, the Christian and the Islamic, the Germanic and the Slavic – have produced an extraordinary legacy of literature, sciences, arts and music. The peaceful coexistence and mutual acknowledgement of different faiths are crucial for our future.

    Humanism, the enlightenment, rational and critical thinking have contributed to separating the roles of politics, law and religion within society. Today a set of shared beliefs defines our common good.

    Freedom and democracy constitute the foundation of European societies and cannot be unbound from respect for the rule of law. As outcomes of modern European political thinking, liberalism and human rights have provided the ground for the post-war reflection on equality, social justice and peace.

    A NEW VISION FOR EUROPE

    After World War II, Europe embarked on the path of integration because nationalism had brutally failed.

    The European project, as proposed by the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman in May 1950, promised peace and prosperity to European nations willing to pool their most important resources. This unprecedented approach was richly rewarded: European integration has delivered beyond expectation on its promise of peace and prosperity.

    Yet today, Europe’s achievements are mostly taken for granted and the old vision is fading. The European Union’s institutions are weakened because people consider them incomprehensible, bureaucratic, and lacking in democratic legitimacy. They have been unable to support Southern Europe in overcoming the economic crisis that has hit the younger generation particularly hard.

    Nationalist movements reject the idea of finding common solutions to common problems. We disagree. We believe that Europe is needed more than ever to safeguard our security and prosperity. European unity and solidarity are the only rational answers to the challenges of our age, from climate change to migration, from rising inequality to digitalisation, from terrorism to the threat of war.

    “Today, Europe’s achievements are mostly taken for granted.”

    European integration must move forward on new grounds because only together we can work towards a better global order. This is why we propose a European Federal Union that puts its citizens at the centre and focuses on protecting and serving them.

    RENEWING THE SOCIAL CONTRACT

    The European Federal Union is based on a renewed social contract between Europe and its people, ensuring the following rights:

    Every person has the right to freedom and dignity. The Federal Union promotes and safeguards the principles of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.

    Every person has the right to live safely and free of fear of physical harm. The Federal Union protects people in its territory from internal and external threats to their security that cannot effectively be addressed at the member state level.

    Every citizen of the Federal Union has the right to a productive life anywhere within the Federal Union. The Federal Union ensures the free movement of people. It fosters prosperity and job creation by providing a fully integrated single market and a European level playing field.

    Every citizen of the Federal Union has the right to enjoy equal opportunities in terms of education and receive social protection to cover basic needs. The Federal Union is committed to social justice and the fight against unfair inequalities, exclusion and especially youth unemployment.

    Every person has the right to a clean environment. The Federal Union, acting also in the interest of future generations, protects the environment and promotes an efficient use of natural resources.

    A EUROPEAN FEDERAL UNION

    The European Union today has a complex institutional architecture which is difficult to understand by the citizens, and fosters distrust vis-à-vis the EU. The current system of governance based on intergovernmentalism is unable to address the challenges facing Europe in an effective and transparent manner. We therefore call for a new constitutional architecture, designed to simplify Europe’s form of government and improve legitimacy as well as accountability.

    “We hold a Federal Union to be a system with clear separations of powers.”

    We believe that only an institutional regime endowed with clearly defined competences, and legitimated through appropriate democratic processes, will win the support of European citizens. We hold a Federal Union to be a system with clear separations of powers, vertically between the Union and its member states, and horizontally between the institutions of the Union itself.

    COMPETENCES OF THE FEDERAL UNION

    Vertical separation of powers will be achieved by neatly dividing the competences of the Federal Union and the competences of the member states. Sovereignty will be divided between the Union and its member states according to the principle of subsidiarity.

    The Federal Union shall have competence in foreign affairs and immigration, counter-terrorism and defence, the internal market, competition and trade. It will have a common currency and a fiscal policy designed to ensure the proper functioning of the economic and monetary union.

    The Federal Union shall not be a super-state. It will refrain from overly intrusive regulation. Any competence which is not explicitly delegated to the Union shall remain with the member states. Moreover, some competences which are currently exercised at EU level can be repatriated to the member states.

    Budgetary powers shall be divided between the Federal Union and its member states. The Federal Union will have a reasonable budget financed through taxation and not through transfers from member states’ budgets. The member states will be independently responsible for their budgetary processes and for the service of their debt according to the no-bailout rule.

    INSTITUTIONS OF THE FEDERAL UNION

    Horizontal separation of powers will be achieved by clearly distinguishing the functions of the various Union institutions. As required by principles of constitutionalism, the institutional system of the Federal Union will be based on a legislative, an executive and a judicial power.

    The legislative power of the Federal Union will be divided between the European Parliament and a European Senate – which will result from the merging of the current European Council and the Council. The European Parliament, directly elected by the Union’s citizens through a uniform electoral procedure, will act as the house of the people. The European Senate, composed of members of national governments, will act as the house of the states. Every piece of Union legislation, regardless of the authority initiating it, shall be approved both by the European Parliament, voting by majority, and by the European Senate, voting by qualified majority.

    The executive power of the Federal Union will be vested in a European President elected through a democratic process. The President will represent the Union in international affairs and head the European administration evolved from the current European Commission. In fields where neutrality is required such as monetary policy or competition, independent agencies will be established.

    The judicial power of the Federal Union will be exercised by the European Court of Justice, which shall be entitled to review Union legislative and administrative acts for compliance with the separation of powers and the existing Charter of Fundamental Rights. The European Court of Justice shall ensure the uniform application of Union law and its supremacy over state law.

    FOUNDING THE FEDERAL UNION

    In order to prevent the break-up of the European project and to move forward with integration, we propose to draw up a constitution defining in clear and binding terms the powers and governance structure of the Federal Union. This constitution shall enter into force when a majority of today’s EU member states have ratified it through a dedicated procedure. The Federal Union will welcome any European country sharing its values.

    “European unity and solidarity are the only rational answers to the challenges of our age.”

    Countries which do not ratify the constitution will not be members of the Federal Union, but the Union will associate them as closely as possible. Member states of the Federal Union will not be allowed to obtain opt-outs. The institutions of the Federal Union are empowered to enforce compliance by the member states with the principles and values which are enshrined in the Union’s constitution.

    To ensure speedy adoption, we invite national parliaments to appoint at the earliest state delegates who shall meet in Rome in 2017 to draw up a constitution of the Federal Union reflecting the principles spelled out above.

    As the young generation of Europeans, we are convinced that change is necessary and possible. Standing on the shoulders of giants, we are not afraid of claiming that the true European spirit is democratic, tolerant, pluralist and cosmopolitan.

    Now, not tomorrow, is the time to show that we can build our house on stones so solid that it can withstand any storm.

    Viva l’Europa!

    Sign the Manifesto

  • 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome: Shaping Generation Y’s Europe

    VoxEurop
    14 March 2017

    On the eve of 25 March celebrations a group of young students from all over Europe met in Italy to draft a manifesto setting up their common vision for shaping the EU’s future.

    Sixty years after the Treaty of Rome was signed, a lot of work still needs to be done. The European Union is suffering the blows of a widespread lack of trust in European institutions, a refugee crisis and its link to arising xenophobia, generational inequalities, populism and many other issues that can undermine its foundations and achievements.

    In occasion of this anniversary, it’s time to celebrate the past, but also to rethink the future. And the young must affirm its role in the institutional dialogue.

    This is why we as NEOS are supporting as media partners an initiative whose importance seems of great relevance and significance to us. The German-Italian Centre for European Excellence, Villa Vigoni and the organisation United Europe have selected a group of outstanding young European scholars and professionals who will develop a common vision of where Europe should be heading. The aim is to write a document, “The Rome Manifesto”, which should offer a perspective on the future of Europe.

    The authors (in the photo above) are brilliant young Europeans – from 25 to 40. Half of them are young scholars specialised for instance in history, philosophy, EU law and public governance. The other half are young professionals including a doctor, a startup entrepreneur, a business consultant and a public affairs specialist.

    They are divided into three groups:

    1. “Narrative of European integration”, with Germany’s former finance minister Peer Steinbrück as patron. While the fundamentals of Europe’s mission – safeguarding peace and prosperity – continue to be valid, the interpretation of what that means will need to change in order to explain Europe’s raison d’etre to today’s Europeans.

    2. “European institutions”, whose patron is Filippo Taddei, Director of the Bologna Institute for Policy Research at the Johns Hopkins University in Bologna and Chief economist of the Italian Democratic Party. Currently, decision-making at the EU level not only lacks effectiveness, but also transparency. Ordinary people do not understand how Europe’s institutions work which harms their legitimacy. Add to that the fact that many national governments have taken to blaming the EU for unpopular decisions, even if they were involved in making these decisions, themselves.

    3. “European Identity”, with Sylvie Goulard, French Member of the European Parliament. This group is is discussing what the European identity represents, and how Europeans can be made aware of it, in order to strengthen the link between Europe and its citizens. Across the continent, Europeans have many common roots in history, culture, politics, society and values. The geographic proximity also contributes heavily to a common destiny. If the European Union is to regain popular acceptance, more Europeans – including the older generation and people with a variety of educational backgrounds – will need to start sharing this sense of a European identity.

    The choice of involving young Europeans has a double symbolic valence. On the one hand, it reflects the forward-looking feature of the Manifesto. On the other hand, it is the acknowledgment of a rising European identity in the young, which is well shown by the following chart by the 2012 Eurobarometer 78.

    chrt

    “It is among the young generations and the most economically and socially advantaged categories that the European Union enjoys the most favourable image”, says the Eurobarometer 83 of 2015. Positive perceptions are the most widespread among Europeans belonging to generation “Y”, born after 1980 (47% “positive” versus 14% “negative”, and 38% neutral stance) and people who studied up to the age of 20 or beyond (49% versus 15%, and 35% “neutral”).

    The working groups have recently met at Villa Vigoni to conclude the drafting of the document. In the run-up to the anniversary celebrations of the Treaty of Rome, the document will be presented at the Residence of the German Ambassador in Rome, Villa Almone, on 23 March.

  • 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome: Don’t mess with the European Union

    VoxEurop
    03 March 2017

    The current climate is particularly anxiety-provoking and we think that we, as citizens, have to speak up. This text has been approved by the school administration, the parents' council, the student body and staff.

    “No, to the EU!” they shout. All right, then what? Nationalism? Exclusion and isolationism? Shall we generate hate and close the borders?

    Anti-European movements seem to be enjoying a fair wind, not only in Great Britain but also here on our side of the Channel. This demonstrates how Euroskepticism has become a threat to the fundamental values of the common European life. How is it that 60 years after the creation of the European Economic Community, Europeans are so skeptical about one of their biggest achievements this century?

    It is predictable that of 510 million of citizens, some will question the European Union (EU). There is also little doubt that the EU is, as it is today, imperfect and complex.

    Indeed, it strengthens the influence of lobbyists and lets down the ordinary citizens. Although the EU considers itself a unity, it is unable to introduce a united policy. In the absence of such policy, it is impossible to overcome the growing economical and social inequalities between the citizens of the Member States.

    It is unnecessary to remind the people where a separated and hostile Europe could lead. Or is it? The first half of the last century should serve as a warning.

    The European Economic Community, founded 60 years ago, was meant to maintain and guarantee peace. More than ever nowadays, in an unsafe world where hundreds of thousands are fleeing the horrors of war, we should embrace and take care of this precious gift of peace. It would be reckless to put all of it on the line.

    Beyond this, the EU also protects democracy: the freedom of press, freedom of speech and a free choice of religion being just a fraction of the inviolable rights Europeans enjoy. Isn‘t it an immense joy to live in a country where the Constitution epitomises the principles of freedom and self-determination?

    All Member States of the EU have to ensure democratic guidelines, and countries aiming to join the EU cannot hinder reform processes. This contributes to the broadening of democratic values.

    Two essential aspects of the European Union are the free movement of persons and a single currency. Admittedly, they are not perfectly elaborated; the euro being the most commonly criticised aspect. However, in the Euro Zone, currency exchange disappeared along with the attached fees. We can cross the borders of all EU countries without passport control or visa requirements. The Schengen Agreement, which assured a free movement concept within the internal borders, not only contributes to the economical dynamism but also to an inter-cultural exchange and thus to peace and understanding between different cultures.

    Therefore, we can only shake our heads when we hear that others plan on building walls. Europe is familiar with such division. We must not let it come to that point anymore. To question the free movement of persons, on anyone’s behalf, would be a major setback for this free and diverse community.

    The EU is not perfect but it assures peace and safety in Europe. To criticise it, is legitimate. To destroy it, is not.

    We cannot deny that reforms and innovations are needed to make the EU fit for the future. However, these reforms can only be completed through unity and cohesion and not through antipathy and inner conflict.

    A strengthening of the European Union is very overdue.

    Isn't it a privilege to be able to call our neighbours our friends? To move freely without passport control? Not to have to exchange currency? And moreover: to live in peace?

    For us Europeans, these privileges have become self-evident, just like so many other things in the EU. And yet so many are beginning to question it all.

    Dear fellow European citizens,

    We are pro-European and we are voicing it loudly!

    We are proud to be part of a union of 510 million citizens from different and varied cultures.

    We want bridges and not walls. Our European Union has to stay strong with freedom, peace and security.

    We strive for a democratic, transparent and righteous European Union.

    We need unifying projects.

    Cartoon by Claudio Cadei/Cartoon Movement

  • Stimulating the economy: Boosting public investment requires a new EU rulebook

    VoxEurop
    08 February 2017

    By Arnaud Dessoy and Pierre-Emmanuel Noël

    This “old” idea reconnecting with Keynesian theory has never elicited such unanimous consent. In recent months, many mainstream economists and fiscally-conservative international organisations (IMF, OECD) have been pleading in unison for an increase in public investment in infrastructure – not to mention the many colloquium initiatives that have sprung up to support this idea (Construction Federation, Brussels Parliament, Union of cities and municipalities, etc.).

    On the political front, the “Juncker Plan” at European level and the “national pact for strategic investment” launched by Belgium’s Prime Minister last September, are clearly in line with this approach. Even the new President of the United States has placed an ambitious investment stimulus programme at the very core of his future economic project, a target nobody challenged.

    The context is particularly favourable by all accounts. The economy (mainly in Europe) is sluggish, interest rates are at historically low levels, the financing offer is overabundant and last, but far from least, the societal and modernising needs for our infrastructure must urgently be addressed to tackle future challenges (energy, mobility, health, education, housing, sustainable development, etc.). The needs are all the more pressing in Belgium as our country is suffering from structural under investment, not since the last economic and financial crisis of 2010, but for more than 25 years. Since 1995, public investment accounts for 2.2 percent of GDP in Belgium on average, compared with more than 3 percent in Europe.

    Paradoxically, this impressive unanimity runs up against an incomprehensible deadlock situation in Belgium and in Europe. The fiscal straight jacket imposed by European regulations is constraining public investment. The answer is to be found primarily in the European System of Accounts (or the “ESA standards”, as they are known in the jargon), which penalise the implementation of public investment projects.

    Indeed, these standards fail to distinguish between the “bad” public debt (which stems from the financing of current expenditures) and the “good” public debt (which corresponds to investments in infrastructure). This budgetary criterion thus totally ignores a “balance sheet” vision of the State as the condition of a country’s infrastructure and facilities is not taken into consideration in the overall assessment of the economic situation of the State concerned, the sole focus being on its debt-to-GDP position.

    Another aggravating feature is that investment expenditures have to be recorded in one go and in full for the accounting period, thereby impacting the result, irrespective of the economic lifetime of the asset and without regards for the financial reserves established from surpluses in previous financial years.

    The logical consequence of this “double punishment” in the accounting treatment of public investment is to discriminate against investment by governments that have embarked on a process of fiscal consolidation, which leads to the creation of a “hidden debt,” as recently illustrated by the saga of the Brussels tunnels.

    The ESA standards are not the only culprits, however. The euro crisis and above all the battery of new European governance measures – Known as “six pack” in the European jargon (i.e. consisting of 5 regulations and one directive) and “two pack” (2 new additional regulations), supported by the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union –  and the adoption of the supposed “golden” rule have hardened the budgetary framework even more, further discouraging investment and compounding the above-mentioned penalising effects of the ESA standards: The significant tightening of budget targets, which henceforth limits the annual structural deficit to 0.5 percent of nominal GDP maximum, whereas the traditional 3% offered a relative budgetary leeway to finance investment; There is a growing trend to address budgetary targets per level of government and even individual entities within the framework of the internal stability pact [1].

    Belgium is particularly affected, inasmuch as it has the distinguishing feature of combining two characteristics, namely (1) a very high public debt/GDP ratio, and (2) fragmented budget appropriations due to the multiple tiers of government in Belgium, making them less apt to absorb a greater debt burden (unlike France or Italy, for instance). Applied on the scale of a given public entity in Belgium, the requirement for a balance according to the frame of reference of the EAS standards will often stand in the way of implementing an investment project.

    Finally, in the aftermath of far stricter interpretation rules, the scope of consolidation of the public sector was significantly expanded through the re-qualification of a large number of public entities (alternative financing entities, PPPs and social housing financing companies and municipality-controlled companies at local level), with an inhibiting effect on public investment as a result.

    Towards a smarter definition of the balanced budget criterion?

    The European authorities have in recent months become gradually aware that this regulatory framework victimised their own policy stimulus plan (“Juncker” Plan, “Europe 2020” Strategy, etc.). Some limited efforts have admittedly been made: the Commission introduced an “investment clause” (albeit of very limited scope and inapplicable to Belgium) in the budgetary framework, whereas Eurostat and the EIB jointly developed a PPP Manual to make the consolidation rules clearer and more transparent in the case of infrastructure projects set up as public-private partnerships (“PPPs”). Though clearly laudable, these initiatives have nonetheless proved insufficient.

    To find a way out of the investment deadlock and reinvigorate public investment, Europe has to change its budgetary paradigm and accept a differentiated treatment for the debt relating to investment projects, of course based on rigorous criteria to do with feasibility, added value for the community and financial sustainability (because gold-plated or “white elephant” projects are to be carefully avoided).

    Concrete and detailed proposals have already been set forth by authoritative think-tanks, like the CERPE, having regard for the sustainability of public finance and taking due account of the net increase in aggregate asset value (i.e. post-depreciation) to offset the corresponding debt increase.

    This seemingly technical subject is nonetheless of fundamental importance, because beyond public investment as a stimulus tool (and its well-known multiplier effect), sustainable competitiveness and inter-generational fairness are at stake on a more fundamental level, and the strategic infrastructure (mobility, digitisation, research, etc.) that will guarantee the prosperity of tomorrow and preserve our social model has to be built today. Ironically, during the drafting of the Maastricht Treaty that introduced EU’s common fiscal framework, the differentiated treatment of investment debt had been envisaged but eventually dropped due to the lack of agreement on the scope of the investments to be considered.

    Now is the time for the political world to reclaim this seemingly hermetic subject that is nonetheless of crucial importance for the future of Europe.

    Arnaud Dessoy is Director of Public Finance and Social Profit Studies at Belfius bank.

    Pierre-Emmanuel Noël is Professor at Sciences-Po Paris and College of Europe, and a member of the Stand Up Support Committee

    Disclaimer : This text reflects the views only of the authors, not the institutions for which they work

    [1] Article 13 of Council Directive 2011/85/EU on requirements for budgetary frameworks of the Member States provides for the establishment of: “appropriate mechanisms of coordination across-subsectors of general government to provide for comprehensive and consistent coverage of all sub-sectors of general government in fiscal planning.”

  • 2017, election year: Take a dare on Europe!

    VoxEurop
    03 February 2017

    Presidential election in France, general election in the Netherlands and in Germany: 2017 is a crucial year for Europe. Thus, and to counter the populist wave that's threatening to wipe them out, candidates should seize the opportunity to stand up for their ideas on Europe's future.

    In 2017 we will see national elections in countries across Europe. Notably France and Germany will choose their future heads of state and of government. In light of these upcoming election campaigns, we urge candidates to put forward their proposals concerning the future of Europe, in particular the future of the Eurozone and Schengen Area.

    For the main topics of national elections are too tightly bound up in European cooperation for it to remain in the background.

    For instance, it is no longer credible to consider shaping major economic or social policies without addressing the question of Europe.

    It is futile to consider maintaining peace and security, or resolving the major geopolitical and migration challenges of our time, without discussing Europe.

    Similarly, it is unrealistic to consider fighting climate change efficiently and protecting the environment without support from a united Europe.

    Last but not least, it is inconceivable to construct our future democracy without choosing between, on one hand, a return to independent nations similar to the 1930s or, on the other hand, purposefully striding towards a federal European entity that is directly connected to its citizens.

    Let us dare to construct Europe! Or else, let us abandon this utopia altogether and leave. Besides these two opposites, there is no solid middle-ground.

    Europe is currently dysfunctional because it is an unfinished project. But this does not necessarily mean Europe is doomed to remain so, quite the contrary! While intergovernmental approaches used so far have reached their limits, the potential good from a federal Europe remains enormous and mostly untapped.

    In an unavoidably globalising world, we are witnessing a wave of populism and the relative powerlessness of national politics through Europe. This phenomenon is linked to the lack of coherence, transparency and prospects concerning Europe.

    We now find ourselves at a tipping point where we must put an end to this, and to the adverse consequences it has brought.

    We thus urge candidate leaders to fully address this topic during the public debates leading up to the elections.

    Your fellow citizens need to hear your future-looking proposals debated, as we must decide together which way to go concerning a central aspect of our lives: Europe.