The EU in microcosm?

J Clive Matthews
9 October 2007
Power to the people?

Creating the EU in microcosm is one of the claims for the Tomorrow's Europe deliberative poll - bringing people from all over the EU together to deliberate amongst themselves. It sounds ades moderately fair description of the process - one of the straplines is even "all Europe in one room".

However, today comes the preliminary results to the stakeholder consultation on the European Research Area Green Paper. It's hard not to see some of these - responding to just one small area where the EU thinks it can help make things more efficient - as representing the attitudes of many towards the European Union as a whole.

"Progress is far too slow and too timid," says Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik, as reported at EurActiv - a criticism that could just as easily be laid before the whole EU, currently trying to ratify a bad treaty full of compromises that satisfies no one and that should have been completed years ago (the reforms of the Constitution / Reform Treaty were, after all, originally meant to have been passed with the Treaty of Nice back in 2001, ahead of 2004's enlargement).

Just as with the lengthy process towards ratifying the new EU treaty, with the European Research Area "It is clear to me that if we do too little, not much will happen. But if we do too much, not much will happen either" - don't be ambitious enough in reforms, the more integrationist countries won't be happy - too ambitious, the more reluctant member states are likely to veto.

Further more, the summary of the report itself concludes that:

"Stakeholders generally do not favour binding legislative actions at European level but rather flexible, voluntary and bottom-up cooperation schemes, networking and exchange of best practices. They advocate that the Commission facilitate rather than regulate (e.g. via the open method of coordination, issuing principles to be shared and guidelines)"

There, in a nutshell, we have the EU's ongoing problem - most of the time pan-European legislation simply isn't necessary. Subsidiarity should rule the day. An EU based on bottom-up rather than top-down initiatives, where the people are listened to purely because the decisions that affect them are taken as close to the people as possible, and where pan-European legislation is drawn up as a last resort, only when it is the most sensible thing to do.

Sounds lovely, doesn't it? So why isn't it already happening?

Is Britain breaking up?

With Scotland voting on Thursday in an election that could lead to a second independence referendum and increased talk of a 'border poll' in Northern Ireland, could the United Kingdom be on the verge of breaking up? And why? Where does England fit in this story?

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