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Does the European Union Still Have the Means
to Realize its Ambitions?
Former Member of the European Parliament (1999-2009) 1
As the new European Parliament members are taking up their duties, the question deserves to be asked, all the more so since we are now dealing with one of the most serious financial and economic crises since 1929.
Recent events proved that getting out of the crisis could only be achieved by global and coordinated solutions. All of us should therefore consider the European level as an opportunity.
Yet, facts differ. And today the financial and political means available to the European Union are severely inadequate to meet the many challenges that determine the future of Europeans as well as the role of Member States in the international arena.
1. Is the budget of the European Union–– less than one percent of Member States’ GDP for the past four years––adequate to fulfill its ambitions?
The answer is no. The successive degradation in the reality of European policies only fools those who do not seriously examine the implementation of European programs.
The example of the FP7––the Seventh Framework Program for Research and Technological Development for the period 2007 to 2013––illustrates the situation and exposes the fight between European programs and each Member State’s national interests.
Thus, the European Council wants to “sacrifice” a part of the program’s budget in the name of the economic and financial crisis, even though the FP7 represents the jewel of European research financing policy. The result of the up-coming debate between the European Parliament, which is against it, and the Council, which advocates it, will certainly mark a new turning point.
So, on one hand, the European budget can no longer implement drawn up projects. On the other, Member States stand on their refusal to give the EU more budgetary leeway, as they must themselves meet increased expenditures to solve the crisis and growing unemployment.
After serving the Budget Commission of the European Parliament for ten years, I can only make a very pessimistic appraisal of the drifts that hinder European Union operations.
Upon my arrival to the European Parliament in 1999, I noted a real discrepancy between programs, announcements, earmarked budgets and reality. To understand this situation, one must look into who benefits from it. The answer is quite simple: all Member States!
Indeed, and only a few people know this: the worse part of the European budget operations is the “unused” part that is systematically returned to national budgets. Such arrangement, which has been fought in vain by the European Parliament, results in a pernicious behavior from Member States regarding European budget spending. I really feel that such dynamics in budgetary movements explains the lack of governments’ incentives to really spend European funds.
Today, the budgetary mechanism is stalled. How did we get to this? The reasons are many and cannot be limited to the size of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget (42 percent) that is condemned by Northern European nations.
At any rate, if we continue to impoverish European programs, the current budget can be quite sufficient. But it completely forestalls the implementation of policies pledged to the European people: young people’s professional mobility, common foreign and defense policies, etc… while draining out any meaning to the only integrated policy, the one concerning agriculture.
2. Is there still a strong political move likely to make up for budget deficiencies?
There again, I would give a pessimistic answer to the question, because Member States no longer have, I feel, “the culture nor the urge for European projects.”
In spite of repeated statements of intent from various Heads of States during summits, today Member States no longer believe in the added value of European policies!
The Galileo project is a good example. It was saved only thanks to the political will of the European Parliament and of the European Commission, to the displeasure of Member States, which did not want it for reasons related to their own interests.
We have now entered the era of “every man for himself”, translating into a national withdrawal behavior that negates the political meaning of all European projects.
While we wait for a new engagement from political leaders, I nevertheless watch attentively the motions generated by community and private initiatives that could indeed take over.
The example of the momagri think tank is a case study on the subject. To get out of the ideological confrontation that characterizes CAP reform negotiations, the organization for a new vision for agriculture designs an alternative course by building new evaluation tools and regulation principles for European projects in a globalized framework.
With regard to the Member States’ new appropriation of culture for European programs, some very concrete projects initiated by the private sector will be able to contribute.
I will mention two projects. The first one, which eases the upward mobility for young apprentices, can give young people a taste for Europe. The second, microloans, which are an economic development tool, will assist many Europeans and rekindle interest for the European Union.
This is the reason why the French and German chambers of trades asked me to establish a system of mobility for young apprentices within the European Union. Young people will act as a driving belt to restart the culture of European projects.
Following more than two years of deliberations, new measures advocating microloans are finally being implemented in the European Union. Such programs can ease the transition from unemployment to self-employment by providing access to financing for people who have been turned down by banks because of insufficient pledged collateral.
The European Union will need more large-scale means and a more important budget when Member States have again made European political programs their own.
“Men only accept change in cases of need and only perceive need in crises”. Let us hope that the Jean Monnet’s comment will guide the minds of the newly elected European representatives!
Catherine Guy-Quint has recently joined momagri as Special Advisor. As a former member of the European Parliament between 1999 and 2009, Ms Guy-Quint sat on the committee on budgets and was a member of the temporary committee on policy challenges and budgetary means for the enlarged Union 2007-2013.
In addition to European budget matters, her work focused on strategy related to the Treaty of Lisbon, Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) monitoring, designing measures for small- and medium-sized businesses, European democracy and information policies, mobility procedures within Europe for entrepreneurs and apprentices, as well as environmental and climate change issues.
A politician close to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Catherine Guy-Quint strived to bring Europe and its citizens closer together––a guiding principle that played a major role throughout her mandate. From the start of her term, the former professor of agriculture (1973-1978) concentrated on global food sufficiency and development, issues that she deems crucial for Europe’s future and all Europeans’ daily stability. Consequently, Ms Guy-Quint intends to continue to devote a considerable part of her time to these causes during the up-coming years.
1 See Catherine Guy-Quint’s biography at the end of the article.