Friday, 24 March 2017

The 60th anniversary of the EU does not need to mean decadence

My personal contribution to commemorate the EU 60th anniversary was to publish a second edition of my 1987 book on Economic Integration and Growth, to which I added a second part dealing with enlargement and the risk of disintegration following Brexit. A link for the book is found on the left and next I reproduce its concluding chapter.

How to Rebuild a Collapsing Castle

As in relation to historical buildings, common sense dictates that the restoration of a collapsing integrated union cannot be done by demolishing first to build after. Instead, it needs some education about the value of preserving past achievements. Here lies the difficulty, but not at the technical and legal level. This is so because the required political will to preserve economic freedom is not only wavering, it risks being reversed by rising political populism in America and Europe.

This book provides plenty of theoretical and empirical evidence about the economic superiority of free trade over protectionism. However, integration is not just about economic gains and losses; it is also about institutional and political arrangements that are efficient and fair to mobilise all members regardless of their specificities. As said in chapter 10, there is no point in being a member if a country wishes to be part of other integration process or believes that an atomised world of independent states is a better road to achieve global liberalisation.

So far, it is not yet clear which of these roads Britain wishes to follow. However, this is not really important for the remaining EU members. What they need to consider is whether they should use the Brexit opportunity to change their own organisation to deal with other “unsatisfied members” and future entries and exits.

The current situation, in relation to neighbouring countries, is depicted in the diagram shown above in page 207, which needs to completed by a list of six Western Balkan countries, of which four (Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) are already official candidates and two (Bosnia and Kosovo) are potential candidates. The Balkan problem can be resolved swiftly through a bold enlargement. Although the Balkan countries are problematic due to rampant criminality (Albania), ties to Russia (Serbia), and Islamic population (Bosnia and Kosovo), they should not be excluded.

Indeed, their membership would make more compelling the need to transform the European Union into an official multi-tier union, based on a variable geometry as discussed in chapter 10. The institutionalisation of a variable geometry would allow member countries to opt out or to be demoted from some policies without major political upheavals. For instance, temporarily, Greece could leave the euro until she has sorted out her foreign debt. Romania could be demoted from the free movement of people while the current members could repatriate professional beggars from that country. Likewise, countries like Hungary and Poland, which are diverging from the EU pattern of democracy, could be demoted to a lower level of integration.

The long-waiting candidacy of Turkey to join the European Union should be abandoned; it seems to have replaced its strategic membership of the EU by an attempt to become the leading Islamic power in the Middle East.
Indeed, the end of the American leadership in the free world brought about by the new Trump administration is likely to generate a new drive towards the creation of rival spheres of influence. In Europe, Britain, Russia and Turkey are likely to strive to create their own spheres of influence at the expense of the European Union.

This new XXI rivalry will differ from nineteenth-century imperialism. It will use modern weapons to impact on the policies pursued by the European Union. For instance, Erdogan’s Turkey might use migration and refugees to destabilise Europe; Putin’s Russia may use energy and its spies and corrupt oligarchs to trap neighbouring countries and discredit democratic EU institutions; while Theresa May’s Britain may be tempted to use tax competition to break the social security net in the European Union.
Although individually, each of these countries is too small to threaten the EU economically, when combined, their challenge cannot be ignored in the design of new EU policies to keep and foster the integration process.

To cope with this challenge, the EU needs to simultaneously launch new common policies whilst disengaging or scaling back some of the current, more divisive policies. Moreover, the new exclusive policies should have a significant budgetary value (e.g., raising its level from less than 2 percent to a value closer to 10 percent) to have a macroeconomic role. Moreover, they should not be of a sector nature and distort international competition.

At the top of the list should be a single policy on migration and refugees, inspired by the Canadian or Australian models. In second place should be a policy of common defence and security, including a nuclear deterrent, so that the EU becomes ready to lead NATO should the United States weaken its commitment to the alliance.

Next should be the financing of the high end of two fundamental public services—education and healthcare. Given the success of the Erasmus student mobility program and the rising costs and competition of research, higher education and hospital healthcare are two obvious candidates to be funded at the European level.

Looking forwards, a regionally differentiated basic-income policy for unemployed, destitute, and old people should also be considered.

Of course, a multi-tier Europe with new single policies can only work with proximity and the trust of the people. The model based in the centralisation of the European civil servants in Brussels is no longer efficient or acceptable to guarantee accountability and democracy.

The current institutions have not done enough to prove their accountability, and direct elections for the European Parliament have not contributed to create truly European parties where the electors feel represented. Moreover, the idea that the current institutions—commission, council, and parliament—may transform into a government, senate, and congress of a future federation or confederation is utopian.

The EU needs to create institutions that are adapted to its diversified country basis. One such solution would be to split the European Parliament into upper and lower houses, the first made of members elected by the national parliaments and the second by members elected directly in European lists.

To sum up, like the founding fathers had to select policies that were then crucial, any restoration of the European Union has to do the same. Back then, the challenge was to reconstruct a democratic Europe from destruction. The obvious industries were atomic, coal, steel, and farming. Now the challenge is to win the race for talent and technology and to do so with social stability and security, in a world threatened again by multi-polar power players.

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