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Europe should learn how to decide without national vetoes Europe should learn how to decide without national vetoes
by Christos Mouzeviris
2020-10-09 10:58:26
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At a recent debate in the Dutch Parliament about the gruellingly debated EU corona virus recovery fund, the country's Prime Minister Mark Rutte openly asked "can you make a budget via an intergovernmental agreement, or can you found an EU without Hungary and Poland?"

That is an understanable expression of frustration, given the recent developments in the two countries. Both Hungary and Poland, are showing total disregard of European values, using only the block's funds for their leaders to stay in power. Either they like it or not, they resemble more of a Soviet republic than a Western one, although it is Europe that funds them.

chrs001_400However apart the fact that technically the EU has not such powers to expell any member state as Rutte hinted, what can it do bring these countries in line with its values?

To be frank, not much aside from limiting access to finances or potentially restricting voting rights in the EU Council. For example, the Article 7 procedure can lead to member states losing their right to vote in the Council.

But determining that a member state is in breach with EU fundamental values, requires EU countries to agree unanimously. Something that will be difficult to achieve, while having two member states breaking lines with the block's values simultaneously.

Not to mention, that if we go down this road of expelling countries out of the EU, where do we draw the line? In the past, many called for Greece's expulsion due to the eurozone crisis and its handling by the Syriza government. Then others argued, that Germany should leave, as it is the one dominating the block to the detriment of others.

Recently many were angered by Cyprus' veto on the proposed sanctions against the Belarusian leadership and the Lukashenko regime. They also called for its punishment and expulsion. If we insist on kicking out members when they aparently behave "un-European", then we will end up with a union with no members at all.

Previously even the Netherlands itself have blocked decisions, rejected treaties or stirred the waters in the block, by trying to promote its own interests. In fact, there isn't a single country in the EU that hasn't used its veto, broke laws and treaties they signed, was fined by the EU Commission or was not ready at the time they joined the block or the Eurozone.

That is the sad reality about Poland and Hungary too. Just like the introduction of the euro in some countries like Greece, their entry in the EU was a political decision rather a confirmation of their readiness. In just 15 years, they went from Soviet satelite states, straight into the West's arms.

Yet it is now evident that while they were keeen to reap the financial advantages to rebuilt their nations and distance themselves from their former communist rulers, socially and politically they were not ready to withstand the changes and challenges. Becoming a stable and sucessful capitalist and most importantly, a liberal and multicultural society, took some of the more progressive countries of Europe, more than 31 years to achieve.

How can we expect the Polish society to reach the same level in less than a generation? No matter how outraging and disappointing is, to watch these two very promising European countries sliding backwards to what they were running from, we got to admit that European integration is a process.

It has its hick-ups and disputes, disasters and victories. Each country progress as an EU member and a society at its own pace. In addition, since democracy is our political system of choice, by default we have chosen the most difficult road to govern ourselves and our supranational institutions. It may offer choice and fairness, but it is harder to achieve a desired goal or unanimity.

As of recently, taxation and foreign affairs are the last bastions of EU law-making that still require a unanimous vote by member states. That can become frustrating in many cases, when like in the case of Belarus the EU failed to reach an agreement because of Cyprus, or when discussing tax harmonisation across the block, something the is strongly opposed by Ireland.

That is having a serious impact both on the reputation of the EU abroad, as it can never be seen as a reliable mediator with a robust foreign policy. Nor of course can it achieve further economic integration in the eurozone, without harmonization of its taxation.

Yet, if we ever decide to remove any unanimity in the EU decision making, there will be countries that will veto the removal of the national vetoes and they won't be necessarily Poland, Hungary or Ireland. The big nations of EU like Germany or France, also like their independent foreign policy and influence in the world, so it is doubtful they will easily concede their interests.

Therefore, we are going in circles. We cannot bypass impasses like the Poland-Hungary veto on a potential enactement of the Article 7 procedure, because we still think individually according to our national interests, which of course suits everyone but when we need to act and reform the EU.

If only EU member states truly committed to each other, apart from their shared financial interests. If every country acted like France, initiating support for Greece against Turkish aggression, then states like Cyprus would not have to veto another decision in order to draw attention onto its own problems.

Because Cyprus' actions, do not come as result of its support for the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, rather the reluctance of most EU states to adopt a decisive hard line against Turkey. As a last resort and in an attempt to twist the arm of its partners, Cyprus had no choice but to act selfishly.

All this could be avoided if Europeans realized that maintaining the veto advantage is a sign of mistrust, immaturity (in European political integration terms), lack of unity but most importantly understanding. If I need to have a veto, to force my interests or point of view onto my partners, with which my economy is so entwined that if I fail they suffer the consequences too, then clearly there is something wrong or incomplete in this agreement.

To fix this, it will need something more than talks of "kicking out" members, blaming others for the faults in the eurozone, sidelining and gaining advantage via financial malpractices which assist tax avoidance in other EU countries, or accusing third nations of meddling when you are happy to receive financial support by them; undermining of course the partnership with other member states you agreed by joining the EU.

I am afraid the only way to sort the EU is by establishing a moral compass firstly within the block, then try to inspire or encourage third countries to adopt it. Europe seems too keen on telling how others should behave, yet among its own members we observe an absolute cacophony of interests that naturally do not inspire others to follow its example, nor respect the EU as a whole and take it seriously.

Although it is the nature of democracy to have conflicting ideas and interests, colliding against each other in order to form a consensus, a veto is a sign of weak foundations. An incomplete design, that cries selfishness or indifference not only by the member state that breaks the rules or uses it, but often by its partners that have a complete lack of undestanding or respect of its point of view.

In other words, if the EU wants to have a robust and legitimate democracy and effectiveness on decision making, it better stop looking like the UN and start resembling increasingly the USA or any other federal state. If it insists to remain under the UN arrangement, then this is a sign that its members are not always allies or partners in a "union", but often competitors and enemies just like the US is to China or Russia in the UN. Only these countries do not share a currency or a single market, which if they collapsed they would ruin all in it.

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