Rethinking Europe

How to Shape the EU in the Post-Brexit Era

The EU is not a mono-directional train headed toward “ever closer union.” An “ever better union” with a clear focus on the principle of subsidiarity might be more like it.

Credit: Adam Lang - www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • Brexit has not solved, but rather accentuated, the riddle of what “ever closer union” means.
  • The EU is not a mono-directional train headed toward “ever closer union.” An “ever better union” with a clear focus on the principle of subsidiarity might be more like it.
  • The principle of subsidiarity aims to have political responsibilities exercised as closely as possible to the citizens who are affected by the respective legislative, administrative or judicial acts.
  • To move forward, the EU has to have a conscious and real focus on subsidiarity, rather than merely paying lip service to it.
  • Today’s most urgent challenges for us Europeans concern such topics as external and internal security, demographics and immigration, government debt and the sustainability of welfare states.

Brexit has not solved, but rather accentuated, the riddle of what “ever closer union” means. A growing number of EU countries have not only become hesitant to continue playing in the Franco-German duet which to date has been the motor of European integration.

They certainly also have taken note of the conspicuous German silence vis-à-vis the proposals and initiatives of Emmanuel Macron, the most pro-EU president in France’s history.

Irrespective of the German hesitation, a re-assessment of the EU treaty architecture post-Brexit has become indispensable.

Treaty of Lisbon

A good starting point would be a complete reading of the preamble of the Treaty of Lisbon. Whereas the EU-skeptic British rather narrowly circled around the words “ever closer union,” they ignored the rest of that same sentence.

For that “ever closer union” that is aimed for “among the peoples of Europe,” it goes on to state emphatically that those “decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.”

Thus, the explicit desire of the signatory states to balance the concept of ever closer union against the principle of subsidiarity is the basis on which the future of Europe is to be built.

Hence, to argue – as EU critics often do – that the “EU game” is about an automated overreach of Brussels is a deliberate misreading of “ever closer.” Brussels comes in only if the proper decisions cannot be taken closer to the citizens, i.e., at the national, or even regional and local level.

The German perspective

From a German perspective, the importance of the principle of subsidiarity as building principle of the EU cannot be overstated.

Not only is it embedded in Germany´s historic federal, religious and social traditions. The principle of subsidiarity has been enshrined in Article 23 of the German Constitution ever since the German Bundestag paved the way for the Maastricht Treaty back in 1992.

This so-called “Europa clause” authorizes the transfer of German sovereign rights in connection with the EU integration process only as long as the EU, among other things, is bound by “federative principles and the principle of subsidiarity.”

Moving forward

To move forward, the EU has to have a conscious and real focus on subsidiarity, rather than merely paying lip service to it.

A true focus on subsidiarity would do away with the common misunderstanding that efficiency and cost savings are ends in themselves and synonymous for “progress” in the context of European integration.

The principle of subsidiarity aims to have political responsibilities exercised as closely as possible to the citizens who are affected by the respective legislative, administrative or judicial acts.

A centralization of competencies, in the (presumed) most efficient use of available resources may be a desired outcome in a business context. It is not one in a political context, all the more so at a time when ever more people in our democracies feel like they can no longer relate to political decision-making.

Ideally, this decentralized approach produces results which adequately consider the particular local/regional situation and needs of the citizens. It should also help European citizens to better understand how the EU helps to solve or mitigate their concrete problems and concerns.

It seems obvious that these concerns are very different today from what they were in the first 50 years of post-war European integration. Today, European citizens from Tallinn to Lisbon are less concerned with highbrow European ideals or with the next step in a seemingly abstract process towards an “ever closer union.”

They expect a sober and transparent assessment of the status quo of the European Union, as well as the definition of the lessons learned from the causes of Brexit.

Europe’s challenges

Today’s most urgent challenges for us Europeans concern such topics as external and internal security, demographics and immigration, government debt and the sustainability of welfare states.

This is what is in voters´ minds. The resulting questions are about assessing concrete benefits and trade-offs from EU-level action.

Post Brexit, a much clearer focus on the principle of subsidiarity would probably still point to significantly more coordination in areas where concerted acting is indispensable (e.g., internal and external security, migration, central bank policy).

By the same token, it would imply less, slower and more careful integration in quite a few areas where the “experts” in Brussels may have unduly sacrificed diversity of approaches for assumed efficiency gains.

Thus, what the future holds is a partial clipping of the EU’s wings – and a partial strengthening. In contrast to what the critics claim, the EU is definitely not a one-directional train toward “ever closer union.” An ever better union might be more like it.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

About Klaus Moessle

Klaus Moessle is an attorney-at-law and consultant based in Frankfurt am Main. He has 27 years experience in the financial industry and is co-founder of YOUROPEAN, a pro-European independent NGO.

Responses to “How to Shape the EU in the Post-Brexit Era”

If you would like to comment, please visit our Facebook page.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary Cookies

The use of certain cookies is required for the site to function correctly.

Advertising

Analytics

Improve content and site performance.

Other