Commentary – Bolkestein: Now, roll back Brussels!

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A day before the referendum in his home country, the outspoken former Dutch EU Commissioner for competition, Frits Bolkestein, offers a cure to the ills of the European construction.

The EU has its fingers in too many pies, which leads to false expectations in the public as to what the EU can actually deliver. 

“Many people are disenchanted with the EU. That is because it has been oversold. It is not and cannot be the answer to all of their problems,” writes Bolkestein in a comment in the Financial Times, where he takes stock of the situation after the French ‘no’ on 29 May.

“The trouble is that the institutional bias is always to propose more. The European parliament wants the EU to do everything. The European Commission displays the normal bureaucratic instinct: more tasks mean more jobs and more money. And often a member of the Council of Ministers tries to achieve through Brussels what they cannot get at home. Many politicians mistake activity for action.” 

He thinks that Commission President Barroso must show the member states the way: “It is up to the Commission to sound the tocsin because it cannot brush off the failure of the constitutional treaty as just another incident. José Manuel Barroso, its president, must be clear-headed, fearless and decided. He must show himself to be a master in restricting the Commission’s activities.”

Specifically, Bolkestein proposes that the EU should scale back its role in the Common Agricultural Policy and regional development funds: “All non-essential bits of these programmes should be repatriated,” argues Bolkestein, who also takes several stabs at EU leaders.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is citicised for introducing the notion of a “federation of nation states”. “That concept is a contradiction in terms. In using it, Mr Fischer underestimated his audience. It is an example of the eurobabble that other politicians have unfortunately emulated. It would be risky to work towards a federal Europe since the EU might instead end up on the road to disintegration as a reaction. We may be seeing that now.” 

President Chirac and Chancellor SChröder are also attacked for their defence of the European social model: “How social is an economic model that throws up 12 per cent unemployment as in Germany, or 10 per cent as in France? He [Chirac] belittled British jobs growth. But surely the French unemployed prefer small jobs to no job at all. There was a time when the Bonn-Paris axis moved the EU forward. The present couple, Mr Schröder and Mr Chirac, are a drag,” fires Bolkestein.

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