Europe: You can’t have both more and less

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

Some EU leaders simultaneously want to opt out of EU policies and be more involved in their elaboration, an untenable contradiction which is misleading their electorates, argues Staffan Nilsson.

Staffan Nilsson is the president of the European Economic and Social Committee.

This commentary was first published here.

"On the margins of the European summit on Sunday 23 October, David Cameron declared that it was in United Kingdom's interest that the eurozone countries sort out their problems, but that it would become dangerous if they started to take decisions on issues, such as financial services, that were vital to other Single Market countries and the Single Market as a whole.

The EU’s leading players want more Europe – with further development and strengthening of the internal market, business exchanges and non-eurozone countries being involved in decisions concerning the eurozone – and, at the same time, less Europe – with cuts in the budget, when what we need to overcome the crisis is a stronger cohesion policy, more funds to boost Europe's competitiveness and a referral to enter the eurozone.

The United Kingdom is not the only non-eurozone EU member state to be expressing such views, either in public or in private. Last Thursday and Friday, I took part in the extremely interesting conference organised by the Polish Presidency, the European Commission and the European Parliament on the next EU budget, which is currently under discussion.

The reactions to the inspiring and enthusiastic speech given by the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk – whose determination and unambiguous commitment to Europe I should like to applaud here – were contradictory.

During this initial conference, the member states were airing their differences and acknowledging their disagreements in a constructive atmosphere, when this serious discussion was interrupted by several speakers calling for cuts in the European budget. I have already responded to this in no uncertain terms.

And now we find the heads of various member states, gathered at Europe's sick-bed, expanding on these views…

Let us be very clear here – it is not the Euroscepticism of the arguments being advanced by the UK's Prime-Minister and various MEPs that I am criticising here. Everyone is entitled to their own convictions and one is allowed to be against the idea of Europe. That is what democracy is all about.

No, what shocks me is the incredible inconsistency being demonstrated by these leading players, who appear to be either unaware of or unwilling to recognise the huge contradiction in what they are saying.

Therefore, what is it that you want?

  • Member states which have already placed themselves politically on the periphery of Europe now seem to have second thoughts and they feel they should be at the centre;
  • you did not want the euro, but you wish to decide on its future;
  • you want both less Europe and more Europe; and
  • you want structural funds for your regions, but you are against the cohesion policy…

In these dark times, I call on our elected representatives to show a greater sense of responsibility and more consistency in their approaches to policy. That is the least you owe to the people who elected you!"

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