Belgium – Brussels – ACRE’s driving mission in 2017 is to help build a Europe that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.
The British referendum in June 2016 was not just a vote to leave the EU: it was about something much broader. It was about a deep, justified sense that for many people the world works well for a privileged few but not for them.
European democracy should work for everyone, but if you’ve been trying to say things need to change for years and your complaints fall on deaf ears, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.
The European economy should work for everyone, but if you are struggling out of work, or if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.
This needs to change. The European Union should be at the service of all. In practice this means:
Europe must remain open for business. We need an outward-looking, globally-minded, flexible and dynamic Europe. That means, cutting and simplifying taxes for individuals and businesses. That means signing free-trade deals with the fastest growing economies in the world. That means reducing regulations and burdens so our companies can compete.
It also means dropping protectionist tariffs, which make it difficult for third countries to add value, enter the global market and achieve sustainable, market-based development. Why do we find it so hard to accept the economic consensus? Free trade is always mutually beneficial – and therefore also a moral project.
Europe must adopt a genuinely fair refugee policy. 2016 has been a catastrophically violent year. It is our moral duty to offer support to those fleeing wars and persecution. We must demonstrate our values in practice.
Europe must get migration under control. The EU needs to control the numbers of economic migrants coming from around the world. Unemployment is very high in many parts of Europe, particularly amongst our young people. Economic migration policy should be managed according to economic need.
Europe must adopt a proper industrial strategy. Europe needs to identify the industries that are of strategic value to our shared economy, and to support and promote them through trade, tax, infrastructure, and research and development policies.
We must reduce the costs of European governance in real terms. This means a freeze on the EU budget, and an end to wasteful bureaucracy. In many areas the EU is doing too much, and its use of money is not sufficiently cost-effective. The second Strasbourg seat at €114 million is a lamentable and indicative example.
Every EU member state of NATO should meet its 2% target. NATO is the foundation of European security. It is essential that members meet their spending targets. We should resist the introduction of an EU Army, which would make a feeble and distracting alternative. We must unequivocally support all our NATO allies, when facing threats to their internal or external security.
Last and perhaps most of all: European governance needs to be devolved. The greatest flaw of the European project is the distance felt between governed and government. So long as our citizens don’t feel in control over the decisions being made over them, European democracy will fail. Our principle of subsidiarity seeks the exercise of power at the lowest practicable level – by the individual where possible, by local or national authorities in preference to supranational bodies. The people of Europe do not want a federal United States of Europe. A multi-layered union should be considered, in recognition of varying preparedness for European integration. The process of any such arrangement should recognise the nation-state as still the most legitimate level of governance.
We must not be so naïve as to ignore the possibility another member-state voting to leave our Union. Rather, we must address the possibility head-on by working to reform the EU into a Union that truly works for everyone.