It has been quite frequent over the last fifteen years to hear and read comments about the end of the left/right division. While the causes for the end of the classical political paradigm have been explained several times and with more or less success, the current state of politics still rises commentators’ eyebrows without delivering a definitive answer. However this answer might be of primary importance for those who wonder how the EU could win the interest of its citizens. If we take a look at what politics have become, and how it is perceived today, citizens disenchantment does not come out of the blue.
First and foremost, what is suggested today? The great line of division would have become those who welcome globalisation and the removal of borders, while the other camp would be in favour of politics to be kept as a matter of nations and countries. Hence, the two opposite models are not anymore about looking at how wealth should be shared within the nation; citizens’ preferences are now fixed vis-à-vis models which suggest to rely either on interdependence with others or on national autarchy.
This hypothesis is easily verifiable, there is within the Member States and within the EP “rising forces” which contest the very existence of the EU, at least in its current form, and this contestation comes from sides of the political spectrum which we usually associate with the (extreme-) left and the (extreme-) right. This conclusion is interesting but is too Manichean. The only way to win the citizen’s interest is for one side to win over the other one. However it is a unique case in history: the existence of a level of authority has never been that much contested! Let’s thus take another look at what politics are today.
Politics are a matter of choice, and the choice offers to citizens today has more today with what governance is proposed than anything else. The market based economy has won and politics cannot be seen any more in the lens of cushioning measures on how economy is handle whereas being social or environmental. If politics are confined to one model in terms of economy, there is still a real political leverage on the model of governance which is apply: will this governance be based on inclusion, awareness and shared responsibilities, or should the government be a monolith interchangeable each 4 years, or so? The EU is very specific in this respect: it has no political leverage when it comes to choosing the type of governance to go for. Strangely enough, the EU is the symbol of this multilevel and complex type of governance but it is hardly the case. The EU has been built on norms. The powers of the EU have been structured around norms. From the completion of the internal market to the creation of the common currency, the EU integration has been a story of treaty rules to be respected.
When we look at today’s salient issues, the considerations remains the same. Is it possible to talk about a governance of the Eurozone, while this governance is a set of rules applied by the European Commission, with no room to manoeuvre? The EU today does not have the ability to make the only choice citizens will recognize: the choice to win the electorate’s support by making the adequate governance choices.
Today, the EU is most famous for its action on its member states budgets. There is no choice made there: the EU has been given the responsibility to make the rule respected; and the matter is not today the lack of interest but rather the level of despise the EU is triggering. The solution would be to leave some room for the EU to build a narrative based on governance choices, a narrative which could be easily understood and recognised by the citizens.
A bigger budget for the EU is the key for that, and it should be based on a real fiscal policy and a proper fiscal system. The European treasure is the only to give to the Commission different choices and bring citizen’s accountability. Today, the EU is the bad cop, the Krampus of politics for those who are feeling the most affected by austerity measures. It is a faceless dogmatic agent for those who only witness it.The face the EU should have is the one of the choices we have to allow it to make.
But let’s not go to the same dead-end, let us not repeat the mistakes of the past. This is not another call for the politicisation of the EU, nor an F-word manifesto. The federalist narrative has never won the interest of the public. The whole story telling was too weak, and modelled on the national mythos without its means. One may not replace Bismarck or Louis XVI, historical characters which have built countries by coercive means with Monnet or Spinelli, whose only mistakes were to want to make the EU emerge from something cleverer than war, annexions and repression.
Good managers are most likely to be forgotten by history, but those who cannot make any choice will be forgotten for sure. We have to have to allow the Commission to go beyond the application of the rule and to make conscious choice over the type of governance to be applied at EU level. The reign of the norms as reached the limit of public opinion, the EU should be a space where choices can be made.