If we have learnt anything from the last decade of European elections, it is that with all certainty we can say two things: (a) That European citizens are supportive of the European Union, and (b) European citizens are not happy with the way the European Union functions both in terms of its administration and its politics.
The political discontent is to a certain extent unavoidable. The well documented national government vs EU blame game aside, delegating competences to the EU has unavoidably meant that the EU often has to make difficult decisions that once upon a time were the problem of national governments.
Imagine for a second if negotiating and managing internal and external conflicts one day became exclusively an EU competence with some sort of qualified majority enforcement mechanism. Just imagine what kind of riots we could end up seeing if it was the EU negotiating and signing the Prespes agreement, deciding what happens with Catalonia, or resolving the issue of the Turkish military occupation of Northern Cyprus.
It may one day happen, but for now the citizens are concerned with only one thing – knowing that their day to day is made better by the EU, and that that same EU is not locked away in some ivory tower, but accessible to them.
No. This was the ‘old’ way of thinking. The EU should not just be accessible and within reach to them, it should be an extension of national government, interconnected and codependent with national administrations. We cannot continue to pretend that these will stay separate forever as competing structures. Cooperation that already exists is not enough.
But to simplify things, let’s make a concrete proposal, and it’s basis is something everyone understands: Money management.
The European Commission should give back to the Member States the prerogative to administrate directly the various EU funded programmes such as LIFE, HORIZON 2020 and COSME and meticulously leave out of the process the EU Representations, while also establishing National Agencies under the authority of each Member State, using the successful precedent of ERASMUS as the template.
Of course there is a reason this management is being done by the EU – national governments could not be trusted. But the reality is that it does not take much digging to find routine relationships of clientelism, perfected over the years between the power-pockets in the European Commission which administer these programmes, under the influence of certain Member States, powerful business interests. It is sad, but true. And worst of all, the lack of transparency and accountability within the EU structures means that even if a scandal in this area is found, the public will usually never come to learn of it. The European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, the body that has the remit to investigate such issues, is unfortunately on the one hand too heavily controlled by the European Commission leadership, and on the other hand can be ignored if things are seen as not worthwhile to pursue. Not to mention that OLAF is understaffed – and not by accident.
The argument that individual national administrations are too corrupt to administer these programmes does not hold water. Indeed OLAF, and now also the European Public Prosecutor, can much more easily and efficiently address the issues of fraud and corruption at the national level, rather than the EU level. All they need is the resources and manpower.
It is nearly comical, that certain programmes have been awarded to the same organisations over and over again, verging on a monopoly status that Margrethe Vestager could even be interested in.