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Sunday, 7 January, 2001, 10:37 GMT
What future for the EU?
The countries of the European Union have emerged from the Nice summit and are contemplating the next steps on the road to a broader, deeper union of European nations.
But there are critics of the direction the EU is taking, and they are not only the "eurosceptics". They include those who think that the EU's aims are laudable but that they cannot be achieved without greater commitment from member states.
Are we on course for a Europe which the people really want? Have the politicians got it right, or should they think again?
Europe Today's Mark Reid was in Nice for the summit, and listened to the views of a Danish MEP and, first, an Italian federalist on where Europe goes from here.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I can only see dark clouds over the European horizon. The resolutions and demands passed and insisted on smaller/weaker member EU states, as well as to those hoping to join the EU, are becoming ever more demanding, unrealistic, draconian, and, above all, dictatorial. This applies to all walks of life - economic, cultural, national, religious, you just name it, aspect
of the Union. As of recently, the so called rapid reaction European force is just another form of extended dictatorial aspect of the community to force the will of the most powerful individuals on everybody there. With every passing day, it appears the EU leaders are emulating and reviving the defunct Soviet system. US and UK beware.
As an American I believe that the whole European Union thing is bad for the UK. They are taking away your rights day after day. Here in America we don't give away our rights to other countries because we know that we don't need to. In some ways the US is more British than the UK because of the way we act. You gave away the measuring system YOU invented. You are slowly giving away your jury trials that YOU invented. There are huge lists as to what the EU is taking away from you, but I don't see a list as to what you are getting back....
If England is closer to the USA than the rest of Europe in terms of culture then I am afraid that we English are on the slippery slope of decadence. Having lived and worked in Italy, Germany for a year and in the USA for 2 years we English have one major misgiving: we are lazy (especially in terms of learning languages). Since language is a major part of culture, in particular it is an effective barrier to understanding culture, it strikes me that we English miss most points about the rest of Europe. We should learn and participate.
With a new US president with very little if any knowledge of world politics and a potentially unstable domestic platform after the recent, highly political judgement reached by the American Supreme Court, the time has never been better for Europe to take up its historic responsibility to put its own house in order.
A British citizen, born in German and living in Denmark, I'm proud of my English working-class roots - but I am also proud of being a European. Just as George W. Bush is proud of being Texan and proud of being American. One doesn't negate the other.
My experience of Europe comes from a stay of one and a half years in France, so I don't qualify as an expert. As an outsider, I think that it would be tragic to sacrifice the unique cultures of each country in Europe to a superstate. Here in the US we have blandness and similarity from coast to coast - McDonald's rules. Before venturing on such an experiment, perhaps a look at the history of the US would give pause. When this country was founded as a union of diverse states, many issues were left unresolved in the interest of union, issues such as states rights and slavery. The compromises that preserved unity at inception condemned us to a bloody civil war over those unresolved issues later on. Why could the same not happen to Europe? What if the UK decides to secede after the formation of a European Union? Would unity be enforced with military action?
Some people don't see the big picture and worldwide trends that lead all countries towards integration and co-operation. Eventually there will be one single currency in the world and one single army. This will lead to more prosperity and eliminate inefficiency in the world economy. To Eurosceptics, I would say, you either join the trend or risk being left out.
I really do think that the time has come to question the benefits of the EU as a formal organisation. I know that it's good from a trade point of view, but is that really worth giving away our identity as a nation? I fancy that the ultimate answer is no.
George Milton, USA and Italy
The ambitions of France to form an independent European army is undermining NATO. Britain, as a strong power in NATO, should not let the continentals destroy this vital organisation.
We should remember that it was NATO that saved the world from communism not an independent European army.
As someone with direct experience of state sovereignty and cultural identity in a Superstate, I can tell you that once you cede power to anyone outside your local region, you guarantee being misrepresented. Your culture and traditions will become the quaint stuff of tourist boards.
The integration of Eastern Europe into the EU will be a historical moment in European history. It will provide the EU with a larger market and I believe this will be the only way for the EU to compete in the new global economy. Yes, the other 15 EU countries will have to invest substantial amounts of money in the new members for some time. But isn't this a small price to pay in order to have a strong united Europe?
Ok lets get a few things straight. First, we are not trying to force anyone to become the 51st state. Second, we don't have a "superficial" culture; what you see in the media and entertainment broadcasts are only a small reflection of American society. Third, the UK does have more in common with us than Europe. Fourth, if the UK wants to join a superstate that is their choice; but be careful. The socialists in those other countries will bleed you dry in order to pay for their backwards and counterproductive social policies.
By the way NAFTA stands for North American Free Trade Association not Union as somebody has written. Again this apparently trivial mistake show that those euroseptics do not know the big difference between a free trade association and the EU, the EU is already a sort of Federal State, like it or not. And NAFTA member countries are not only the USA and Canada but also Mexico, a non-English speaking nation.
Francesco, European Union
There is no threat of a superstate! There is no deterioration of regional culture! There is no loss of national sovereignty! The EU is only about trade, environment, technology, and infrastructure development. That's all. Understand that!
The UK is now missing out on a major opportunity to embrace and lead one of the largest economic blocks in the world. The UK could afford a much larger role in the EU than it ever could in a union with the US, considering its much smaller size and wealth. (Not to mention ridiculous proximity) If I had my choice, I would withdraw Canada from the NAFTA and join the EU in a second.
Ed Bayley, USA (English)
This country and others within the EU are going to be bled dry by those smaller poorer countries wishing to join. We are having trouble sustaining our own social services without having to pay for others as well. Have any of the major countries in Europe actually asked the people what their views are? Or are all the politicians too scared of what they are likely to hear?
Interesting how Prodi and Kinnock think that we are on our way to a EU superstate yet Blair tells us this is not so.
Either Blair is blatantly lying to the British public, to whom he owes everything, or he has not got a clue about what the EU is about.
I find it almost laughable that people would insist that UK citizens have more in common with Europe than the US, New Zealand or Australia. As an American I assure you that this is not so, and we see that difference every day. Our relationship with the UK is significantly more important to us than our relationship with the rest of Europe combined.
I could not disagree more with Fiona Garratt's comment: "British culture is much more similar to the continentals than the Americans". I keep hearing this sort of comment from people whose experience of Europe is a few days now and again on holidays or cross-channel shopping trips. It is a lot different when you live in Europe like I do (and can't wait to get back home). I am British, living in Switzerland, and my view is that Europe and the Europeans are charming because of their difference to the British. I certainly DO NOT WANT to become the 51st state of the USA, but if I was forced into a choice between joining another English-speaking culture, and a 'United States of Europe', then I would choose America every time.
To Ronald Vopel, Belguim: Because we may like you as friends and neighbours, but you're not our kith and kin. We have more in common (language, law, government, history, culture, traditions, and even family connections) with Americans, Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders than we do with Europeans, with whom we share nothing but geography. We don't think lesser of "you" ... we just don't want to move in!
The deepening of Britain's ties with Europe can only be a good thing. British culture is much more similar to the continentals than the Americans. Eurosceptics are just scaremongering and should be ignored whilst the more sensible amongst us press ahead with greater integration.
Can a UK political leader have the courage to rid us of this circus? Can we stop hearing the mantra that "we are not on the way to a superstate" when it is blatantly obvious that the EU is working towards precisely that end? Nice is a minor setback for the Commission. The "bite-and-hold" policy of the EU will be back and grab more and more of our self-determination, as we doze content in our complacency and apathy.
David Kiltz, Germany
Can someone please explain to me why so many Britons want to join the USA instead of working with the continental Europeans ? You may not like the French or Germans, but do you really think that the materialistic and superficial Americans will appreciate your bad temper? Remember, in the US you do not count until you have wealth to show. They may simply not want you, with your rain-soaked, underdeveloped country, full of strange traditions.
A common misunderstanding in the UK seems to be on the nature of the EU: It is NOT a free trade zone, it is at minimum a SINGLE MARKET, which means that social costs play a role as well. Therefore we also need harmonised MINIMUM social standards.
So the EU plunges into more controversy. The politicians have brainwashed the public into believing that Britain cannot succeed without membership of the EU. It's not too late to get out of the whole mess and join a "North Atlantic Economic Union" with the US and Canada. Compare what we in the US have with what the UK has. We have much lower taxes, lower petrol and energy prices, more disposable income, etc. etc.
Stephen McCoull, England
A return to a Europe composed of non-interdependent nation states is not possible. States should transfer more, rather than less, of their power to the supranational level -- which, without any doubt, should be made democratically accountable and more transparent. Leaving aside the European Parliament, which lacks real control, the present EU is accountable for its actions to the governments of its member States, that is, to national politicians, who can do more or less as they like.
The answer lies in making Europe a direct democracy with effective powers, which leaves to the smaller regional units the powers to regulate what cannot be regulated at the central level.
Eurocrats should receive no salary, just a commission on successful policy which reaps rewards for all countries, complicated? Maybe, but you would soon see more prudent behaviour.
Although France's attempts to separate Europe's defence arrangements from NATO failed, it is the kind of proposal that works wonders to alienate the hearts-and-minds of the British people from the whole concept of an EU superstate! No self respecting Briton would possibly want to see yet another layer of government, especially one dominated by continental powers ... the EU should be all about trade and general co-operation, not more government!
Stephen Kenney, USA
From observations, I feel that those against a closer European integration are very wrong. The European Union was based on the principle that Europe would never fight wars again. These
nationalistic, close-minded and backward arguments of conservatives are bringing the country backward, not forward. And if the British truly feel an unease towards EU integration, they should leave the union, and join the US, for they seem to have more affinity towards Yankees
then their own continental brethren.
The World Trade Organisation will take more sovereignty away from the nation state than a European superstate ever will.
Phillip Horsfield, UK
The Nice summit went only a fraction of the way necessary to create a functional body in Brussels. European enlargement is Germany's project in the hopes that they will be accepted as a normal country again. UK is no such young democracy and can manage much better with accountable, elected, and responsible Westminster rather than unaccountable, long-lunching, non-tax-paying bureaucrats in Brussels. A prediction if I may: Poland will break EU's back in 2005-6 and will be a key driver along with Italy's bankruptcy in abolition of the Euro.
Well further to some comments on here, about how much the EU wastes and increasing waste.
That is the whole point of Nice, to try and thin it out, and make it more workable, why are so many people so against something that benefits the UK so greatly?
Seems to be the little Englander mentality all over, grow up Britain and face the fact we NEED Europe!
William Sparks, U.K
"Britain", whatever that means, is too small and inconsequential to survive alone. The sooner people realise that, the better. As long as I can retain some vestige of my nationality (the fact that I speak Welsh, and want my children to do likewise, for one), I really do not care. I am subjected to the force of a state to which I do not wish to belong (the UK) on a daily basis. A European superstate promises to be far more inclusive and more egalitarian. Bring it on!
In 1975, I along with the majority of other Britains, voted "YES" to the Common Market... My reasons were for peace and prosperity for all people of Europe. If Nice means more of our fellow Europeans joining this common cause my vote was not wasted!
Whilst Britain and some other countries may have got what they want, one feels for the smaller countries who felt rather trodden on in this whole messy business. Why should Luxembourg only get a mean voting weight of 4, as compared to other "more important" countries like the UK or Germany with 30? This will not be good for smaller countries who want to block any future measure. Surely this whole EU project is really a farce, with each country trying to get its own way rather than simply aiming to create a more de-regulated and flexible union of trading partners.
If EU membership is so bad for the UK then why are we in it? There are lots of economic benefits for British people which we never hear about (like the opportunity to work abroad). This is a complicated subject and many people are being left uninformed about the pros and cons of the EU.
Personally I don't want anything to do with this ponderous bureaucratic nightmare. It appears a select few have a grand idea and are determined to force it on the member states irrespective of the will of the people. Perhaps if the politicians took time out from their busy production of propaganda and actually listened to the people who elected them they might get it right.
I believe we would be far better off joining the USA. At least we speak the same language! We have nothing in common with the common market - time to get out.
This slow drip erosion of our sovereignty has not been authorised by the British people. If all the money we have contributed to Europe had been spent on the National Health Service it would be first rate. When the Eastern European countries join the wastage will increase considerably.
With all this talk of enlargement and the with the knowledge of what the primary industries of these countries are, should there not be urgent and practical ideas and reforms of CAP before the whole system collapses underneath financial difficulties and members agricultural recriminations?
The Nice summit showed how difficult it is for member states to reach agreements with such conflicting ideas on Europe's future. Should not the Commission put forward a statement of objectives which sets the end goal for further integration?
The spectacle of the EU wrangling over constitutional minutiae such as should Holland have more votes than Belgium, and qualified majority voting in some rather obscure areas is, frankly, a deplorable waste of time. The leaders would be far better to spend their time and energy trying to solve the really important issues facing us today, on a global scale - such as climatic change.
11 Dec 00 | Europe
EU strikes reform deal after marathon
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