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9. Democracy and its discontents
THE NOTION THAT THERE IS A DEMOCRATIC DEFIGT in Europe is almost as old as the European project itself. Until 1979, when the first elections to the European Parliament were held, none of the European institutions were directly elected, and the gap between ordinary citizens and decisions taken in Brussels was seen to be a yawning one. National governments, which are elected, are of course represented in the Council of Ministers, the senior legislative body. But most have tended to keep quiet about their bargaining and few are held to account for actions in Brussels by their own national parliaments. Moreover, the spread of qualified-majority voting has meant that individual governments can now be forced to accept policies that they have themselves opposed.1
8. In, out, shake it all about
UNTIL EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND MONETARY UNION (EMU) came along with the Maastricht treaty, the general assumption was that all members of the European club would participate in all its formations and policies. Naturally there were exceptions: Ireland was neutral, so when it joined in 1973 it became the only member not in NATO; and the UK and Ireland stayed out of attempts to set up passport-free travel through the Schengen treaty. Some inner clubs such as the Benelux trio also existed. But Maastricht marked the first occasion when some EU countries, in this case first the UK and later Denmark, specifically opted out of a treaty obligation to join a major European project, the single currency. Also in Maastricht, the UK opted out of the so-called social chapter of social and employment legislation. Moreover, the treaty clearly envisaged that not all European Union members would qualify for EMU. Thus was born a new concept for the European project: that most were in but some would stay out of certain projects.
7. The changing balance of power
AS WELL AS CONSTITUTING THE MOST SERIOUS CHALLENGE to the European project since its inception, the euro crisis has had a huge impact on its political and economic balance, at every level. Among countries, it has hugely increased the influence of some, notably Germany, and decreased that of others, notably France. It has fostered a growing north–south divide in the European Union, which has to an extent replaced the previous east–west one. It has sharpened the division between those countries that are in the euro and those that are not. Among the EU institutions, it has strengthened the role of the European Council at the expense of the European Commission and the European Parliament. And although it has led to deeper integration of sorts, especially in fiscal policy, it has also reduced the political weight of the central EU bodies and increased that of national governments. Many if not all of these shifts in power will endure. Most will profoundly affect the workings of the wider EU as well as the euro zone.
6. Super Mario
A SPIKED PRUSSIAN MILITARY HELMET , a Pickelhaube, decorates Mario Draghi’s office on the 35th floor of the Eurotower in Frankfurt, the headquarters of the ECB. It was a gift from the editors of Bild, a German tabloid newspaper, intended as both a compliment to his reputation as “the most German” of the candidates to run the central bank (after the resignation of Axel Weber) and a warning to the former Italian central banker not to let down his guard against inflation. As he took charge of the ECB at a time of great peril for the euro zone he had to act boldly, though he knew he could ill-afford to allow austere northerners to accuse him of turning the ECB, the heir to the uncompromising Bundesbank, into a European version of the Banca d’Italia.