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New Power for 'Old Europe'
December 13, 2004 5:47 AM   Subscribe

New Power for 'Old Europe'
"Since the fall of the Berlin wall, the European Union has been steadily transforming itself from a facilitator of trade to a sophisticated geopolitical power with the teeth to back up its policies... Over the past decade, EU member states have ceded governing and enforcement authority to Brussels in areas ranging from environmental regulation to food safety, accounting standards, telecommunications policy and oversight of corporate mergers."
posted by Irontom (26 comments total)

 
From a legal standpoint, the EU is one of the most complex and ambitious undertakings in the history of man. For example, take Spain: our Constitution allows for the creation of Autonomous Communities (Basque Country, Cataluña, Galicia, Andalucia; 17 total and 2 autonomous cities: Ceuta and Melilla) that have certain competences to create laws that the Central Government doesn't have, some competences are shared between the two and some are exclusive to the National government; all of this according to the Constitution and to the differing Autonomy Statutes particular to each of these communities, something akin to the state constitutions in the US. These competences are usually in line with agriculture, trade and education, very complex issues indeed. Now, the Autonomous Communities are made up of provinces that, in turn, have certain competences and of course the municipalities also have a limited degree of legislative capability. When we add the Reglaments from the European Union to the mix we have a confluence of legislation that can be insane at times.

Now multiply this situation 25 X and you have an idea of what a byzantine undertaking the EU is from a legal standpoint.
posted by sic at 6:11 AM on December 13, 2004


I forgot to add that, while incredibly intricate, the legal undertaking in the EU seems to be working. If all 25 nations can submit to the same legal discipline, the EU will be an extremely formidable economic power.
posted by sic at 6:15 AM on December 13, 2004


Now if only they started working harder...
posted by tricky_t at 6:22 AM on December 13, 2004


This article gives me yet another reason to prefer living in the EU. I am especially disturbed by the part of the article that describes how the US State Department, working for the Chemical Industry, painted an apocolyptic picture of what will happen if the US is forced to NOT use toxic chemicals in baby products (among other things)... I can just hear Powell sputtering: "Are you Europeans crazy? We'll make less money!!" And the Chemical industry lobbyists complaining that bribes campaign contributions don't work to influence European politicians in Brussels because they are illegal.

Jesus, the US system is scummy.
posted by sic at 6:41 AM on December 13, 2004


Jesus, the US system is scummy.

I suspect it's just the scum that you know, and therefore easily discern. Personally, I have no doubt that the EU system is as corrupt as ours, it's probably just not as visible to the naked eye at the moment (at least from the American perspective, because it's all new territory).

The cynic in me says that all politicians are liars and thieves. Some are just better at it than others.
posted by mstefan at 7:20 AM on December 13, 2004


All the political, economic, and military muscle in the world means nothing without the will to use it. The spirit of Munich, or maybe it goes back to the impact of the first World War, lives on.
posted by mojohand at 7:24 AM on December 13, 2004


But mojohand, the linked article is all about EU regulatory action as regards product safety and environmental concerns, and how this is causing some consternation among US industry. You have a valid point about the role of the EU in terms of its responsibility to the rest of the world and how it will/should define itself in this way, but to counter a statement about how the EU is challenging longstanding US industrial and trade standards with a reminder that it has failed to react to a humanitarian crisis in Sudan (as has the US) doesn't really make sense.
posted by taz at 8:05 AM on December 13, 2004


All the political, economic, and military muscle in the world means nothing without the will to use it. The spirit of Munich, or maybe it goes back to the impact of the first World War, lives on.

If anything, I would suggest that if is historical reasons holding back increased EU involvement in Sudan it is the history of European Colonialism in Africa and the implications that has for both sides. The idea that it is appeasement and the Spirit of Munich makes no sense, given that Sudan is not a threat to any European nation. Further, the Sudanese situation is likely to help to hasten the formation of a European fast response force drawn from across the EU. The EU is primarily a customs union and not a force for mutual defence and this has meant the absence of a joint military historically; essentially the existence of NATO made such a development unnecessary. Additionally, the initial reason for the formation of the Communities/Union - the desire to avoid further European wars resulting from the devastation of the two world wars - made the development of a joint military politically unsupportable.

There are however examples of the EU flexing its muscles politically and economically, primarily in the interests of its own members (what would you expect?) but, as the FPP article notes, sometimes with important implications for international treaties relating to the environment and other policy areas.

Europe has donated 285 million euro in aid to Sudan, including 80 million to assist with peacekeeping by the African Union. Having said that, it's not enough and more action is clearly needed by the international community as a whole to respond to the Sudanese situation.
posted by biffa at 8:06 AM on December 13, 2004


A European cow earns a salary of €2 a day, simply by being a cow in Europe. EU subsidies. There are many parts of the world where people have to work hard all day and never make this.

Despite the European Monetary Union and things the EU is still mainly about the agriculture of its member states, and the protection of its expensive products. Which may not be a fraudulent thing to do, but could be regarded as unethical considering the position of many underdeveloped countries.

That's my main concern.

Apart from that, the European Commission before the previous one had to resign because of fraud, EuroStat, the statistical bureau of the EU, sufers from a huge fraud scandal, and the whole set-up of the EU institutions seems to invite fraud [pdf].
posted by ijsbrand at 8:13 AM on December 13, 2004


Personally, I have no doubt that the EU system is as corrupt as ours

Well, I don't know if you've read the article, but it suggests (via the amazingly positive and forward thinking example that is as the REACH program) that the EU system is working in a way that benefits its citizens over unbridled greed. This article should at least plant doubts in your mind about which system is more palatable for the average citizen. Is it a corrupt system? Certainly there are aspects that are corruptable, politics is politics. Is it as corrupt as the US system? The early results are an unequivocal NO.

Mojohand: the jury is still out on whether or not the EU will be the world's policeman. Certain EU members like France certainly give more money in aid to developing nations than say, the US, which is one of the reasons that the US had such a hard time bribing those nations in the UN security council before the Iraq war. But one thing is clear, as far as internally ensuring the welfare of current citizens, the EU is far from perfect, but far far better than the United States.
posted by sic at 8:15 AM on December 13, 2004


Excuse the double http in the link, the file is here.
posted by ijsbrand at 8:19 AM on December 13, 2004


I've worked extensively with both US and EU environmental agencies and regulators and the US is a roughly a million billion times easier to work in because of the legal morass that is the EU. Quite often people in the EU don't even know who else is working on the same project they are. It will presumably work itself out in time but it can be quite frustrating at the moment. Presumably not as frustrating as trying to be a farmer here though.

Environmental agenices in the US IMHO are run more bottom up than top down. They tend to spend more money on implementation and on research and less on bureaucracy and "Planning and Guidance Documents" than the EU. They are also far, far more dedicated to preserving actual wilderness. They are implementing some really sweeping directives now in Europe but in real terms of people out in the field doing stuff they are years behind the US agencies, who also have a lot more public support due to the hunting/ fishing/ backpacking voting bloc and license fees etc. I would say the general higher level of awareness of environmental issues in the US helps a lot. However, the EU now has the will to change that so we shall see.
posted by fshgrl at 8:25 AM on December 13, 2004


Frankly, I don't think that EU politics is more or less scummy than US politics. Money and power tend always to get entangled and I don't think politicians either side of the Atlantic are more resistent to financial enticements than the others.
The EU has a few problems, not the least of them being most of its citizens still seeing the EU as its institutions only, and don't seem to quite realise that we are the EU. Then, there is the fact that some of the most costly common policies (agriculture, to name one) are misguided and run by special interests, not because of corruption, but because those are loud special interests no politician wants to cross.
Still, while the continuous tugs of war between the different institutions of the EU, the governments of the member states and sometimes even their constituent regions don't help reform, on the other hand they are a very effective system of checks and balances, which obviously contrasts with the increasing power of the Executive in the US. Which also makes the job more difficult for big-business lobbies, since thay cannot concentrate on a single centre of power.
posted by Skeptic at 8:55 AM on December 13, 2004


fshgrl, I don't really see the role of the EU in protecting wilderness areas, as this would certainly be up to the individual countries (not to mention that things are not really shaping up all that well in the US for places like the Artic National Wildlife Refuge). Also there's a big difference between environmental measures like the "End of Life Vehicles Directive" being sponsored by the governing body, rather than "in spite of". I have the greatest respect for US environmental agencies, but they are always fighting an uphill battle whenever they find themselves in opposition to big business.
posted by taz at 8:59 AM on December 13, 2004


Arctic. Stupid, stupid Spell Check timing out.
posted by taz at 9:00 AM on December 13, 2004


While taz is correct to say that much ecological protection is derived at the national level, it would be unwise to overlook the EU's Habitats Directive and Birds Directive, which enable the creation of Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation, which assist in protecting various habitats and which are likely to extend to offshore ecological areas in the near future, in order to protect bird feeding grounds. There have also been a number of very positive directives aimed at reducing waste and improving water quality which have been effective at stimulating national action.
posted by biffa at 9:16 AM on December 13, 2004


fshgrl, I don't really see the role of the EU in protecting wilderness areas, as this would certainly be up to the individual countries

In fact, the EU is very involved in protecting natural areas. The Habitats Directive protects over 6000 sites in the EU. The Water Framework Directive might just be the most ambitious bit of environmental legislation EVER passed: it requires all surface and ground water in Europe to be in good or better ecological state by 2015. Enormous onus has been put on each member state to try and meet this.

(not to mention that things are not really shaping up all that well in the US for places like the Artic National Wildlife Refuge).
I've actually spent quite a bit of time in ANWR over the years and IMHO it's a bit of a diversionary tactic. If drilling happens there the way it has happened at nearby places with satellite pads and no roads and gets cleaned up as outlined it won't be a huge impact compared to what is happening currently at sites like the nearby NPRA which are more important ecologically and don't have the same kinds of restrictions on their use. (btw it will also prevent tourism on the land leased to the oil companies).

I have the greatest respect for US environmental agencies, but they are always fighting an uphill battle whenever they find themselves in opposition to big business
Yes, they are, but that is true everywhere. Organisations like the EPA and state Fish and Games still have a remarkable amount of clout compared to EU counterparts who are often confusingly lumped in with agencies responsible for flood control or transport or heritage. Ecological protection in Irealnd for example is a joke.

Bottom line: in $$ spent on actualy biologists out doing research and managers developing new techniques the US is streets ahead. (So are other countries: several in Africa for example) Politically Europe is very far-sighted, but then again they can afford to be: they're not tying up huge tracts of unexploited natural resources. Hopefully some of the European political approach can rub off on the US and vice versa.
posted by fshgrl at 9:29 AM on December 13, 2004


Well, I don't know if you've read the article, but it suggests (via the amazingly positive and forward thinking example that is as the REACH program) that the EU system is working in a way that benefits its citizens over unbridled greed.

That's what it suggests. Of course, I'd be more interested to hear from someone who has spent some "quality time" in the bowels of the EU political machine.

It would be nice if were honestly better, but I have my doubts. Politicians, after all, politicians.
posted by mstefan at 9:37 AM on December 13, 2004


Someone once put the difference between the two continents in these very succinct terms: Europe operates based on Roman Law and America operates on Common Law. In Europe, nothing is legal until a governing body says that it is so. In America, everything is legal until a governing body regulates differently.

Having experienced both sides of the pond extensively, I have to say, that I would greatly prefer the American system of government, warts and all, to the European regulatory morass that it is. In all of my experiences, both in the public and private sector, my impression is that the European style of government fosters a lack of willingness to take initiative and to buck the system. This, in my opinion, stifles innovation and progress through paperwork and bureaucracy.

While the US needs to do a better job of keeping a regulatory eye on certain industries, I find the Eurosystem to be far too stifling.

I spent a great deal of time in my undergraduate and graduate work studying the European Union structure and I am still left with the big questions being unanswered. Mainly, how many layers of government is enough? Spain is an excellent example - with the autonomous communities layered by a federal system which then must layer with a greater EU system.

Hell, it's so complex that America could export some of its attorney pool to Europe to help. What, no takers over the pond?
posted by tgrundke at 10:42 AM on December 13, 2004


It's quiet possible that on the one hand, the EU is difficult to corrupt due to its very complex structure and the sheer amount of politicians/technocrats/commissions/organizations & nations involved in the decision making process. On the other hand, because it is so complex, oversight is difficult and opens up a lot of opportunities for fraud.

So in the end, it's probably a lot easier for a company to find loop holes in the system and profit from it that way then to lobby the system itself.

That aside. Politicians may be corrupt, but atleast they can be held accountable, and companies should be too.

The rest of the world has to understand that quality of life is very important to most of us Europeans, and if they want to do business with us, they have to cater our needs or go elsewhere. So instead of wasting their money on lobby groups, they should invest it in inovating their product lines.
posted by Timeless at 10:43 AM on December 13, 2004


Europe operates based on Roman Law and America operates on Common Law. In Europe, nothing is legal until a governing body says that it is so. In America, everything is legal until a governing body regulates differently.

In a world where many corporations are richer than most governments it seems to me that the European way is a better approach in terms of protecting the individual. This may have been differently historially but given that the corporations exist purely to make money there is less onus on them to protect consumers if they can get away with not doing so and if it will undermine profits.

The three areas (chemicals, cosmetics and cars) looked at in the article exemplify that protection of individuals comes first, against the profits of corporations.

It would be naive to suggest that bribery/fraud etc. doesn't go on in the EU but the very nature of it makes it more difficult to target the biggest influencers. No one person can make things happen. And there, perhaps lies the conundrum - a system which protects individuals but where achieving objectives can be difficult vs a system that achieves much but is more open to abuse by greed.

That said, I've only ever lived in the States very briefly, so I'm not best positioned to comment from that perspective. I currently live in the UK.
posted by gt16 at 11:22 AM on December 13, 2004


Now that Europe has a phone number, US ardor for integration has begun to cool. "The White House is questioning whether it's a good idea for Europe to be speaking with one voice,"

I'm surprised nobody has commented on this quote, especially since it's worded in a manner which seems inflammatory. It's almost like a veiled threat at Europe.
posted by smcniven at 12:12 PM on December 13, 2004


It's not really a veiled threat. The US has been working hard to peel the greedier EU leaders away from the pack, so as to weaken the whole. Spain's ex-president Aznar was a perfect example. I don't think anybody in Europe is confused on this issue. I remember the day Jeb Bush came to Spain to promise untold riches to Spanish companies if Spain would support the Coalition of the "Willing". Luckily for the EU, 90% of Spain despises George Bush's politics (and most of those despise George Bush the man) and wanted to return to Europe. One of the many reasons that Aznar's party lost the election to the socialist Zapatero.

I find myself hoping that (the now disgraced) Aznar reads this quote from the article:

"We used to have to deal with individual countries," comments Mayhew of the American Chemical Council. "We'd pay attention to, say, France. Not to be pejorative here, but we wouldn't really pay much attention to what Spain was doing. Having the EU as a single bloc with regulatory authority is a new thing for us."

Alone, the European countries can only be catamites for an Imperialist US. Together the EU can at least defend its interests.
posted by sic at 12:53 PM on December 13, 2004


I'm surprised nobody has commented on this quote, especially since it's worded in a manner which seems inflammatory. It's almost like a veiled threat at Europe.

This has been very clear for a while. There was the old and new Europe thing.
There is the will of the US that Europe spends more on defense but at the same time are against Europe forming its own army. (ironically, this is probably the only reason why the US is still footing the bill for NATO while it is really not that relevant anymore or in their interest to keep it alive). The International Court and the war crimes saga is worth a chapter of it's own. The European version of the GPS satellites...

There is also the upcoming visit by Bush to Brussels. At first, it seemed like he was only coming here to address the NATO. It turns out that he will be meeting with the members of the EU, but only as an after thought.
posted by Timeless at 2:34 PM on December 13, 2004


Amen, sic. However union does seem to be a two-edged sword, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out over the next 50 years or so, and the impact this will have on the EU's relations to the US and China.

Thanks for the FPP and comments, all...as an outsider, I am tempted to see the EU as merely a merging of political, economic and cultural elements, without looking deeper to the legal, environmental, industrial and other implications.

Kind of reminds me of collective bargaining, and the US being a boss which doesn't want its workers unionising.
posted by cosmonik at 2:42 PM on December 13, 2004


By the way, in my last comment I was tempted to write:

Alone, the European countries can only be catamites bent over and dociley waiting for the huge and unstoppable economic phallus of an Imperialist US. Together the EU can at least defend its interests.

But I thought that some Republicans would be overly pleased with this ultra macho extended self-image and start an economic war with the EU to make it so.
posted by sic at 2:56 PM on December 13, 2004


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