Half Cox

Pat Cox (Image by א (Aleph), http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Pat Cox, former MEP and former president of the European Parliament, was today elected president of the European Movement International. He takes over from Jose Maria Gil-Robles, and gave an excellent speech accepting the post. He wanted to dispel some fears about the EU and the way it works.

How could the European Union be denounced in France as ultra-liberale, he asked, when 85 per cent of its budget is spent on agriculture, regional policy and social cohesion? The notion of solidarity is at the heart of the EU’s spending programmes.

Furthermore, how could the EU be denounced as a federal superstate when the EU budget is only 1 per cent of GDP? That doesn’t pay for a superstate.

Great stuff, although the word “federal” doesn’t belong in that previous paragraph. It may seem churlish to try and correct Pat Cox, but let me do so anyway.

The idea of a federal Europe doesn’t imply anything about the size of the European budget. Just because other federations spend perhaps 20 per cent of their GDP at the federal level is no reason for Europe to do the same. Federalism supposes that policies are distributed according to the principle of subsidiarity: decentralised if possible; centralised only if necessary. And the budget should follow those policies, similarly decentralised whenever possible. I would imagine that most federalists would like to see better-funded policies at the EU level for issues such as regional development, but this is still way short of a superstate.

The real reason why the EU budget is not federal is because it is settled by an awkward haggling between the member state governments rather than through an open democratic process. The directly-elected European Parliament ought to have a role in agreeing both the size of the budget and the balance between the different spending programmes. That would be a federal budget, and actually that would be something to welcome and not something to fear.

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