Following our previous analysis of the Social Democrats, we are now taking a look at the ECR group, (European Conservatives and Reformists). In case you are not aware, the ECR is what some consider the bad brother of the EPP (European People’s Party). The ECR consists primarily of conservative parties that are less pro-European than their EPP counterparts and split of from the EPP as a result. Member parties include the UK Conservatives (Torries), the Polish PiS (Law and Justice), The Swedish Democrats, Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) and the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) in Belgium, to name a few.
Their primary values are ‘true subsidiarity’, which is mostly expressed in keeping power at the national level and opposing further European integration, family as the bedrock of society (though this only means a traditional family in most cases), free market economy (laissez-faire style), less bureaucracy (on the European level) and a strong belief in NATO.
For this 2019 election campaign, the ECR has selected Jan Zahradil from the Czech ODS party as their lead candidate. Zahradil (or JZ, as he calls himself) is an interesting choice, given his pro-gay-marriage stance. His slogan is “Retune the EU!” His website states that “The future of the EU must not be construed as a binary choice between either a fully federalized EU or no EU at all. There is a third option and a better way forward.” Let us have a look at what this third option is supposed to be, according to Zahradil.
Subsidiarity vs Communism
The first thing to note is that the ECR always claims to aim for “true subsidiarity”, but this claim is nothing more than an excuse to fight the “ever-closer union”. Zahradil confirms as much, when he compares EU civil servants with Soviet Union communists. “Having grown up under a Communist regime, I know that it is our responsibility to voters and their interest that should guide us – not the ambitions of democratically illegitimate technocrats that create crippling bureaucracy and regulation.”
Of course the EU itself employs fewer civil servants than most city councils of major European cities, but the ECR not only chooses to ignore this fact, it also views this as equivalent to Communism, which is a slap in the face of those people that actually lived under the oppression of the Soviet Union.
It is also ludicrous to compare the freedom of movement EU citizens enjoy across Europe with the restrictive nature of the Soviet Union, where not only travelling outside the bloc was difficult, but free trade and free choice of profession was also severely limited. Uniform clothing and forced adoption of the Russian language were additional characteristics of Communist rule. This comparison is not only factually incorrect, but also quite offensive to the many people who suffered and lost their lives under the Communist dictatorship.
Once you’ve compared the status quo to the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, you have already lost your argument. “We can have an EU that is scaled back, flexible, prosperous, cost-effective, and respectful of national governments.”
This rings incredibly hollow after the previous statement and exposes the true intentions behind it: To increase power of national governments at the expense of already established supranational powers in the European Union.
The fact that the Torries were the party in the United Kingdom that allowed for the Brexit referendum to happen and are now actively trying to push the results through, whatever it takes, only reinforces this already very transparent point.
Too little EU to solve big problems? Less EU is the solution!
While federalists often argue that more EU is always the solution to any problem the EU faces, the ECR argues the opposite. If the EU can’t solve a crisis, it’s because the member states don’t have enough power and leeway to do things their way. They should have the ability to pick and choose which parts of integration they want to support.
“This means a form of cooperation wherein Member States create practical partnerships and are free to select the level of integration that suits them best, without being forced into a single pathway shared by the whole Union.”
In reality is already the case, look at exemptions for the UK and Denmark, for example. All treaties have to be adopted unanimously, which is why the European constitution failed in the end. But if the ECR wants to allow member states to proceed at two or more speeds and integrate at different levels, according to the ECR’s logic, the European constitution should have passed, but excluded France and the Netherlands, who voted against it. So in the end the ECR may actually be more pro-European than it wants to be.
Everyone guards their own little fence instead of one big one
“Mr Juncker says he needs to recruit 10,000 more employees to FRONTEX. Contrary to that I say, the EU shall provide its border states with means to arrange for sufficient national capacities to guard their frontiers.”
This statement really shows the strange understanding that the ECR exhibits for the European Union. It is as if the EU institutions were already a supranational powerhouse that had more resources at its disposal than the member states. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. The EU is financed solely from member state contributions and makes up for €165.8 billion for 2019, which is only 1% of the EU-28’s combined annual economic output. So why should the EU provide resources for member states to better organise their national defenses and border controls?
How exactly would it help to have FRONTEX as a supranational support organisation that is equal or below national member states, but operates only to support them? It sounds like additional expenses for the sake of expenses, as well as confusing double-structures; even though the ECR would very much like to avoid this. Would it not be more efficient to either have a supranational or purely national body that takes care of this?
This suggests that the ECR either is ignorant of the facts, or is simply admitting that the EU is actually better at organising things with 1% of the nation states’ budget than they are with 99% of the money at their disposal.
For the sake of true subsidiarity, the EU should actually keep its hands off defence and border controls, as it is a national competency. True subsidiarity means that one level is responsible for a specific competency, not a mishmash of responsibilities. So if the EU is truly better at organising things in this sphere, then we should move towards integration in security and defense. If it is not, then we should keep the EU out of it completely.
Of course the ECR’s true objective is not subsidiarity, but increased power for national governments and if they can get back a portion of the money they spend on the EU for their own activities, that sounds like a good deal for them.
The ECR also stresses that they want a smaller EU budget overall, but if we were to have additional defense funds, they should never come at the expense of existing structural funds. This only makes sense if one understands that member parties, like PiS in Poland primarily represent rural and agrarian populations and regularly campaign on getting more money for them from the EU. It makes no sense from a “true subsidiarity” standpoint. Then again, the ECR doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on what subsidiarity actually means.
“Red-card procedure and Return ticket procedure are intended to provide genuine implementation of the subsidiarity principle. This principle says that decisions should be made always as close to citizens as possible.”
This is a gross simplification. If decisions should always be taken as closely to the citizens as possible, our local or district councilors would be voting on the most important issues we face, or better yet, we would turn the EU into a type of Swiss confederacy model system, in which direct democracy rules and every month or two we would have huge pan-European referendums. Of course that would have the opposite effect of what we desire, as the majority of citizens would outvote minorities constantly and take increasingly extreme decisions that would create more and more conflicts between our diverse cultures.
No, subsidiarity actually means a clear distinction between decision-making levels and for the right competencies to be placed on the appropriate level for the optimum decision-making structure that not only represents citizens’ interests best, but is also flexible and efficient in its decision-making and thus creates the greatest value for all citizens, while maintaining their more particular interests on lower levels. E.g. if Spanish citizens disagree with Danish citizens on working hours and conditions, this will be a competency best placed at a lower level. But if the two cultures both agree on external border security, they will be best served to combine their forces for better results in that area. The EU already has subsidiarity in broad terms, except for those areas, where there is still no clear distinction between national and EU competencies and we end up with a confusing mix that paralyses all our institutions and makes decision-making impossible.
Free Trade and a multi-currency EU
“I believe that the EU could and should sign at least 10 similar Free Trade Agreements with Asia, Africa and Latin America by 2024.” While the JZ-programme is right that the FTA with Japan was a great success, concluding further FTAs might be tricky. In fact, we have been negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with Mercosur for about twenty years now and due to the instability in governments in the Latin-American area, we have actually moved further away from an agreement in recent years. This has little to do with our negotiators or our current political climate and asking for more faster will not make it real. The only way to accelerate the process would be to give in on important positions our voters hold dear and that would be quite reckless. Yes to more FTAs, but no to rushed FTAs with any country that shows itself willing to conclude one with us.
The ECR also wants to abandon the current forced adoption of the Euro by all member states of the EU (except for Denmark and the UK, who have negotiated exemptions), as they don’t feel a fully integrated Euro-zone with a finance minister would bolster the European economy. Instead, they would prefer policy measures to incentivise market stability. How exactly those policies would look like, remains a mystery.
An argument can be made for countries to adopt the Euro at their own pace (which is currently the case), but to exempt them completely is a dangerous game, as the Euro-zone would be weakened by this. Of course, the problem with the Euro-zone is that it is in fact quite unstable. Greece only makes up for 2.7% of the EU’s combined GDP. Yet this single country managed to drag down the rest of the union in a devastating crisis. Now the crisis has been more or less dealt with, but solidarity was in short supply and the austerity policies forced upon Greece and other members of the tastelessly named “PIIGs” showcased why democratic legitimacy is needed for the EU’s financial mechanisms. That is why a Finance Minister would be a useful tool, not least because it would create direct responsibility for any bailout packages, which we sorely lacked in this last crisis.
The ECR brings forward a strange package of arguments, which is based on untrue and outlandish assertions about the nature of the European Union, which make it difficult to remain neutral in this analysis. Their policies do not follow their own principles and crumble under the slightest scrutiny, making for a mishmash of policies that might sound popular to the right ears, but ultimately are neither efficient nor effective.