Rhein on Energy and Climate

Governance is about setting and implementing rules. It is based on reciprocal trust between governments and citizens. The more citizens share similar values and traditions the easier it is to govern. Big countries or those encompassing different cultures therefore resort to federal structures, which allow much of the rule setting to take place at regional level.

As the number of member states and subject matters covered by EU legislation increases EU governance is bound to become even more complex.

Recent rifts on macro-economic policies between North and South, UK resistance to perceived EU encroachments on national traditions, Polish hesitations about stricter EU climate policy standards or poor compliance of southern member states with EU directives illustrate the conundrum of EU governance.

Europe cannot suspend legislation until national mentalities may have converged towards a single European one. That process will take decades; even then will Europe remain a federation of nation states with strong national identities, which distinguishes it from “born federations” like USA, Canada or Switzerland where primary loyalty goes to the Federation.

There are at least six ways for the EU to mitigate its conundrum with policy making.

  • Keep a brake on enlargement

    Candidate countries should undergo a much longer apprenticeship in European culture and governance. The bureaucratic transposition of EU law is insufficient proof of their preparedness to act like a full club member. Much longer and intensive training of political elites about the special ways of EU government must precede formal membership.

  • Put a cap on the number of Commissioners

    Their number should not exceed 75 per cent of member states, as provided by the Lisbon Treaty. This would also curb the expansion of EU staff, who quite normally want to demonstrate their abilities by proposing new rules.

  • Put more emphasis on compliance with EU legislation

    Part of the present difficulties in southern member countries is due to lax implementation of EU legislation. The EU Commission must become a much stricter guardian of EU law and devote more of its energy to this rather unpleasant mission.

  • Impose more self-restraint before proposing new rules

    The tense relations between EU and citizens are largely due to the flood of new rules from Brussels, which citizens are less and less able to digest. The EU Commission should restrain its urge to propose new rules. Before any new proposal it should systematically ask if it is absolutely necessary in the interest of all It might more frequently limit itself to making recommendations and leave it up to member states to follow according to their interests, without burdening the legislative process.

  • Resort more frequently to enhanced cooperation

    It will often suffice to set rules only for the most interested member countries, or to introduce them very progressively, as in the case of EMS. That minimises the risks of backlash.

  • Encourage adoption of «private» standards

Private/public networks of regions and municipalities may often serve as a flexible substitute for legislation. The EU should encourage such cooperation wherever feasible.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels

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