by Ralph Schoellhammer
Wednesday, 19
October 2022
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15:30

How many bodies does the EU need?

The European Political Community is the latest in a long line of pointless groups
by Ralph Schoellhammer
Emmanuel Macron at the first meeting of the EPC in Prague. Credit: Getty

In early October, the so-called “European Political Community” (EPC) had its first summit in Prague. 44 countries — 27 EU member states plus 17 additional ones, including Turkey, the UK, and Serbia — came together as part of a “platform, an organisation for European leaders to discuss the main issues of the day, like the war in Ukraine, climate change and economics”, according to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

While Europe might be running short on energy, it is not running short on platforms. In addition to the EU, there is the Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Council) with 46 participating states. Then there is the Union for the Mediterranean with 42 members, an organisation that was created to support the already existing Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.

Beyond that, Europeans are financing the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) with €80bn, which is part of the “Global Europe” programme and supposedly the EU’s “main instrument for international partnerships on sustainable development, climate change, democracy, governance, human rights, peace and security in EU neighbouring countries and beyond.” Presumably, with the plethora of platforms, instruments, cooperations (anybody ever heard of the Central European Defence Cooperation?), groups (e.g. the Visegrád Group), and initiatives (like the Three Seas Initiative), it does not matter if one adds another bureaucratic body.

There is a popular argument in the liberal press, from Time magazine to the Financial Times, that with every crisis European integration becomes stronger, and that this is somehow symbolised by this increasing number of organisations. But what about the reality on the ground? Most Europeans have never heard of these platforms and institutions. And while in the US most people know what the EPA or the CDC is, try and find a citizen of an EU member state who knows what NDICI stands for, or who can explain the difference between the Council of Europe and the European Council.

Even more troublesome is the fact that all these bureaucracies cannot conceal how Europe is fraying. The truth is that the multiplicity of newly created institutions is the modern medium of inter-European nation state competition. Macron wants to use the EPC as a tool of French influence, while Germany pushes for an expansion of the EU in order to change the rule of unanimous approval for major decisions by the bloc and replace it with majority decisions. Poland wants to increase its own power through leading an alliance of Eastern European states within the Union, ideally including Ukraine, with its population of 44 million.

Despite the talk of unity, the EU higher command is itself currently in an escalating conflict with Poland and Hungary, accusing the latter of violating European standards of liberal democracy. Meanwhile, Warsaw officially demands €1.3 trillion of World War II reparations from Germany, demonstrating how old wounds still run deep in new Europe.

An honest assessment of the current situation would come to the conclusion that we are not moving closer to the United States of Europe, but instead the opposite: a growing reassertion of the nation state. The EU bureaucracy will remain as a final career destination for weary politicians, but this is not going to alter reemergence of an increasingly divided — and fractious —European order.

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Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 month ago

It’s making cushy jobs for politicians who are found to be useless by their national electorate. Pity that the hot air produced by these self-serving groups can’t be put to good use keeping vulnerable people warm in winter.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago

The moment I found myself participating in a meeting at one of these many bodies was a key moment in my loss of faith in the EU. It was the very definition of a talking shop. Nothing got done or decided…and yet 30 people from all across Europe were flown into London for that momentous event of…achieving nothing. A massive carbon footprint for no gain. And that was one meeting, for one quite small subject area, concerning two or three paragraphs of one draft directive. Imagine the scale of the waste and the mismatch between input and output on a continental level. It is mind boggling.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I’ve had a similar experience. I was mildly pro-EU until I attended a meeting and became dismayed at the level of naive arrogance I was confronted with. I very quickly came to the conclusion that despite the fact many of them seemed to have very limited life experience, they were very eager to manage and direct others.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

That day (back in autumn 2014…feels like a lifetime now) I also discovered that other clichés about the EU are strongly rooted in reality: about 30 people were sitting around that table (reps from Switzerland & Liechtenstein also attended)…all of them were able to contribute. And yet it was Germany who was doing all of the work – they were the only ones on top of the brief and pushing forward. France threw in the occasional useful sentence. The British had more objections than constructive ideas. And the bloke from Belgium talked at length without actually saying anything of note…which is about as good an allegory of Belgium as any I’m likely to come across. (I got stuck in a corner with him at the buffet afterwards and he was so unbearably DULL, my brain hurt.)
Everyone else sat there looking bored, contented for others to do the work for them. Like those little fish that stick on the side of sharks and feed off them. It was a bizarre experience, and I guess replicated in more or less the same form thousands of times per year (although maybe by video conference in the post-lockdown world).

Last edited 1 month ago by Katharine Eyre
Jonny Cooper
Jonny Cooper
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Belgian waffle?

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Use Zoom or Teams

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
1 month ago

Talk about the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea. But less funny and more expensive.

Still- it’s only the little people’s money – plenty more where that came from, eh?

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 month ago

Only journos dont know the difference between the Council of Europe and the European Council

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 month ago

The EU is a cancer.
Cancer spreads.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 month ago

 “accusing the latter of violating European standards of liberal democracy.”
It’s more than an accusation mate – the British and Irish Law Societies both have issued statements detailing the systematic undermining of the rule of law in Poland.
It’s obvious what they’re up to.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 month ago

Doesn’t this article rather make a nonsense of the Brexiter hysteria about a United States of Europe?  

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Well perhaps on a practical level but that won’t stop the push to achieve it from above. It will be achieved by tying the member states together in debt.