How to make Europeans stop eating meat ?

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Introduction

Will eating animal meat ever become the new smoking? The list of disadvantages of meat consumption is easy to fill: whether you look at the effects on the climate, the environment or even public health, it is hard to defend a diet which includes meat. Even more questionable however, is the fact that animals get slaughtered for consumption on a massive scale: 80 billion per year globally. In addition, the majority of antibiotics which are produced worldwide are not used to cure humans, but to prevent diseases on animal farms. With regard to the impact on the climate, the European agricultural sector is responsible for 10% of the total EU-wide emissions, an amount which is largely formed by livestock, making animal farms responsible for the lion’s share of the agricultural emissions (EEB, 2020). Ruminant animals like cows emit methane, a greenhouse-gas (GHG) with a relatively strong impact on global warming. In addition, we have environmental problems due to intensive farming practices, being one of the causes of the nitrogen crisis in some European states. Lastly, there are the human health impacts: the consumption of processed meat for example, is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as “carcinogenic for humans” (IARC, 2015).

All of these facts are relatively well known, but how much meat do we consume? In 2018, the average European consumed 69.5 kg of meat per year (Guyomard et al. 2021, p. 4). This is higher than the global average and unsustainable with regard to the effects mentioned above. In this article, I want to discuss the different measures the EU has at its disposition to influence consumer- and farming practices. First, I will look to the consumer side. Can our meat consumption be reduced even without interventions? Second, when moving to the production side, I will describe the new measures which are part of the future Common Agricultural Policy, the EU’s flagship policy for the agricultural sector. Can these measures help reduce the impact of meat production on the climate? Third, I want to discuss a last option: could it be viable to continue with our livestock (or pastoral) farming practices, by taking emissions out of the air?

Actual consumption & production

First: are people capable of changing their diets by themselves, without government intervention? As a recent survey pointed out, people in the EU indicate a personal motivation to decrease animal products in their daily diets. The study, undertaken under the Smart Protein project by the organisation ProVeg and funded by the EU, shows that for instance the individual interest in plant based foods is rising (ProVeg, 2021). The sales value of this sector has increased with as much as 49% in the past two years (EVU, 2021). Plant based foods are not the only alternative for eating meat from animals; cultivated meat which can be produced in laboratories is entering the market as well. When imitating cellular processes in a controlled environment, meat can be developed at high efficiency.

This is all good news – but only if the consumption of animal products drops at the same time. When we look at the expected European meat consumption in 2030 for instance, compared to 2020 our consumption will only be reduced slightly. In 2030, Europeans are expected to consume 67.6 kg of meat, compared to the earlier mentioned 69,5 kg per year. (EC, 2020, p. 36). As shown in figure 1 below, taken from the European Commission’s ‘outlook for the agricultural sector’ for the next ten years, we can see that for some meat sectors (such as the poultry and the sheep meat sector), the consumption levels are expected to grow. Even more striking is the fact that the EU is a net exporter when it comes to the production of beef, pig and poultry meat (idem, p. 31-33). In Europe, we therefore produce more meat than we consume, although we still import meat from other countries outside Europe. In 2021, the amount of the EU’s beef production was 6,800 million kilograms – equalling a staggering amount of 23 million animals which were slaughtered in that year (Eurostat, 2022).

Figure 1: meat consumption kilogram per capita EU (2021).

To come back to the results of the ProVeg survey, they are surely interesting, and they are showing an optimistic foresight when it comes to the future of animal product consumption. However, still the majority of 61% of the respondents of the survey indicates to be a omnivore (i.e. eating meat frequently) (ProVeg, 2021, p. 10). In addition, there is reason to be sceptical, because the survey measures the self- reported future behaviour of the respondents, and does not entail direct observations. To indicate that you would like to reduce your meat consumption might be socially desirable, but not necessarily true. Consumer behaviour remains difficult to change as people are situated in their cultural environments and are prone to habits. Eating less meat can therefore be a pledge which falls all to quickly into other ‘new year’s resolutions’.

Price interventions

In the policy toolbox of governments to reduce the consumption levels of specific goods, an obvious possibility is to increase prices. As noted in the ProVeg study, plant-based foods are often more expensive than animal-based foods – which can be a crucial point for consumers to make the switch for a vegetarian diet (2021, p. 9). When buying meat is getting more expensive, the daily choice for consumers in the supermarket for plant-based alternatives will be a lot easier. Like cigarettes in most European countries, meat could be ‘taxed’ out. A first problem however, is the fact that the EU legislator is not competent to undertake policies for the taxation of animal products. Eventual price increases of meat are introduced by the Member States (MS) individually, and are therefore less effective. Regulating the production of animal products in Europe however, is subject to EU regulations (Guyomard et al., 2021, p. 5). Second, a difficulty for a policy that increases European prices on meat, is that the import of cheaper meat from third-countries could rise. European consumption would therefore remain more or less at the same level as before the introduction of the price increase. The risk of a higher import of cheap meat can be alleviated when keeping the current import tariffs at EU level high. For dairy products and meat, the actual Most Favoured Nations tariffs are actually already among the highest compared to other products (Guyomard et al., 2021, p. 5). Another possibility to ensure a ‘level playing field’ between European and non- European meat producers, is given by the recently proposed ‘Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism’ (CBAM). This policy, announced by the Commission in 2021, aims at setting a levy for carbon-intensive products imported from outside the European Union. In that way, the risk of ‘carbon leakage’ is to be avoided, when EU producers shift their production abroad where less stringent and less costly climate policies are in place. To be sure, the Commission’s proposal currently only covers sectors like aluminium and cement (Commission, 2021). Including the meat sector in the CBAM would increase the price of imported meat based on its carbon emissions, thereby equalling the price of meat produced in Europe. Although the CBAM is currently passing the ‘legal pipeline’ (the Council of the EU for instance has recently agreed on its adoption), it will take time before a carbon levy at the European borders will be effectively installed (especially when taking into account the eventual inclusion of the meat sector). Luckily, there is a well-known policy at the European level which can make a great difference with regard to the meat production on a shorter term scale.

The EU policy for agricultural products: the CAP

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the best example of the EU’s influence on the production side of the EU’s agricultural sector, regulating for instance the supply of livestock at European farms. As the CAP has recently been reformed, and will enter into force in 2023, the time to follow the new measures which could reduce the consumption of animal products is now. Before discussing the new reforms, it is important to describe the development of the CAP. The CAP was founded in 1962, and it was introduced to ensure and to boost agricultural production in Europe. After the seventies and eighties, which entailed overproduction of certain agricultural commodities like milk, in 1992 the CAP evolved from a policy of ‘product support’ to ‘producer support’ under the so-called MacSharry reforms. Currently, the CAP is constituted of two large pillars: one composed of EU funding, one of funding coming from the Member States. The direct income support for farmers comes from the first pillar, often in the form of subsidies, while the second pillar is designed to develop rural areas in the EU. One of the main critiques of the current CAP is that the direct income support measures are favouring farmers with larger farms; the larger the size of the farm, the larger the amounts of financial aid the farmer could receive (Guyomard et al., 2021, p. 5). This obviously incites farmers to take more livestock. As mentioned, more livestock is directly linked to increasing emissions. The CAP is therefore currently opposing to the ambitions which are recently announced in the ‘European Green Deal’, where the European Commission has announced the ambition to decrease the European GHG emissions by 55% in 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The objectives of the new CAP however, should be contributing to the climate and environmental ambitions of the Green Deal.

One of the large reforms which is expected to align the new CAP with the Green Deal’s objectives, are the introduction of ‘eco-schemes’. These are direct and yearly payments for farmers using environmental friendly methods. From the total budget of the future CAP’s first pillar, 22% should be dedicated to these payments. After the implementation of the new CAP in 2023, the EU Member States will implement the eco-schemes in another large reform of the CAP: the National Strategic Plans (NSP`s). In essence, these NSP’s will consist of how Member States will answer to the CAP’s objectives. The introduction of those plans will allow the Member States more room for manoeuvre; they will be given greater ‘subsidiarity’ in the EU’s agricultural policy. NSP’s can for instance indicate which environmental practices (such as planting more trees on farms) will be rewarded by the eco-schemes, or which specific national agricultural sectors should be prioritised. With the deadline being passed on December 2021, much countries have already submitted their NSP`s, and are waiting for recommendations of the European Commission later this year. The influence of the Commission appears to be resting rather weak however; they are not expected to refuse any NSP, but will only make some suggestions for adjusting them. Despite the limited role of the Commission, it is not a certainty that the NSP’s will be in accordance with the European Green Deal objectives. France for example has received already shortly after its publication of their NSP, disapprovement of the Green Members of the European Parliament, based on concerns of alignment with the Green Deal (Pistorius, 2022). In an assessment report to qualify more draft NSP`s, which were submitted in November 2021, several environmental organisations have found that a large number of the national proposed eco-schemes also fall short of the European environmental objectives (Nyssens et al., 2021, p. 3). The most effective medicine to reduce agricultural GHG emissions for example, reducing the livestock size of farms, seems to be largely ignored by the European countries in their announced plans. Besides financial support for farmers, a possible measure to succeed in a reduction of livestock size is to include a conditionality for farmers with regard to animal density. Every farm could for instance, based on its available agricultural area, receive a maximum of 2 ‘Livestock Units’ (LU) per hectare (Climate Action Network, 2021, p. 15).

CCS to the rescue?

Besides the measures included in the new CAP, the European Commission also follows another possible strategy to make the agricultural sector more climate friendly. In a recently announced Communication they are including the possibility of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) at farm level (Commission, 2021). CCS focuses not on reducing the GHG`s emissions, but at taking emissions out of the air. Under the so-called ‘carbon farming’- initiative, farmers should be incited (following the logic of the ETS system), to capture carbon on their lands. This can be done by improving the management of their land, for instance by planting trees and the restoration of peatlands. The idea is that the sequestration of carbon will become profitable; besides normal agricultural products farmers could now also sell carbon farming credits. The target for 2030 is to have a carbon uptake of -310 Mt CO2 eq. (Commission, 2021, p. 3).

Although the Commission clearly states that the carbon farming practices are only complementary to the mitigation efforts of the EU, the question remains whether this is the most efficient sustainable policy for the agricultural sector. First, carbon uptake and emissions of soils are relatively difficult to estimate; soil emissions might be greater than reported, thereby making the target for 2030 too low (Boot, 2021, p.18). Second, although reforestation is a great tool to capture carbon, trees always have the risk of being incinerated by fires, especially in a warmer climate. This would release the carbon and delete the carbon uptake to zero. Finally, an often reiterated critique for CCS solutions is that it has the potential to divert the focus on mitigation efforts. With regard to agricultural practices, CCS would not incite changes to the current way of keeping livestock. In addition, CSS aims at the negative climate effects of animal farms, but it is not a solution for the environmental and animal welfare problems.

Conclusion

The current intensive and large-scale way of farming with livestock is not in line with the European climate ambitions, and has several other negative effects on the environment, not to forget the slaughtering of the animal themselves. As European consumption regulations are legally speaking much weaker than production regulations, changes to decrease our meat consumption should be made on the supply, rather than the demand side. Although there are several policy proposals at the EU level capable of reducing emissions from the agricultural sector, such as CSS or the CBAM, it seems clear that the most effective way forward is to reduce the livestock size of European farms. Being part of the new Common Agricultural Policy for 2023, the introduction of the eco-schemes are a perfect opportunity to motivate farmers financially to reduce their herd size. Such measures should therefore be included in the NSP’s, before the Commission’s approval in June this year. Although we Europeans might become nostalgic to the pastoral farming practices and the scenic of cows in the meadows, the negative side of our current meat consumption is too large to ignore.

by Tim Draijer

Sources:

Boot, Mary S. (2021). Why the EU’s plan for climate neutrality by 2050 will likely fail. Partnership for

Political integrity. PFPI-EU-Land-Sink-Target-report-Nov-23-2021.pdf

Climate Action Network. (2021). Will CAP Strategic Plans help deliver needed climate action?

European Commission (2020), EU agricultural outlook for markets, income and environment,

2020-2030. European Commission, DG Agriculture and Rural Development, Brussels.  

European Commission (2021, December 15th). Communication on Sustainable Carbon Cycles. SWD (2021)450final. com_2021_800_en_0.pdf

European Commision (2021). Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism: Questions and Answers https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/qanda_21_3661

European Environmental Bureau (EEB). (2020), A cap for a climate neutral Europe. https://eeb.org/library/a-cap-for-a-climate-neutral-europe/

European Vegetarian Union. (2021). Food sector report from the smart protein project. https://

http://www.euroveg.eu/relevance

Eurostat (2022). Slaughtering in slaughterhouses – annual data https://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/submitViewTableAction.do

H. Guyomard, Z. Bouamra-Mechemache, V. Chatellier et al. (2021). Review: Why and how to regulate animal production and consumption: The case of the European Union, Animal, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.animal.2021.100283

Célia Nyssens, Jabier Ruiz, Tatiana Nemcová. (2021) Will CAP eco-schemes be worth their name?

Click to access CAP-report-eco-schemes-assessment-Nov2021.pdf

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). (2015). IARC Monographs evaluate

consumption of red meat and processed meat. Press Release No. 240. http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2015/pdfs/pr240_E.pdf

Pistorius, M. (14 january 2022). French CAP plan prioritises legumes, hedges and carbon farming. https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/french-cap-plan-prioritises-legumes-hedges-and-carbon-farming/

ProVeg International (November 2021). What consumers want: a survey on European consumerattitudes towards plant-based foods.

 

A first look at how the Dutch elections will affect the country’s voice in Brussels

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During the general elections on March 17th, the party of current prime minister Mark Rutte, VVD, became once again the largest in parliament. The liberal D66 party, which has explicitly campaigned with a pro-European message, was one of the biggest winners, becoming the second largest party and practically ensuring themselves a prominent role in the next coalition government. The increase of support for D66, but also the dominance of eurosceptic right-wing parties, has sparked attention from across the bloc, as Germany prepares for its federal elections in September and France for its presidential elections in 2022. Coalition formation is still at an early stage, but what could be some of the factors that will determine the coalition government’s position on EU policy?

With both pro-EU and eurosceptic parties having won seats, the EU will continue to be a polarizing issue. D66 leader and current trade minister, Sigrid Kaag, is not expected to sell her support for a coalition government cheaply, and rather than Rutte, who has signalled he prefers a quick coalition formation, is likely more comfortable with taking her time. The pan-European party Volt managed to obtain three seats, the first in any of the national parliaments within the EU, and it will likely try to influence the discourse by stressing the necessity of European cooperation. A significant increase could also be observed in the eurosceptic bloc, growing from 22 to 28 seats in the 150-seat parliament. Due to their eurosceptic positioning and the prominent position of the D66 in a future coalition, these eurosceptic parties’ influence will likely mostly take place indirectly by influencing the increasingly polarized public discourse.

The Netherlands will remain a net-payer sceptical of deepening EU fiscal integration and interested in keeping member states’ debt under control. However, a change in the country’s positioning in Brussels could take place as D66 could claim control over the Dutch finance ministry rather than the incumbent Christian Democratic leader Wopke Hoekstra. A new role for a state secretary of European affairs could also be (re)introduced, which would signal a more pro-active approach in Europe. A new state secretary for European Affairs, such as French and German counterparts, could serve as an envoy for pro-actively and strategically building coalitions and could help to link the Dutch agenda to a broader European one.

With a predicted 17 parties in parliament, the Dutch political landscape is as fragmented and polarized as it has ever been. Ultimately, the extent the Netherlands will see a different stance on Europe would be decided by the mix of coalition partners. A coalition with the Christian Democratic Appeal party (CDA) would see a degree of continuity on most EU issues, though with a potential for more pro-EU positions on individual files relevant to D66. A coalition with VVD, D66 and the left-wing parties would likely see a more substantial shift towards pro-EU positions being taken. However, whatever coalition materializes, Rutte – who himself has never been supportive of deeper political or fiscal EU integration – would continue to play a key role as prime minister in its execution during European Council meetings.

The Netherlands punches above its weight on the EU stage, and changes to its European stance will be closely watched by both Berlin and Paris. After German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s departure, Rutte will be one of the longest-serving and most experienced leaders at the European Council meetings. His political experience will be tested, having to balance a more powerful D66 coalition partner and eurosceptic voices in parliament. The composition of the next government and what they agree on in the coalition agreement will signal the Hague’s direction within the EU. 

This article was written by Maarten Lemstra, a graduate in European Governance from the universities of Konstanz and Utrecht. He is a former research assistant at the EU & Global Affairs unit of the Clingendael Institute and is currently a trainee at a Brussels policy advisory firm.

Democracy in Decay: tackling the EU’s rule of law crisis and ensuring effective EU Foreign Policy

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Overcoming the current COVID-19 crisis is but the beginning of the many challenges that await the European Union in the coming decades. Various challenges in the field of climate change, technological transition, ageing demography and public health will have to be tackled collectively. A united Europe, capable of acting strategically and proactively to defend shared values and principles is crucial to achieve all these challenges. A divided and disunited Europe on the other hand would be easy prey for other world-powers on the rise such as China. But do we still share the same liberal values upon which the European Union was founded? In this article, I hope to show how through the rot of political corruption democracy is decaying within the EU which can prevent the EU as a whole from acting based on its founding values.

Today is a moment of reflection. The current COVID-19 crisis is not only changing the world, but it is also making us realize how much the world has already changed when we were not paying attention. As noted in a study by the Hoover Institute, democracy has deteriorated worldwide since 2006 with more countries losing democratic freedoms than gaining them, reversing the pattern which we saw following the end of the Cold war. [1] When we take a global perspective, we see that the rise of illiberal world-powers who try to spread their autocratic values necessitates the need for the defenders of democracy to intensify their efforts. In the global fight for values such as liberal democracy, the rule of law and human rights, a united Europe could stand side by side with the upcoming Biden administration to forge a global alliance of democracies against those who seek illiberal autocracy. At first glance, the current Commission seems to be aware of the need to project shared European values, which is reflected in the fact that Von der Leyen has branded her European Commission as a “geopolitical” one. But those attempts to project geopolitical prowess abroad fail when at home liberal and illiberal EU member states are growing increasingly apart from each other and disagree what those shared European values are. Effective EU external action relies on sharing the same goals, principles and values, namely those embedded in Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union.[2] Only by combatting the structural roots of the current disunity, which can be found in the rise of illiberal governments in certain EU member states who degrade political checks and balances to empower themselves, will the EU be able to find the unity it needs to promote democracy, the rule of law, and level playing fields in the wider world. To project strength abroad, the EU must renew its democracy within. Only if the decay of democracy within the EU is brought to a halt by stopping the political elites who seek to capture their states for their own political ends, will the EU be able to grow into the geopolitical player it wants and needs to be.

The decay of the rule of law as a symptom of decaying democracy

The EU has been founded on respect for the rule of law, and its continued success depends on whether member states can trust each other to respect the rule of law. Such mutual trust is under pressure from the deteriorating democracy and rule of law in increasingly illiberal EU member states. The attacks on the rule of law are symptoms of a broader attack on the notion that institutions should exist to constrain executive power and that there should be a separation of powers. Take Hungary, for example, where Victor Orbán and the ruling party Fidesz are extending their own power at the expense of equal and fair democracy. According to the recent Global Party Survey, Fidesz scores incredibly high in undermining liberal democracy and opposing democratic checks and balances.[3] While EU funds are being misused to reward supporters, control of the media is being used to keep a de facto one-party state in power.[4] The decline of the rule of law serves to enrich those in power and continue the situation in which the democratic level playing field is disturbed so political elites can continue to cling to power. Independent institutions are hollowed out by partisan political attacks, so as to strengthen those in the executive and weaken constraints on power. A politics based on corruption, clientelism and cronyism such as increasingly found in certain Eastern European countries does not give incentives to politicians to care about providing the best public policy to all, but instead makes politics about serving the interests of patrons and specific groups of supporters in society which are needed for them to hold on to power. It’s a mistake to equate the interests of a corrupt political elite with the country’s interests as a whole. While the interests of all citizens of Hungary would be served by the rule of law, fair elections and independent courts, that is not the case for the illiberal elites who are currently in power. Cultural issues and migrants serve as the perfect distraction and scapegoat for these populists to prevent the focus from lying on their own kleptocracy and corruption. While the citizens of Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria take to the streets to protest political corruption in their countries, the situation’s seriousness has not yielded the decisive response needed in many European capitals or in Brussels.

The Fidesz party scores high… in trying to subvert liberal democracy, according to this Global Party Survey.

The EU’s Authoritarian Equilibrium

In a recent article, Daniel Kelemen has argued that despite the EU’s professed commitment to the rule of law and liberal democracy, it has also at the same time been a hospitable environment in which state capture and autocratic backsliding could emerge in the form of a politically stable “authoritarian equilibrium.[5] By only focussing on the European Union as a project of liberal democracy, many have not paid attention to how the EU could inadvertently be conducive to democratic decay. First of all, Kelemen argues that protection from European political party families and an ingrained reluctance to interfere in domestic politics of member states, especially on Germany’s side, has helped protect autocrats from EU intervention. Hungary’s leader Orbán and Serbian leader Vučić are all members of the EPP, a leading European political centre-right political party, which has granted a certain level of European protection from their state capture. However, it should be noted that this protection is not limitless, and within the EPP some voices have called for Orban’s expulsion. While certain European political party families have more problems than others, not a single one is completely free of any example: there can be no exception for parties who do not respect the founding values of the European Union. Governance of the European Union is influenced by principles of subsidiarity, national sovereignty and an assumption that countries will act in “mutual and sincere cooperation” (Art TEU 4(3)). Therefore, interference in domestic backsliding is complicated and made even more difficult because a potential TEU art. 7 procedure, against member states who engage in “serious and persistent” breaches of art 2. TEU values require unanimity and can thus lead to Hungary and Poland protecting each other with a veto.

Secondly, Kelemen argues that EU funding, in the form of cohesion and regional funds, helps sustain autocrats. By increasing control over the state, political elites can control these financial flows of EU funding and steer them into the direction of their clientelist networks. In the same way that oil funds allow autocrats to remain in power without making reforms to their political or economic systems, EU funds can be used to obtain control in illiberal EU member states. EU funds to Hungary, which were not made conditional on the rule of law, were able to support its autocratic regimes either directly, or by freeing up national funds that can be used in that fashion.

Thirdly and lastly, Kelemen identifies that the European free movement allows dissatisfied citizens to move away. In Hungary, this was even promoted as a strategy to get rid of critical voices in society. Over the last ten years, Hungary ranks highest in the EU of young people leaving the country. While it is understandable that so many young people choose to exit a corrupt system with little economic opportunities, it also means that those who remain have an increasingly difficult time to fight back against autocratic elites.

(Dis)united external EU Policy

When looking at a prime example of EU external action, EU enlargement policy, it is clear how the projection of liberal European values around democracy and the rule of law to countries outside the EU is made more difficult by increasingly illiberal member states. EU enlargement policy is one of the Hungarian government’s main priorities. Hungary wants to pursue an EU accession policy in the Western Balkans at a rapid pace and is a vital partner of the Serbian leader Aleksandar Vučić, who now governs Serbia without any real opposition in parliament.[6] The Serbian case is a clear example of the damage that the political use of government powers can do to the trias politica, checks and balances and the state of democracy in general.[7] The Bulgarian government’s recent veto to open negotiations with North-Macedonia over a nationalistic cultural issue, even though the new PM Zaev is engaging in bona fides EU reform damages the accession process. Balkan leaders such as Zaev who are willing to engage in large scale anti-corruption and rule of law reform should be the actors the EU is most willing to support. Instead, the Bulgarian veto sends the signal that political leaders who are eager to make such liberal reforms are not rewarded by progress, which is the opposite of what merit-based EU conditionality should be about. The EU could theoretically put a lot of pressure on increasingly autocratic countries in South-Eastern Europe but is being held back by countries within the EU such as Hungary. In essence, the problem is this: it is simply not in the interests of illiberal countries where democracy is in decay, and the rule of law is under attack to defend liberal values outside the EU. The fact that EU external action is based on unanimity ensures that only lowest common denominator policies can be agreed to, which are ineffective in standing up for liberal democracy. The rule of law crisis in the EU’s near neighbourhood and within the Union itself is not separate but intrinsically intertwined. If due to internal divisions the EU is unable to promote democracy and the rule of law in its closest neighbourhood where its influence is largest then how can we expect it to fight for liberal democratic values in countries further away?

Turning the tide of decaying democracy in EU member states

What, then, can the EU do to turn the tide of such illiberalism and democratic decay? Should the EU not respect the sovereignty of illiberal member states? If there was a level democratic playing field, the people themselves would be able to vote such illiberal leaders out of office. The larger problem of rule of law decline, which does not get the attention it deserves, is that improper control over the allocation of government jobs or control over the media can be used to distort a fair democratic playing field. There are still elections in such competitive authoritarian regimes, but those in power start with an advantage that is difficult for the opposition to overcome.[8] Due to Hungary’s voting system, 53% of votes in the 2010 elections yielded a 2/3 majority in parliament.[9] All small advantages which can be gained from an unequal democratic playing field, even if they seem small, can amount to a much more comfortable position in such “winner takes all’-systems.

So, what can be done? Firstly, all European political families, starting with, but not limited to the EPP, should stop supporting political parties such as Fidesz that do not respect common European values. Consistent condemnation of political corruption and the decay of the rule of law must happen precisely when it takes place within such political families’ ranks. It is important to note that Fidesz explicitly tries to frame the current rule of law conditionality on the EU budget as a political attack by actors affiliated with Soros to force migrants onto Hungary. It is most definitely not, of course, but it remains important to not step into the frames and narratives of Orbán ‘s spin-doctors. Furthermore, the European Commission cannot wait any longer, but as guardian of the European treaties, it must use all the means at its disposal to stop the deterioration and decay of democracy and the rule of law. It has an extensive rule of law toolbox at its disposal, but the Hungarian-Polish threat of legislative deadlock has meant it has used it only very sparingly. It should also be the European member states themselves who should not turn a blind eye when illiberalism and deterioration of the rule of law take place in another EU Member State. Article 259 TFEU allows member states to bring other member states to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) if they fail to meet a treaty obligation and upholding the rule of law could be argued to be such an obligation. Supported by the Council, the Commission would feel strengthened to act and initiate additional actions against actors who seek to disturb democracy in Europe.

Next, strong rule of law conditionality linked to the EU budget is important to ensure that EU funds are not used to strengthen illiberal actors. Young people moving away because there are no economic opportunities for them, or that these opportunities are given away based on loyalty to the ruling party ensure that there is no-one left to fight for liberal democracy. The EU budget contains various instruments which can be mobilized to help young people who are especially economically vulnerable during a pandemic. However, we should not assume that this mechanism alone will fix all our problems. The recently announced rule of law mechanism agreed to in the budget talks is a good first step, but due to its long implementation time, it’s unsure whether it can prevent the elections in Hungary from being stolen in 2022. At the same time that negotiations on this mechanism succeeded, the Polish state-run oil company PKN Orlen bought up Polska press, the largest private media company currently under German control.[10] The Polish government obtaining ownership over previously independent media is a worrying sign in one of Europe’s largest member states and reminds us that a broad, comprehensive focus is required to uphold democracy in all EU member states. In the short-term, it is understandable that the Commission prefers to not endanger its policy agenda with going after rogue member states. However, it is precisely such member states gone rogue which are a big danger to a European Union founded on mutual respect for the rule of law. Furthermore, the European Parliament is also perfectly situated to represent the interest of the citizens of Europe and demand that level democratic playing fields are restored, both on a European level, but especially within illiberal member states themselves. The European Parliament should pay attention especially to the position and rights of Hungarian citizens, civil society and members of opposition parties as these are the primary actors in the fight for the rule of law in Hungary. It’s not surprising that Orbán downplays the Parliament’s role and hopes for an EU run through backroom deals at European Council meetings: it’s because he knows that this institution has the interest of the citizens of Europe at heart and not his own. Rule of law minded governments such as the Netherlands should actively seek to cooperate with the European Parliament to place its own interests in a broader European agenda to revitalize democracy across the EU and abroad. It must be recognized that the inaction of powerful western European member states such as Germany has allowed the political corruption and the decaying democracy we now see to fester: now it is time for these member states to fix the mess they allowed to take root. Lastly, the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice can force member states to adhere to the EU legal order of which the rule of law is a central part. It is unacceptable that there are still judgements of the ECJ left unenforced by certain illiberal member states. For example, the ECJ found that the Hungarian law on the prohibition of foreign funding for NGO’s did not comply with EU law, but the law is still in place since the judgement of 18 June (C-78/18). The unenforcement of such judgements cannot be tolerated, and should also have adverse financial consequences, such as fines or halting EU funds. Especially when it concerns civil society which is needed to act as a watch-dog on Orban’s abuses of power.

Ultimately, regimes such as that of Orbán know two main weaknesses. Firstly, they are heavily reliant on control over the media to influence the domestic population. A concentrated effort to increase the plurality of independent media can deal a heavy blow to the control that state capture regimes have. Secondly, the loyalty of the supporters of these regimes relies on the extent that the ruling party can provide them with material benefits and otherwise use their state powers for electoral gain: without access to government powers and funds, the support for Orbán  & co will diminish significantly. Instead of a narrow focus on the rule of law, it should never be forgotten that the purpose of these measures should be the creation of a level democratic playing field in which domestic actors can be sure of free and fair elections. 

Renewing trust in a union based on the rule of law

Stopping the democratic decline and the rise of illiberal Member States is of enormous importance for the EU’s survival as a union which defends liberal values worldwide. The fact that not all EU member states are certain of (deserving) an invitation to Biden’s world summit of democracies in 2021 should serve as a wake-up call for all EU leaders and politicians who until now seemingly took liberal democracy in all EU member states for granted. In an interview with Politico, Jake Sullivan, the upcoming National Security advisor for Joe Biden has said that the Biden administration plans to “to rally our allies to combat corruption and kleptocracy, and to hold systems of authoritarian capitalism accountable for greater transparency and participation in a rules-based system.”[11] To tackle such corruption and kleptocracy outside of the EU’s borders, we will need to fix the broken glass within the EU. Taking on the fight against corruption, kleptocracy and authoritarian regimes together with international partners such as the US will increase the EU’s potential to act more autonomously on the world stage in the long run. It’s no surprise that calls for “strategic autonomy” that seek to sever age-old transatlantic ties were welcomed in China: they would benefit from a divided EU-US alliance, which we should therefore strengthen instead.

The interdependence and interconnectedness of the EU means that countries within the EU will only flourish if the EU as a whole can flourish. That, in turn, is only possible as a union based on certain shared values: without independent institutions and the rule of law, the EU will not last as a union defending liberal values world-wide in the long run. Removing illiberal leaders can only be done at the ballot box, which is why the EU should not narrowly focus on the rule of law as a threat to the EU’s financial interests, but rather see the decline of the rule of law as a symptom of democracies in decay. Restoring level democratic playing fields in all EU member states is the only way to ensure that the EU won’t be kept hostage by autocratic elites who continue to cling to power. The next Hungarian elections will feature six opposition parties who have unified to tackle Orbán’s party: their success depends on how fair the conditions of the next elections in 2022 will be.[12] Even after (and if) illiberal and corrupt government heads are ousted from power, differences of opinion may persist about the common direction of external European policies. It will always take effort and diplomacy to get all countries looking in the same direction. However, standing firm in the world arena requires the foundation to be based on democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Allowing that foundation to be damaged through the rot of political corruption damages the EU’s capacity to project its values and interests abroad. Resolving the EU’s internal problems concerning illiberal democracies would enable the EU to regain its self-confidence and unity and ultimately re-engage in the upcoming global struggle to defend and uphold a multilateral rule-based global order based on democratic values.

This article was written by Maarten Lemstra, a graduate in European Governance from the universities of Konstanz and Utrecht. He is a former research assistant at the EU & Global Affairs unit of the Clingendael Institute and is currently a trainee at a Brussels policy advisory firm. His work focuses on EU external affairs, rule of law and democracy promotion.


Footnotes:

[1] L. Diamond. Hoover Institution ”Breaking Out Of The Democratic Slump. https://www.hoover.org/research/breaking-out-democratic-slump-1

[2]Art 2 TEU: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”

[3] https://www.globalpartysurvey.org/initial-findings

[4] https://europeanjournalists.org/blog/2019/12/03/new-report-hungary-dismantles-media-freedom-and-pluralism/

[5] Kelemen, R. Daniel (2020): The European Union’s authoritarian equilibrium. In Journal of European Public Policy 27 (3), pp. 481. DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2020.1712455.

[6] https://ecfr.eu/special/eucoalitionexplorer/

[7] M. Lemstra, (2020, September). ‘The destructive effects of state capture in the Western Balkans. EU enlargement undermined’, Clingendael Policy Brief, https://www.clingendael.org/sites/default/ files/2020-09/Policy_brief_Undermining_EU_ enlargement_Western_Balkans_September_2020. pdf.

[8]  Levitsky, Steven, and Lucan A. Way. 2010. Competitive Authoritarianism. Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[9] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/hungarys-franken-voting-system/

[10] https://www.euronews.com/2020/12/08/poland-fears-for-press-freedom-as-state-oil-refiner-buys-key-private-media-company

[11] https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/12/03/biden-kleptocrats-dirty-money-illicit-finance-crackdown/

[12] https://www.politico.eu/article/hungary-opposition-unites-in-bid-to-unseat-orban/

Legal certainty for new innovations: a framework for Blockchain

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Innovations in the field of blockchain are fast-paced and have the potential to transform the way we use the internet, digital services and organise our economic governance. Blockchain is mostly known for providing the basis for Bitcoin, it is in fact broader and more versatile. As a decentralised ledger technology (DLT), blockchain enables a network to reach agreement on, and permanently record information and transactions. Smart contracts are one of the ground-breaking uses of blockchain, which has the potential of removing third-party intermediaries and reducing transaction costs. Smart contracts facilitate the interaction of two parties based on whatever terms they have agreed on and put into code. However, as of now these smart contracts find themselves in EU legal limbo For its full potential to be harvested, the EU’s DSM (Digital Single Market) strategy needs to reinforce the legal certainty surrounding these smart-contracts. There therefore exists a clear need for a clear legal framework on smart contracts. With legal certainty, the EU can be a leader in smart contract technologies and the transaction cost reductions they bring with them. Without legal certainty, new ideas will not be pursued for fear of legal challenge, liability and uncertainty.

Why is legal certainty for blockchain and smart contracts specifically a matter of importance in the first place? First of all, legal certainty has been recognised as a key general principle of European Law guaranteeing that the law must be certain, clear and precise. It is also intrinsically important to the rule of law and the protection against arbitrary state power. Secondly, legal certainty helps markets properly function by reducing risk costs stemming from the uncertainty around legal outcomes. While having to obey the law might also impose some costs, the fact that legal certainty will help convince actors to engage in innovative activity outweighs these costs. Third of all, there exists the risk of legal fragmentation across national rather than European guidelines on smart contracts, hampering potential, if the EU fails to deliver on a standardised approach .

Two main problems stand out with regards to smart contracts: their legal enforceability and problems relating to jurisdiction. Blockchains do not recognise borders, but if the smart contract resembles a legally binding contract then it will still be bound by the law. Disputes can and will arise, for example from poorly drafted provisions or when the smart contract executes in a way not intended by one of the signatories. Which jurisdiction then becomes applicable? As of now the most important EU instrument dealing with international contracts is the Rome I regulation (593/2008). This regulation does not rely on the “place of formation or performance to determine the applicable law” but instead places high values on the choice of the draftees themselves and in absence of that of their habitual place of residence. As mentioned before, a smart contract does not necessarily have to be a legally binding agreement, which is why EU wide clarity on the formal requirements which smart contracts need to fulfil in order to be legally binding are so important. Lastly, we should not shy away from using the blockchain itself to help provide conflict resolution mechanisms which enhance the legal certainty in moments of dispute. Arbitral clauses with automatic enforcement mechanisms can help limit the circumstances in which intervention by law is necessary. Smart contracts and formal legal contracts can also be combined, for example where if smart contracts lead to obligations under private law, an additional document in language and not code could be registered on the blockchain as well. Such built-in dispute resolution mechanisms have large potential and R&D into mechanisms adding to the legal certainty of smart contracts should be supported.

The EU should not wait with providing legal clarity on the position of Blockchain and smart contracts. Blockchain and smart contracts are in a crucial state of development in which the rules governing these technologies are shaped rapidly. The EU could act as a norm setter on an international level, shaping whether these contracts will be used in the future based on EU acquis and values. By providing legal clarity on smart contracts on an EU level, national approaches are harmonised and contradictory legal frameworks are avoided. While the idea behind smart contracts and its potential for reducing transaction costs is appealing, much work is still to be done over the coming years to make this technology ready for mass-adoption. Fostering innovation of smart contracts requires an active approach on behalf of the Commission, providing legal certainty through an EU-wide and harmonised legal framework, unleashing the potential within properly managed smart(er) contracts.

This article is written by Maarten Lemstra, a second year master student in European Governance at the University of Utrecht

A European Inauguration?

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The sky was great, the air was cold. The first week-end of december did not stand out. The news was focused on the upcoming Nato Summit, Black Friday and COP19. However within European institutions this was less so. A flurry of activity was taking place. Juncker and his Commission were stepping down and a new one, under von der Leyen, was taking over. At the same time, former Belgian Prime minister Charles Michel, became Europes other president (of the European Council). While this change had been months in the making, it happened with relatively little fanfare. Tweets were posted, speeches were held, but very little of it was covered. I almost missed it myself. Most newspapers, if they mentioned it at all, mentioned it in passing. New proposals as well as the political intrigue in the European Council received some coverage, yet outside of dedicated EU newspapers coverage remained scarce.

A lot is said about the need to create a more European identity, that the European Commission and European policies should be closer to the common European citizens. At the same time most Europeans do not know the first thing about the European institutions. While many will know they have voted for them, few know the distinctions between Parliament, Council and Commission. The Commission being one of the most influential regulatory bodies in Europe, we would expect a certain amount of coverage of a change in leadership. Considering it influences almost every aspect of your life, food, medicine, cars, you name it, a healthy debate should be expected to keep it to account. Especially when so many newspapers criticise the EU for being undemocratic and unrepresentative of the European citizen. However it isn’t covered very well.  It reflects the indifference that many people have towards European politics. Many newspapers do not cover the event as there is little interests for their readers/viewers. Some countries, such as the Netherlands lack a healthy contingent of journalists covering European affairs. Little interest means little coverage, which means interest will remain low. Making sure that everyone is informed about a change of leadership in the Union is important. With little understanding of Union structures, people will find it difficult to relate. No less because data shows that when Europeans care about a topic and show this, that the commission is more likely to take these into consideration. One way of creating more awareness is to create an inauguration style day where there is a formal handover of power. A day not too dissimilar to the American one. 

The American inauguration is an eye catching event. People and media remain obsessed with it for days. It dominates the media headlines and generates great pomp. It creates, at least in part, awareness about the president. It is a strong message, a symbolic start to the presidency marking the start the first hundred days, a time during which presidents will announce many new policies. The hundred days also serve as a measuring stick against previous presidents, to see how successful they will be. Inauguration day is an important day in American political life. 

Former Commission President Juncker

While I am not advocating for anything as elaborate as the American day, I do believe in the need for a European equivalent. While European political tradition is a lot more humble, with inaugurations being the exception rather than the norm, doing it for the EU has many benefits. It creates a formal cycle that will be followed. It attracts the attention of the crowd, and will give newspapers something to write about. This will ensure that more people passively learn about the EU and thus create more awareness about the different institutions. It would also further create a platform to announce new policies. While already people are talking about the first hundred days of the Commission, it is worth thinking about spreading the message further than the circles in which it exists now. 

Such an event does not necessarily have to be a standalone thing nor does it have to be expensive. For example it could be merged with a European summit, making it more flamboyant and special. All European leaders would already be in attendance, which would create more fanfare. Equally, there is no need for large military parades,  or the closure of the entire city to accommodate the event. It does not even have to happen in Brussels every time and could rotate between different regions. The aim is to have a ceremony which attracts attention so that awareness about the functioning of Europe is spread. Giving the platform and the show however will attract journalists which will lead to coverage, and citizen involvement. 

Europe should develop its own day for the transfer of power as there are many benefits to having one. While it does not have to be as grand or as imposing as American inauguration day, there should at least be a visible sign of change. It can bring the Commission president closer to European citizens and send a stronger message than a change of colour of the huge banner hanging from the Berlaymont. A proper European inauguration event will create news to talk about and share, thus creating more awareness about European institutions and policy. 

Misha Stocker, master student European Governance in Utrecht

On Politicisation

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Why does the EU exist? What is the reasoning behind its continued existence? Why does everyone seem to just assume it is a good idea? These are all questions that a friend was asking me over a beer last week. He deplored the fact that this conversation was not taking place. That the idea that the EU is a good thing seems to be an accepted fact. While I disagree with the assumptions that he is making, I understand the feeling that it conveys. It also raises an important question: Politicisation in the EU. Far from being uncontested, I think that there is a vivid debate going on at the highest levels about the Future of the European Union. The obvious example is Brexit and nationalism. Whether the EU should continue to exist in its current form. However you also have a very existant debate within Pro-European parties or between countries. Within parties visions often mirror ethos on a national level. Social democratic parties want more social, and liberal parties like the economy (Simplifications I know). Countries also disagree about priorities and strategy. France and Germany have very different conceptions of how further Integration should happen, and what should be the focus of change. The ongoing negotiations about the next European long term budget shows this well. Different blocs have formed, pushing different agenda’s. However these differences in visions are not visible, or hidden. Some issues might be salient such as the reforms that Macron is trying to push forwards, but in many areas they are more ambiguous. It is what my friend was referring too. Unless you follow European affairs closely, many of these disagreements will be missed. Instead you will hear about the agreements that have been reached. It will thus seem that you always have an agreement on what happens next.

It is important to note that Europe is a system built on compromise. The EU can only exist if everyone gets a piece of the cake. If there were many losers, and countries felt that they were disadvantaged a lot, it would be disentivising them to remain member states. European policy making tries to compromise a lot in order to ensure that everyone gets what they want. It’s technocracy in many ways is what has allowed it to thrive. When Monnet created the system, the aim was to create an endless negotiation. By creating policy which everyone could agree with broadly, but where there were disagreements about details, the focus shifted away from competition and towards cooperation. While there might still be many disagreements about policy making, economics and various industries, at least they will be put to use in a productive way. This has resulted in a very technocratic and compromising system. As everyone wants certain things, compromises have to be made. Member States are also very aware of this. Permanent representation will try to create circumstances in which other member states can agree to legislation that favours them. Whether this is done through concessions, bartering or creating circumstances for other member states to drop their objections without losing face. The seeming agreement at the top of European politics exists thus not because everyone agrees about the Future of the EU, it’s functioning or out an elitist lack of interest. Rather it exists as it is the most sustainable way to keep the Union functioning and the best way to push your own agenda forwards. 

If you are not looking for them, you are likely to miss the European debates going on.They are less visible, and happen at different levels. While specific issues are very visible, such as the rise of populism and nationalism, these debates are also often anchored in national dialogue. Issues on which Europe has competence, also tend to be issues that affect citizens less directly. In the past this has been especially true, with the EU focusing on economic affairs which are either hard to grasp or only affect a section of the population. However I believe this is about to change. New European ideas are starting to flow through. It started with the Juncker Commission, but will surely continue with van der Leyen’s one. With big policies such as European defence capabilities and European Climate Change policy gaining in salience, a lot more visibility will be given to European issues, which in turn will also politicise them. Public interest and discourse will create more awareness about them, and thus make differences in positions clearer. 

The more politicisation the more EU responsiveness. However the less public support. LSE How politicisation facilitates responsiveness in the European Union

While to a certain extent this might be a good thing, it might also be a danger. When I was in Brussels last month with my master programme, an official told us that it was already harder to cooperate and to achieve  compromise. Increasing public salience about issues is important to create a sense of involvement and interest in European affairs, but it will also make compromise harder. As positions become less ambiguous, Member states will find it more difficult to abandon position they have. Concessions made will be clearer and will thus create more entrenchment. While this will likely only happen in high salient issues (I mean how much do you know about regulation of products, even in your own country?), these high salient issues are often important factor in opinion formation. Take the example of migration. Bad management thereof has soured public opinion about the EU at least in part. Migration, being a highly salient issue in many countries, is also one of the areas in which the EU has the most difficulties to find a compromise. While migration might be an extreme, it does show effect of positional entrenchment. This is turn will push the EU towards  a more winner/loser model which will he harder to accept for national governments and people alike. 

Politicisation of European policy is good, but it also has its problems. Increases in saliency provides for more dialogue and accountability. It also allows European citizens to be more involved in policy making. Yet it also result in policy making being harder. In a way this paradox shows one of the problems of further European integration. Until now, Integration has worked so well as it has been about negative integration (the taking away barriers to trade, and harmonising). Now that Europe is also thinking about ambitious new projects, that have high visibility with people, stronger opinions are going to become more widespread too, endangering the capacity of member states to work with each other. This is also reflected in research. While it shows that increases in politicisation has a lot of benefits, it comes with dangers. Europe thus has to find a proper balance between creating  more saliency and not alienating people and governments to the project. 

The benefits of increased European policy is that people will relate more to the policy. That you increase the capacity of citizens to feel as if they have influence. The danger is that it becomes harder to compromise. The answer would be to clarify the roles between the different European institutions and use them as best as possible. The European Parliament power in legislation should be strengthened while the Council is allowed to keep its ambiguity. The Parliament should come to represent the needs of the people while the Member States in the council look after their own national interest. A strong start for increasing politicisation of the Parliament is to give it the right of initiative in certain fields. Fields that are of importance to the citizens, but don’t threaten member states. For example regulation of products, agriculture, environmental policy, privacy, etc can become areas where Parliament can gain more initiative. This will allow it to react and interact to citizen actions. The right of petition can then also be entrenched in this system. It could also further be expanded by creating a system such as exists in the British House of Commons now. For example a system could be set up where the current right to petition is integrated together with a right to allow groups of citizens to request a debate in a specific committee. 

The aim should be to increase interaction between European citizens and the European parliament, and allow the latter to become proper representatives. With more access, it would create a strengthening of the debate in the European Parliament itself, which will be healthy for the discourse. If policies that are important to citizens are debated more openly, and that enough access exists, than Europe can benefit from the increased saliency. 

Conversely, the Council should remain ambiguous and less visible. While it will of course be expected that national governments represent the interests of their people, the council should strive to remain a forum of compromise. Ultimately all institutions will have to agree with one another, but the council should remain more hidden. For this reason, the European parliament should then also not receive the right of initiative in certain fields. Migration, fishing rights and international affairs comes to mind. These are policies where national governments can have a lot more difficulties compromising. An environment should be created in which citizen pressure on European affairs is pushed towards the European Parliament and not their own member states. 

Of course this is easier said than done. Ultimately when emotions and feelings run high, pressure groups  and activists will try and influence legislation through any means possible. By facilitating access to the European parliament, and giving them more influence over legislation, this can be mitigated to a certain degree. There will always be a competing interest, with people also being represented in National Parliaments. However by making the EP more political, interests of citizens will be better represented. More interaction with citizens is beneficial and a European dialogue on European issues is required. The Council meanwhile can protect national interest, maintain a strong degree of influence over issues that matter to member states and remain a bastion of compromise.

Misha Stocker, Master student in European governance in Utrecht Netherlands

Inclusion of National Parliaments in the EU Legislative Process.

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“I am proud of what we have achieved together with the national parliaments. The political dialogue both contributes to raising awareness on European issues in national parliaments and to give the Commission a better view of the national political landscapes. This brings Europe a step closer to its citizens.”

Commission President José Manuel Barroso, 2009

National parliaments have two main reasons to be involved in the EU legislative process. First, national legislators are the ones in charge of implementing EU directives in the national legal order. Second and most importantly, members of parliaments are supposed to represent their citizens. Involving national representatives in the decision-making at the EU level was, therefore, perceived as a possible solution against the democratic crisis of European Institutions. The more the EU was integrating, the more legislative powers were passed from the national to the EU level. Thus, national legislators were described as the “victims” of integration.

In the 2000’, the then president of the commission, Manuel Barroso, engaged himself to better involve national parliaments in the policy-making process at the European level. One of the most visible actions was in 2006 when he announced the creation of a substantive political dialogue. It gives the possibility for national parliaments to send opinions to the Commission on any documents produced by the institutions, especially on EU legislation drafts. The Political Dialogue impose on EU institutions to send any documents to national parliaments. Today, this process is simplified via the platform [find name again]. National chambers have the possibility to send opinions on any of those documents. Yet, the Commission has no obligation to consider those opinions. This process has no binding effect. 

Another important tool for involvement of National Parliaments in EU legislation is the Early Warning System. It was established in 2009 by the Lisbon treaty. Contrary to the political dialogue, the EWS is instituted in the EU treaties and have a legally binding effect. The early warning system is reserved to the control of subsidiarity. When national parliaments consider than the legislative proposal violate the subsidiarity principle. Those specific communications from national parliaments to the EU Commission concerning the control of the subsidiarity principle are named ‘reasoned opinion’. When a certain number of reasoned opinions are sent on a same legislation draft, the Commission has an obligation to give further justification about its draft or should modify it. Once the threshold is reached, it starts a procedure call “the yellow card”. So far 3 yellow cards have been launched since 2009. Yet none lead to the revision of the Commission proposal.

Nevertheless, these communications between national parliaments and the EU legislative process raised come questions. The first question concerns the substantive ability of national parliaments to influence EU legislation. None of the 3 “yellow cards’ procedures led to a modification of the EU legislative draft. Or at least the commission did not justify the modification of its draft on the basis of the subsidiarity principle. Some complained have raised from national parliaments on their effective power to control the use of the principle of subsidiarity. In fact the wording of the treaty explicitly mention “If reasoned opinions represent one third (one quarter in the area of freedom, security and justice) of the all the votes (each national Parliament shall have two votes), the draft must be reviewed. After such a review, the legislative initiator may decide to maintain, amend or withdraw the draft, but should motivate its decision.” (Article 7, Protocol 2 TEU). This last part of the article let the final decision to be in the hands of the EU legislators. The latest can freely decided to ignore the recommendation of the citizens representatives. This latest mention leads to the question : was the Early Warning System introduced as a make-up against the democratic deficit ? or was it meant to effectively involve national legislators, but avoiding a constant blockade by them ? was the Commission seen as more cooperative as it actually act now ? 

source : European Commission Annual Reports on Relations Between the European Commission and
National Parliament, from 2006 until 2017.

Secondly, the action of the national parliaments at the European level is not well known by its citizens. Those are not aware of the influence of EU policies in their national legal order, nor on the influence of national parliamentarians on EU legislation. This lack of awareness could come from a lack of communication between the parliaments and their mandators, or to the complexity of the policies involved. Yet, a better communication towards the citizens is essential. It would improve their understanding of the mechanisms at stake, and their understanding of the role of their deputies. They would, thus, be able to take these information into consideration during elections and have better representation of their opinion. It would also create an incentive for parliamentarians to get involved in the EU decision process, creating a better coordination between the citizens expectations and EU legislation. Therefore, what blocks the communication from national parliaments on their action in the EU decision-making process ? Finally, some parliaments are more involved in EU policies than others. National parliaments are making very different use of the political dialogue. Yearly, the 10 most active parliaments are sending 80% of all opinions. This unequal participation is rising an important question : are all EU citizens defend in the same manners ? If one day, these participation mechanisms become effective, will citizens of certain countries have more influence than others on the decision taken at the European level ? The reasons why some national parliaments get more involved than other stay today unclear. Some scholars argued than the level of contestation over EU integration, the level of division on the right-left scale, the level of integration of a country in a policy of the EU, or even the institutional capacity (budget, administration) of a parliaments had positive impact on their participation in the EU legislation-making process. Yet, what are the incentives to contribution rest confused. In a situation where a more substantial use of the political dialogue or the early warning system would be genuine, we need to insure the equal opportunity of all EU citizens in the influence of EU legislation.

By Mélanie Véron-Fougas – A 1st year Master student in European Governance at the Universities of Konstanz and Utrecht.


The tragedy of the individuals and data protection in Europe

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The number of stakeholders in the field of data analysis is limitless. Whether you’re a police officer wanting to know where the next crime is going to happen, or a bank employee estimating which persons are eligible to receive credit, obtaining data about individuals is key. Whether you’re a politician wanting to know where you voters are located or a scientist testing her hypotheses, without information you are nowhere.

This focus on data analyses and extraction in our current world is reflected in the economy.

In the European Union, the value of the data economy was around 300 billion in 2016, around 2% of the total EU GDP. This value is expected to increase to more than 700 billion in 2020. Furthermore, there are currently 255,000 data companies in the EU and 6.16 million people working in this area. Lastly, the graph below shows how important digital companies dealing in data have become in the world economy, in only ten years.

So if data is the new oil, and everybody wants it, how aware should an individual be in his or her digital life?

For the writer of this article, being aware of the scope of the use of data in the economy was not a daily exercise. Data protection and privacy are, at least in my ‘circle’ not highly or hotly debated topics. I remember one of the scarce discussions I had about the issue some years ago. My opponent argued that she didn’t care about how her data was used, governments or companies alike. One quote I remember, went along the lines of this: “they can have everything of me”. To some extent, I feel this is a belief which is not far from the status quo for most people. Maybe not as outspoken, but certainly in practice. When you use twitter / facebook / maps / linkedin / weather forecast / instagram / skype / youtube, how aware are you of your data-trail? When you’re searching on google whether there is gluten in something, how much do you care about who can see this data?

The thing is that it’s sometimes difficult to prove that this lack of personal concern is a problem. Why would it be? In the end, you decide whether to buy the Nikes which are offered to you on the internet for the fifth time, right? Furthermore, why would anybody be interested in your data?

Although these two questions are related, answering the last question (data = gold), is way easier compared to formulating a possible answer to the first question. This first question refers to more abstract issues, namely about the freedoms you have or, even more abstract, how you perceive your own freedoms. Is the data you put on the internet your property? How is it used? Who should protect it?

Red wall in certain European city, 2019

In May 2018, one of the most revolutionary regulations in history on data protection went into effect: the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Consisting of 99 articles, the GDPR includes numerous requirements for organizations wanting to provide services to European people. The right to be forgotten, the ‘cookie consent’ and the concept of privacy by design are all legally stemming from this regulation. Even though revolutionary, inside and outside of Europe, some critics think that the GDPR is not far-reaching enough, and that the influence of private lobbyists in the political process was too big. As I think European and lobbyist involvement in data protection is very interesting, in my next Europe Ahead article I want to dive deeper into these topics.

For now, I want to conclude with a recommendation for a film. In ‘Democracy: Im Rausch der Daten’ of 2015, David Bernet shows the process leading to the adoption of the GDPR. The film is impressive and insightful, as it shows how much patience was needed in creating the GDPR, both for the politicians in the European Parliament and the Commission. In one segment, a business lawyer describes how obtaining consent from people is one of the easiest thing to get on the internet. In my opinion, this can be called the tragedy of the individuals: personal data is not a shared resource which should be left unregulated.  

by Tim Draijer – A 2nd year Master student in European Governance at the University of Konstanz and Sciences Po Grenoble


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When institutions fail us, hope is on the street

We’ve finally returned after our summer break! As our little Europe Ahead cohort has spread out across Europe, today’s article addresses one of the prominent themes in Europe (and throughout the world) over the summer – climate action. On the 20th of September millions of people across the world joined together in the biggest climate protest in history to demand urgent action on climate change. The youth movement, started by Greta Thunberg, called for adults to join the protest. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s response was to announce a 50 billion euro package of new measures to curb carbon emissions and review progress towards reaching Europe’s 2030 climate goals. Although the EU is a leader in terms of climate action, the same responses cannot be found throughout all it’s member states.

Research focussed on Europeanisation has addressed the ways in which membership of the European Union has transformed political organisation within its member states. In 1994 Richard Ladrech provided the first definition of Europeanisation, suggesting that europeanisation is ‘an incremental process reorienting the direction and shape of politics to the degree that EC political and economic dynamics become part of the organisational logic of national logic of national politics and policy-making’. Literature on europeanisation has highlighted the discrepancies of compliance to EU law across member states and policy areas. Issues of compliance are particularly noticeable when looking at environmental policy. Reasons for these failures are varied, such as lack of administrative capacity or lower development. However, these reasons do not explain some state’s reputations as ‘fence-sitters’ when responding to EU environmental norms.

Ireland, unfortunately, is an example of a ‘fence-sitter’ member. Since accession to the EU in 1973, EU environmental law has no doubt had an important impact on domestic legislation, however, has not matched the speed in implementation or transposition of EU measures. Ireland’s first National Climate Change Strategy was published in 2000 and outlined a series of measures that would bring about the goal of Ireland’s emissions target under the EU Burden Sharing Agreement. Despite this, rapid economic growth in the early 2000s drove an increase in emissions up to 25%. Greenhouse emissions in Ireland have correlated strongly with changing economic tides, for example between 2008-2011 they declined by 15%. This connection, while important, is not particularly surprising. Most concerning is the indiscernible impact EU governance frameworks have had on policy development in Ireland. 

In light of these concerns, the Friday for Future protests across Europe, and other climate actions, are perhaps more important than EU influence in promoting domestic policy change. Ireland’s law and policy approach to climate change, like other European states, has proven resilient to pressure from the EU or from broader economic, social or political contexts. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on institutions like the EU (despite their best intentions) to tackle politically sensitive issues like climate change domestically.

By Niamh Saunders (Masters student at Universität Konstanz)

Politicization in the European Union: Politics is back in the EU?

Throughout its many years of development, the EU can be considered an elite driven project of bureaucrats slowly but surely regulating and harmonizing legislation. Politicization, defined as “an increase in polarization of opinions, interests, or values and the extent to which they are publicly advanced towards the process of policy formulation within the EU” was low and normal citizens didn’t care so much for what happened far away in Brussels. From the 1990s onwards politicization has increased and Marks and Hooghe (two EU scholars) have used the theoretical framework of post-functionalism to explain how the EU has moved from a “permissive consensus to constraining dissensus”. Put simply: the EU was not made into a political issue for most citizens of Europe at first which allowed it to integrate by stealth. They claim that the EU has recently been made into a political issue by domestic actors thus constraining further integration. Marks and Hooghe have a negative conception of politicization: a strategy used by populists to regain national sovereignty, a means of slowing down integration or even reverting it. But can politicization also be a good thing? Can it, as some claim (and hope) lead to a truly open and frank discussion of values, which is what politics is all about? Is it just what the EU needs to legitimize political choices in a Europe of winners and losers or will it enable right-wing eurosceptics to destroy the very European Union itself? These are some of the questions I seek to address in this essay with the help of various perspectives put forward by EU scholars in the past.

Risks and Opportunities

Thomas Risse, a professor at the Freie Universität Berlin, is very clear in his stance regarding politicization: he sees it as a necessary way to tackle the democratic deficit with which the EU is confronted. His view combines politicization with the advent of various European public spheres in which EU policies must be discussed. This does not mean that EU politics should be more intensely discussed only on an European level. Instead it means that politicization “must go above and beyond the domestic politics of the member states.” and create a truly interconnected public sphere. Greater polarization of opinions also leads to more attention being paid to the European Union which would also increase “the psychological existence of Europe in people’s minds and, hence, facilitate identification processes.” The media and political elites have an active role to frame the European level as one in which the solutions to transnational problems should be found, as public spheres are likely to remain purely national otherwise.

Politicization can also have negative consequences for the European Union: Eurosceptic parties could increase their divisive rhetoric, without pro-European forces being united enough to effectively counter those messages. Secondly, politicization could lead to gridlock in Brussels which depends on finding large majorities. This is a problem because the EU depends for a large part of its legitimacy on the legislative output it produces. Lastly, a more political European Commission could lose its position as neutral policy actor and increasingly give countries leeway where there should be none. However, the likelihood of politicization to only be limited to Eurosceptic parties is slim and politicization does not necessarily have to lead to gridlock. Frank Schimmelfennig, in an interview with Europe Ahead also pointed to the positive aspects of a more political Commission: “The political role basically means that the Commission president is elected by a majority of the European Parliament which means it will be more politically influenced by what the Parliament wants and will have to tailor its policy making agenda in the European Parliament.” 

Policy with Politics

A possible answer to the apparent decline in legitimacy of the European Union is found in political reform which aims at combining “policy with politics.” As Verdun noted, most of these proposals have as their aim to increase representative politics, mostly through increasing political competition in the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council. European democracy happens on multiple levels, and improvements on the European level alone will not suffice. Vivien Schmidt summarized the problem succinctly when she said that “while the EU makes policy without politics, given the marginalization of national partisan politics, its member states suffer from having politics without policy.” Whereas policy is increasingly being created on an European level, the democratic instruments have not sufficiently been created or empowered on a European level to represent the European demos/demoi.

Some academics like Simon Hix have repeatedly and forcefully argued for more politics within the European Union. The pareto-efficient, neo-functionalist policies which aimed at opening up the single market have transitioned into more redistributive policies with winners and losers. Such redistributive policies must be combined with actual European ideological political competition with winners and losers to legitimize them. More politics might be beneficial to the European polity and the power it has to “to overcome institutional gridlock, foster policy innovation, and increase accountability and legitimacy.”

The role of Farage

Could it be that anti-European populists like Farage also have their role to play in the coming of age of European democracy? I would argue that they represent the fears and anxieties of groups in Europe who have lost in the continuing market integration of the European Union. To completely ignore the opinion, fate and economic position of these people for whom the EU has not been a success story would be a mistake. It goes to the core of how a polity deals with disagreement, indeed “The essence of democratic politics is the very possibility of expressing disagreement.” Farage offers a safety valve to the discontent and grievance which has been building up (and has admittedly been cleverly mobilized by anti-EU parties) which could otherwise out itself in less democratic and more violent ways. 

If politicization is going to contribute to the democratic public spheres which public sphere theorists aim for, both sides would have to want to honestly engage in deliberation on the basis of arguments. Deliberative democracy can only work when consensus is aimed for, which is not the case of sceptic anti-EU parties who want to abolish the entire institution they are elected for. Whether parties truly engage in constructive deliberation also depends on whether the speakers accept one another “as equal and legitimate contributors to public discourse”. What we often see is that actors delegitimize what the other side is saying through stereotyping or other rhetorical devices.  Examples of such stereotyping may come in the form of anti-European parties like UKIP stereotyping EU bureaucrats as dictators, communists, oppressors and more. While such behaviour does increase the saliency of EU issues by generating media attention, it is not conducive to the creation of a political community. It is therefore important to make a differentiation in the kind of debate which is held about the EU in transnational public spheres: constructive and non-constructive forms. Debates about the EU in these public spheres could construct a “common sense of purpose and thus a community with which people can identify” but only when enough parties partaking in the discourse want it to be so. 

Deliberative democracy and politicization are linked in the sense that it is hoped that politicization and more conflict expressed in the public sphere would lead to a “transmission of grievances to an empowered space, therefore guaranteeing the decisiveness of deliberation.” The hope that deliberation through rational argumentation, in a setting which honestly is looking for consensus and agreement, can solve the very problem of disagreement in politics is a fantasy as it disregards the fact that people “cannot be abstracted from their position in social and political power relations, language, cultural or other group belongings.” Citizens are constituted by their positions in these interlinking webs of social significance and the thought that deliberation can solve conflict on the basis of that is absurd. It will be useful in the future to structure conflict into a form of public contestation which is productive, instead of antagonistic, but does not resort to the a-political, consensus and efficiency focussed strategies employed throughout the past in the EU. 

Conclusion

Politicization has many faces and whether or not it will turn out to be positive for European Integration also depends on its implementation. As Hix noted, “the politicization of the EU cannot be a mere and unproblematic reproduction of conflict lines at the national level.” Successful politicization within the European Union would then have to include a truly pan-European public sphere in which European Union institutions can frame and mobilize over transnational problems, instead of leaving problems up to the national level. When conflict is only structured nationally, “as in the case of national referenda over EU issues” this would lead to “the institutionalisation of disagreement (e.g. the granting of opt-outs) and the delegitimation of the EU”

If anything, recent crises have shown that there is nothing self-evident about the modern and enlightened vision many pro-EU supporters share. Instead of weakening the modernized and enlightened vision on the European Union, politicization and public contestation over the many political questions of our time could strengthen the European Union. If citizens are not given the capacity to know which office-holders are accountable for the “controversial issues at stake” then it might be that citizens are ”alienated from political participation, perhaps shifting to ‘ethno-nationalist’ confrontation.” To survive in a globally interconnected and interdependent world which has entered the digital era, the EU must find the strength to reforge its “Monnet method” of “Functional integration by stealth and depoliticized technocracy” into something which incorporates politics in a constructive manner and does justice to the democratic, liberal values which most people of the EU hold dear, a tough medicine which will be healthy for the future of the European polity in the end.

by Maarten Lemstra – A 1st year Master student in European Governance at the Universities of Konstanz and Utrecht.