By Vexen Crabtree 2007
|The Best Countries in Europe1|
|Pos.||Higher is better|
The table above is Europe-wide, not just EU-wide. For complete statistical analysis and comparison of European countries, see: Which are the Best Countries in Europe?.
The European Union is formed from a collection of treaties dating back to the European Economic Community founded in 1957. It has changed from an economic body designed to prevent war, into a wide and varied economic, social and political tool which encompasses nearly 500 million people2. "The EU is the world's biggest market, largest exporter, biggest aid donor and largest foreign investor"3. Here are some notes on this growing megalith.
The EU has no utmost declaration of rights (the constitution would have provided one), so the following is a mixture of legal precedents, EU membership requirements, treaty obligations along with some practical realities of European culture:
Political Values and Rights. These are largely in keeping with democracy worldwide, although the EU has particular focus on matters of equality and non-discrimination based on colour, beliefs, religion, sexuality and gender.
Free Speech. Including the freedom to criticize government agencies and officials. But not the freedom to incite others to violent action, to be publicly racist (it falls foul of criminal law), or to damage lives with unfounded slander (civil law).
Separation of the Powers. The judiciary, government, military, police, parliament and a second chamber of parliament (such as the House of Lords in the UK) are all kept separate, providing the 'checks and balances' recommended by Machiavelli.5
Social Security. Governments manage the economy and welfare systems so that everyone has a support mechanism. A practical form of liberal humanism, this protects people against life's setbacks and grants the social stability that much of Europe has experienced for the past 50 years.
Protection from Corporate Abuse. Industries and commerce are regulated in order to prevent large-scale labour abuse, price-fixing and other modern-day evils that have resulted from globalisation. See "Multinational Corporations Versus Democracy: The Fight Between Commercialism and Nation States" by Vexen Crabtree (2006).
Selective summary provided by BBC News (2001)6
There is no central document for Human Rights and Democratic Values in the EU. A constant series of cases in the 1970s and 1980s gradually built upon the idea that certain fundamental rights existed. The EU constitution was to enshrine these rights into a codified document, but has unfortunately been derailed.
“Unlike, for example, the German constitution, the Community Treaties contain no catalogue of basic rights. [...] It should be borne in mind, however, that the original objectives of the Community were nearly entirely contained in the economic sphere and that the Treaty provisions concerned economic matters only or matters directly related to them. Thus it was not thought necessary to include any reference to fundamental rights which were considered to be sufficiently guaranteed by the national laws of member states. However, it was soon seen that the interests of the Community spread so wide that it was not possible to disregard these rights.”
"European Union Law" by Margot Horspool (2003)
“The European Union and its Member States make significant efforts to promote, protect and preserve an open secular society with equal rights and opportunities. [... The] Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, must be respected. These values include respect for the uniqueness and freedom of the individual, equal opportunities for men and women (including the equal right of women to make individual choices in all walks of life) and equal treatment and non-discrimination on a number of grounds, including, for example, sexual orientation. Efforts to protect those principles may at times clash with the perceptions of certain individuals or faith groups.”
EU Monitoring Centre (2006)7
Various documents are pertinent in the discussion of values and rights. They include:
From the website of the European Commission:
It enshrines political rights such as freedom of speech and thought, the rule of law. "The charter covers some economic and social rights that are not contained in the Convention on Human Rights, such as the right to good administration and workers' social rights, including the right to strike. It also responds to the challenges of new technology by including articles on bioethics and the protection of personal data". It bans reproductive cloning. It makes clear the effects of judgements made by the European Court of Human Rights in the 50 years since the Convention of Human Rights. [BBC News (2001)6]
“First codified in the Maastricht Treaty of 1991, [it] represents the most authoritative and clear statement of the constitutive liberal values of the Western community: '1. The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States.'
In the preamble to the 1949 Statute of the Council of Europe, the founding governments reaffirmed 'their devotion to the spiritual and moral values which are the common heritage of their peoples and the true source of individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law, principles which form the basis of all genuine democracy'.”
Article 49 of the TEU specifically linked membership with these values. They are required to exist before a country can apply to join the EU, and in this way the European Community has acted as a powerful liberaliser of the entire European continent.
“These principles were reaffirmed in the so-called Copenhagen criteria of enlargement agreed at the European council of June 1993, which requires of prospective members the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities and 'the existence of a functioning market economy'.”
There are also less important values which are more akin to good manners.
Neighbourliness. Western European countries consolidated a European community as a means to end the bitter conflicts associated with war and to forge a European identity. There is now "a sense that it is un-European (not to mention uncouth) to bear historical grudges"10. To be a member of the EU, is to grow up into the European family. It is not right to avoid co-operation merely because you don't like your neighbours.
18 countries in the European Union have endorsed the constitutional treaty, four more stand ready to do so11. It has nonetheless been stopped in its tracks by the other five countries: two of them rejected it in public referendums, and Britain, Czech rep. and Poland have halted proceedings in the face of (probably correctly) perceived public opposition.
The constitution is not the threat to national power that some fear. It institutionalizes a strong role for national parliaments, shrinks the size of the European Commission, and does not transfer any power, as a whole, to Brussels11. The entire constitution is largely a compendium of already-existing treaties. It would bring simplicity and increased transparency to the structure of the EU. There are intermittent signs and calls by various politicians for parts (or all) of it to be saved, but, until a way is found that is democratic and doesn't ignore public opposition, it is unlikely to bear much fruit.
#austria #belgium #bulgaria #cyprus #czech_republic #denmark #estonia #finland #france #germany #greece #hungary #iceland #ireland #italy #latvia #lithuania #luxembourg #malta #netherlands #norway #poland #portugal #romania #slovakia #slovenia #spain #sweden #switzerland #turkey #UK
Who is in the EU? Who has adopted the Euro? Who is in NATO? Who is in the passport-free zone?
Public opposition to the Constitution and what some call "enlargement fatigue" have led many to doubt the dream of an ever-closer union achieved through giant steps such as the Constitution. Instead a new Europe of varied and multiple accords is emerging, where countries sign up to parts of the whole as it suits them. Some countries clearly want more integration than others.
“In fact this is already happening. All [EU] members must participate in the single market, with its four freedoms of movement (of goods, services, labour and capital). Most of them are also members of NATO, but some are not; only 13 of the present 27 are in the euro; a different but overlapping 12 are in the Schengen passport-free travel zone, with the addition of three non-members; and just seven have signed the Prüm treaty governing the exchange of information among police forces. [...] New, often poor members are invited on the basis that they do not take part in all EU activities right from the start: they are usually given long transition periods before benefiting in full from the union's four freedoms.”
The faltered constitution project may have been too big of a step; the multi-speed approach is a much surer path towards the future.
In the 1980s and 1990s, "Helmut Kohl, Germany's chancellor, talked in unabashed terms about a United States of Europe"13 and the Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, wrote a booklet in 2005 by the same title. Such a unison is not on the horizon. I feel that the EU is best served by remaining a series of overlapping intergovernmental treaties as I have said above, but Luxembourg's prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, still thinks almost all EU projects should be seen as preparations for political union13.
“Talk of 'core Europe', and various other slogans advanced by, amongst others, Jacques Delors and Valéry Giscard d'Estang, is almost as old as the institutions of Europe.”
In "What's Wrong with the World?" by G. K. Chesterton (1900), the makes the trite point that "they will often tell you (in their praises of the coming age) that we are moving on towards a United States of Europe. But they carefully omit to tell you that we are moving away from a United States of Europe", and he points out that in classical times, Europe was united under the Roman Empire15. But his play of words is pretty shallow, given that such a union was a military dictatorship imposed from without, whereas the United States of Europe being discussed in this century is a democratic partnership, embraced from within, and that Europe over such a long timescale hasn't progressed from union to fragmentation; it has sometimes veered towards togetherness, and sometimes veered towards fracture. The status of the European Union continues to go through the same warbles.
Ideas of European unity are not new; they are more than a few generations old. In 1914, for example, Rudolf Kjellén promoted the idea of a European federation16, led by Germany as the most powerful industrial and commercial powerbase in Europe. In the nineteenth century most those who called for European unity (especially of the military and political kind) had in mind the fearsome threat of Russian dominance over Europe17. But such ideas were once actively promoted by Russia itself and it was Alexander I in the early nineteenth century who first pushed for the conservative states of Europe to defend each other against political upheaval. Instead, what emerged was a Europe criss-crossed by accords, deals and treaties: with sets of alliances overlapping and competing.
“Alexander's grandiose schemes [...] had been seriously checked in 1815. The same fate awaited his suggestion in October 1818 of a 'general alliance' which should be open to all states and become the basis of a system of collective guarantee of the status quo by the contracting powers. [...] Nevertheless Alexander's idealism, however impractical, struck a chord which reverberated widely in the Europe of the years after the Napoleonic catastrophe. [...] In intellectual circles, perhaps even in ruling ones, agreement on the need to make Europe more united and endow it with some form of political organization, however rudimentary, was now for the first time a factor of some practical significance. In Germany the Catholic mystic Baader advocated a federation of the European states based on the Christianity which they all professed. In France Bergasse suggested the more limited expedient of a permanent alliance of sovereigns, while Saint-Simon sketched the plan of a great European society, democratic and parliamentary, of which the nucleus was to be formed by an alliance between France and Britain.”
Apart from Alexander in the early 19th century, Giuseppe Mazzini later floated ideas in 1871 that sound much like a prototype of the European Union; once countries developed into free states, he prophesized, they would unite into some form of association19. In 1882 the French philosopher Ernest Renan wrote: "The nations are not something eternal. They had their beginnings and they will end. A European confederation will very probably replace them"20.
But all these previous ideas based on political unity, alliances of leading families, and military alliances; failed to create stability or failed to get started as serious movements at all. Europe was then the center of the two world wars, before eventually an economic community united Europe and ended the conflicts.
The EU was born in crises, as a result of the crises of WWII and of a long series of regular European wars. Every decade since then has seen prominent politicians pronounce that the EU is now facing "it's most serious crises yet". The Suez Crises (1956) and the 'crises' that resulted from the French National Assembly's rejection of the proposed European Defence Community in 1954 both resemble the combined Middle East 'crises' and the 'crises' of the Dutch and French rejection of the Constitution.
Following on from these two founding crises were a series of doom-laden prophesies from academics and professionals of every calibre.
“By 1980 some academics warned about the possible disintegration of the EEC and even leading members of EC institutions openly spoke of the dismal state that Europe was in. At the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Rome Treaty, in 1982, the president of the European Parliament compared the Community to a 'feeble cardiac patient whose condition is so poor that he cannot even be disturbed by a birthday party' (Lagerfeld 1990)”
"Origins and Evolution of the European Union" by Desmond Dinan (2006)21
After that dismal diatribe, the pronouncements continued throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. "Jacques Delors, who was president of the European Commission from 1985 to 1994, says that the present "crises" is the worst in the project's history"22. And again in 2005 Jeane-Claude Juncker, prime minister of Luxembourg, which then held the EU presidency, said "the EU is not in crises: it is in deep crisis"22. The EU is always in crises, just like crime is always getting worse, immigrants more dastardly, the weather deteriorating and employment evaporating.
There is something psychological about the need to give column-inches to the dramatic. The present crisis is based on a global depression and the comprehensive failure of some of the economies of European countries. There is genuine worry: there is always genuine worry. However valid and mighty the present problems are, all previous crises - similarly declared to be morbid injuries - have not yet resulted in any major demolition of the European project. It is not over until the fat lady sings!
It is very common for us to allow our egos to convince us that now, around us, are unfolding changes which are more important than those of any other time. We think that we are witness to the ultimate decline of Human society and that brooding and significant upset awaits on the horizon. People's own areas of interest are always the highlight of the crises of the present time - for example the children's worker and chaplain Johann Christoph Arnold in "Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World" says that "Teaching has probably never been as difficult as it is now. [...] We live in difficult times and many people have lost their joy in life. [We witness many] gloomy statistics and dire warnings for the future of our society and its children"23. It seems to be a universal, negative human apprehension that we think we have noticed this coming catastrophe even while many others carry on regardless.
“[The] media emphasizes the negative and pessimistic side of events and therefore creates perceptual crises of faith where no real crises exists.”
"Global Trends 2005" by Michael J. Mazarr24
These feelings of the importance and foreboding of present events are shared by professional sociologists and analysts, who in addition to the typical Human desire to be at the centre of events, also have professional interest in highlighting the perils of the present time, and hence the relevance of their own skills, warnings and teachings. For example Alvin Toffler, an "influential political and cultural theorist... saw the 1980s and 1990s as a period of immense and cataclysmic change"25. A few decades before him, historian and public intellectual Gerald Heard also thought the same of his own time. He wrote:
“No one can look at civilization to-day without the liveliest concern. That is a truism - a truism so painfully obvious that we have ceased to be able to respond to it. We turn impatiently away - away to our pleasures or our preoccupations, our amusements or our causes.”
Such motivations, normally subconscious, have afflicted public intellectuals for as long as recorded history. The ancient Dao De Jing is traditionally said to be authored by Lao Zi. He was convinced that civilisation itself was a mistake, which had diverted people from the Dao (true way) and people had become unethical as a result. "Laozi looked back to a Golden Age of agrarian simplicity, when people lived in small villages with no technology, no art or culture, and no war". The solution to the problems of Lao Zi's time was, he argued, to abandon the goal-directed ethos of civilisation, and therefore find The Way, and rediscover how things ought to be. Needless to say, not many sociologists have gone that far in their warnings against modern society.27
Most modern democracies have become so gray and functional that they do not inspire the population to actively like or dislike them. People always complain, but, when it comes to action it is rare that the machinations of central government are interesting enough to interfere with. This could be highly positive, if democracy did not require the interaction of the masses.
“Democracy requires the informed consent of the governed, and will not last if voters can't be bothered. Europe's leaders also fret that apathy is anti-European. Popular indifference, they fear, leaves the European Union's institutions vulnerable to the gusts of popular indignation. Their worry is understandable. The polling evidence, for what it is worth, shows that people who say they know a lot about the EU tend to support it. Those who know nothing and care less tend to be Eurosceptics. [...]
Voter turnout has fallen in every election to the European Parliament since the institution was created. In the most recent one, in 2004, it slumped below 50% - a lower rate than India's parliamentary polls.”
But some see that this comes and goes. Prof. Margot Horspool in her law book on the EU, states:
“Ever since the European Community's beginnings, periods of enthusiasm and frantic activity have alternated with periods of 'coasting' or even sometimes virtual stagnation. After the initial thrust in the years after 1957, disillusionment set in, together with a growth in awareness of national identity and importance. In part, this was because the initial primary aim of the Community, the prevention of war between the partners, appeared to have been achieved.”
"European Union Law" by Margot Horspool (2003)29
Now that stability has been achieved the growing generations of its populace no longer have a common cause with which to unite behind. Not only that, but the EU has become a scapegoat. Governments blame (their own) European treaties for the restrictions they feel on themselves, and the populace (knowing even less about the EU than they do about their own governments) are taken in by sensationalist claims in the news. Government failure to educate people about the realities of the Union have led to the populace responding to outspoken and dramatic Eurosceptics. Such government failure to educate was apparent in the referendums for the Constitution held in France and the Netherlands. The latter did not campaign at all, and President Chirac sent copies of the entire constitution, written as it is in monstrous legal-speak, to all French voters22.
Jacques Delors who we have already heard from above (president of the European Commission from 1985 to 1994), says that "there is no dream, no vision that strikes a chord with today's European citizens in the way that reconcilement and an end to war did 50 years ago. Most of today's leaders, he complains, devote their time to attacking Brussels and all its works, not to spreading the word about the EU's achievements"22.
“With an ageing society and relatively low fertility rates, many commentators believe that economic immigration will be necessary for the European Union to overcome labour shortages in the coming years.”
Countries in the EU such as Britain, Sweden and Eire, that have opened their borders fully to EU's new members such as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, have benefited from it more than others. History has shown that a liberalised work force and reduced barriers against employment benefit economies and stability in the long term. This means that the more barriers there are to people from one country freely finding employment in a neighbouring country, the worse off the whole region is over time.
Europe as a whole requires net immigration in order to maintain its industries, pensions and social structure. This is because the population increase has slowed and many countries would be seeing population declines if not for their open borders. The result is an ageing native population whose pensions are paid by newcomers. The fertility rate required to maintain the present population is 2.1 children.
“The fertility rate in the EU is 1.47 - well below replacement. By 2010, deaths there are expected to start outnumbering births, so from that point immigration will account for more than all its growth. [...] The fertility rate in Italy and Spain is 1.28, which, without immigration, would cause the number of Spaniards and Italians to halve in 42 years.”
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland are all in the Schengen passport-free travel zone, making internal travel easy and practical. Few remaining borders are prison-like, but it is still inefficient to maintain internal borders when there could be merely one EU outline. If every country pooled its border police and the external borders of the EU were staffed multilaterally, everyone would gain from both increased efficiency and a larger overall measure of security from the outside (non-European) world. National states would still employ local forces for local enforcement and policing of immigration law (and for training), and as a quick reaction force for immigration-related crime within the national border. But overall passport and refugee management staff should be European and collective.
The present system is failing, especially in the new enlarged Union. For example, Fontex is attempting to shore up contributions from EU members to police Malta's southern (watery) borders, a project known as Operation Nautilis II, against illegal immigration from North Africa, especially from Libya. But even this limited, specific weakspot is not given appropriate attention. Even nearby countries such as Italy do not contribute.32. The EU's new members struggle to cope. Prof. Monar elaborates on the reasons why the new entrants, now defining the Union's Eastern border, undermine EU immigration policy. Problems include under-manning; in both Hungary and Poland actual staff numbers of border guards in 2001 fell around 30% short, and Slovenia in 2002 had only appointed about half those it promised in its Schengen Action Plan33.
“For some Member States (especially current frontline Schengen countries like Austria, Germany and Italy) ensuring a high degree of border security through sophisticated and extensive checks is clearly a central objective in the JHA area. The Union's new Eastern European Members States are not likely to share this approach fully. [... It] entails major costs in form of a disruption of relations with ethnic minorities on the other side of the border, political relations with neighbouring countries and well-established cross-border trade.”
Prof. Jörg Monar (2004)33
The establishment of a strong Union Border force would eradicate such nationalistic interests and national manning problems, and allow for an effective common European foreign policy on immigration and asylum seekers, meaning that one countries' half-hearted porous border does not undermine its neighbour's expensive and strong border. The European bloc as a whole could reaction to sudden increases in migration over particular borders, rather than such surges overwhelming a countries' individual border guard. It would no longer become a disadvantage to be an 'edge' country and being forced to foot an unfair percentage of a European border. With a combined force, all countries would contribute fair quantities of staff and equipment to a joint effort.
It is a Governments' job to protect people against forces beyond their control, so, legislating on working conditions is appropriate. But political interference in normal market forces isn't democratic. It is light totalitarianism. One way in which politicians control and skew market forces is by setting corporate tax rates. The standardisation of corporate tax over multiple countries has many benefits. "European politicians began puzzling over tax harmonisation in 1962"34:
“Now European Union plans for a common tax base have begun to gain pace and may even take wing, in spite of several countries' efforts to stop them. On May 2nd the European Commission gave an upbeat report on its progress towards legislation on a common consolidated corporate tax base. László Kocács, the EU's tax commissioner, said a proposal would be ready in the first half of 2008 and tentatively suggested that a common base could be in place some time "after 2010". Under the commission's rough plans, companies would adopt a tax base for their EU-wide activities, rather than face a tangle of 27 different regimes. [...] Many of the details, such as the delicate issue of how to split revenues between countries, are still to be hammered out. But one red line has been drawn: national exchequers will continue to set their own rates.”
The benefits are numerous. (1) Companies would simply "adopt a tax base for their EU-wide activities, rather than face a tangle of 27 different regimes"34. This would massively decrease the accounting costs for multinational companies. Accounting is one of those non-productive expenses that wastes money. With standardized rates, overall efficiency will increase. (2) Politicians would have one less tool to artificially manipulate markets. (3) European companies would be more competitive globally as overheads decreased. (4) The single-market would benefit34. (5) Less overheads means lower prices for consumers.
But implementing this is difficult as Governments such as Irelands' will not want to lose a tool they use (low corporate tax) to attract business. General centralisation-phobia will also impede progress. Here comes another useful application of a potential multispeed Europe approach: "A core group could advance" and standardize rates. This would grant fractions of the benefits listed above and prove the principle. But, countries such as Ireland would temporarily have an even bigger advantage, so, there is an argument that all 27 EU countries should be compelled to proceed together. In either case, the benefits of corporate tax normalisation are clear: the toes that are stepped on are only the ones who were politically manipulating the market.
Further reading about Europe in general: Which are the Best Countries in Europe?
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
#austria #belgium #bulgaria #christianity #cyprus #czech_republic #democracy #denmark #economics #estonia #EU #europe #finland #france #germany #greece #hungary #iceland #ireland #italy #latvia #libya #lithuania #luxembourg #malta #multinationals #netherlands #norway #poland #politics #portugal #romania #russia #slovakia #slovenia #spain #sweden #switzerland #turkey #UK
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..
Anderson, M S
(1985) The Ascendancy of Europe 1815-1914. Paperback book. 2nd edition. Published by Pearson Education Limited, Essex, UK. Anderson is Professor Emeritus of International History in the University of London and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
(2005) A Short History of Myth: Volume 1-4. 2008 Kindle edition. First published in Great Britain in 2005 by Canongate Books Ltd.
Arnold, Johann Christoph
(2014) Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World. Paperback book. Published by Plough Publishing House, New York, USA. This book is "based on Arnold's acclaimed book Endangered: Your Child in a Hostile World (2000)". Book Review.
(2001) Literature, Politics and Intellectual Crises in Britain Today. Published by Palgrave.
Chesterton, G.K.. Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936).
(1900) What's Wrong with the World?. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition.
(2013) "Legislation and Faith: Religious Rights and Religious Wrongs" (2013). Accessed 2017 Dec 30.
(2006) Origins and Evolution of the European Union. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
(2003) European Union Law. 3rd edition. Published by Lexis Nexis, UK. Margot Horspool is professor of European and Comparative Law at the University of Surrey; Fellow of the Centre for the Law of the European Union, University College London and professor at the College of Europe.
(1990) in 'Europhoria', Wilson Quarterly, 14:57-67. Via Dinan (2006).
Mazarr, Michael J
Global Trends 2005. Paperback book. Published by Palgrave Books.
"The Spirit of the Laws" (1748) Anne M. Cohler, Basia Carolyn Miller and Harold Samuel Stone trans. and ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), Bk. 20, ch. 2. Via Loughlin (2000) p230.
(2009) The Invention of the Jewish People. Hardback book. English edition. Originally published 2008 as Matai ve'ekh humtza ha'am hayehudi?. Current version published by Verso, London, UK.