A member of the European Parliament, German politician Silvana Koch-Mehrin would like to see a decentralized Europe that puts its citizens first, she writes in an exclusive essay for DW-WORLD.DE.
Koch-Mehrin believes in strength through diversity
Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a member of the European Parliament, belongs to Germany's free market liberal party, the FDP, and heads up its European Parliament group.
My vision of Europe includes lasting diversity. Herein lies its potential. Diversity has characterized Europe for centuries, and diversity feeds the common European identity. It is absurd to think that Europe will ever flourish if its roots are enforced equality and shared values dictated from above. A liberal Europe of the future is based on recognition of diversity, and it will continue to promote this principle. Business long ago realized that competition is healthier than monopolies, and the same principle applies to politics.
Decentralization encourages this competition, which needs to permeate every level of politics. Take competition among business locations. Competition allows citizens and companies to identify where to base the services their taxes help provide. If these are to be tied to a region or a country in the long-run, their hosts need to budget well and meet their responsibilities. Decentralization is a way to prevent governments from collecting extortionate taxes only in order to dole out subsidies and create mountains of debt.
According to my vision, Europe recognizes the challenges and opportunities afforded by the principle of subsidiarity.
Europe must be able to distinguish between areas in which standardized political structures make sense, and those in which a better alternative is freedom of choice exercised by EU member countries, bodies and citizens. There are plenty of opportunities to learn from mistakes -- such as the watered-down services directive, which saw the old EU countries' guardians of vested rights succeed in asserting protectionism over competition. Or the rise in advertising bans, which reflects a growing tendency to regulate from Brussels matters that do not requite state regulation. Or the anti-globalization fund, which grants "victims" of globalization European aid money. Hardly a positive approach to the many opportunities afforded by globalization.
Love is blind
A dyed-in-the-wool European
The Europe of the future is a citizens' Europe. Today, Europe is much closer to its citizens than they realize. But they still don't identify with it. An ambivalent situation. On the one hand Europe is showered with love, with the younger generation particularly keen to describe themselves as Europeans and actively contributing to its ever-evolving identity. On the other hand, this love can be blind -- because the EU, as it stands, is seen as out of touch with its citizens and mired in red tape. This ambivalence needs to be dealt with.
For there to be a citizens' Europe, its citizens need to identify with it. Transparency, reduced red tape, better law-making, legislation with time limits and an assessment of the follow-up costs of legislation are the least that we can expect.
How can these goals be reached? For example, by tackling one key aspect of the EU -- its financing. A reform would create a simpler, more transparent system. Special treatments and exemptions need to be done away with -- such as what's known as the "British discount." A customized EU tax should not be tolerated. So long as the EU remains a not-quite democracy, with decisions regarding the profit and loss accounting of taxpayers' money made in parliament, the EU should not be granted tax authority. The Europe of the future needs to pursue solid, people-oriented politics which allow the public to experience a common Europe first-hand. Only then will it be taking its first steps away from a technocracy and towards its citizens.
A two-speed Europe
Europe will continue to grow -- that much is clear. The Balkan countries, Turkey, countries in Eastern Europe --- they are all eyeing membership. Can the EU withstand this enlargement? There is a simple answer: Every country should become as European as it wishes. There is no doubt that we need to hold on to the basic principles of European success. But partners can only work together when they want to. A two-speed Europe should be openly welcomed, so that countries deeply committed to the European project do not end up dragged down by ones that are more hesitant and less committed. A two-speed Europe already exists when dealing with the euro and various other political issues, although few will admit it.
If some countries aren't interested, they don't have to be
This reflects the old idea of a core Europe of the committed. First, second and third class Europeans? That's not the point. A Europe of varying speeds would have many advantages. It would do greater justice to the individual countries' respective stages of development as well as their respective levels of commitment. It would be up to the individual countries to set their own pace. Every country can choose whether it wants to be an innovator or a straggler. The sole criterion for progress must remain a desire to propel Europe forward. Europe is neither old, nor old-fashioned. Europe is in its prime. However you look at it, Europe is a great success.