Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully

How much power for Brussels? Wie viel Macht für Brüssel? Article in "Die Presse" by Dr Melanie Sully

Dr Melanie Sully analyses the audits on the EU going on in the UK and Netherlands. The question of what competencies Brussels should have, has slipped into election campaigning in Austria  (in German with English summary). Article in "Die Presse", 26.8. 2014 "Wie viel Macht für Brüssel" by Dr Melanie Sully.


Too much power/how much power to Brussels?

Dr Melanie Sully, English version of article that appeared in “Die Presse”

Elections focus the minds of politicians on the voters, one of the great advantages of democracy. After Merkel intimated that EU competences could be looked at some Austrian politicians are asking the same.

It seems Camerons so-called “cherry picking” could become all the rage. The British Prime Minister has an eye on the European Parliament elections next year with fears that the rival UK Independence Party could make large gains. The closed list election system as practised in Britain means voters have no choice to favour single candidates on the Conservative list who may be anti-European. They accept the list in its entirety or not. This could mean eurosceptic conservatives voting for the UKIP which wants to leave the EU.

The Conservatives used to talk of “repatriating” powers from Brussels but now the party is in coalition with the Euro friendly Liberal Democrats and this language sounds too radical. For over a year the government has been carrying out what it now calls an “audit of the balance of competencies” between European and national levels. The process involves public consultations in all ministries and will take two years to complete. The aim is instead of an emotional assumption that the EU is the root of all evil, to find out in an objective way what has changed after major treaties. What competencies have shifted where and how are they working in practice. Member States were also invited to contribute to the expert opinions but only a few chose to do so. The first findings show that taxation is best handled at national level but consumer rights benefit from European cooperation. So far the exercise has not made the case for or against Europe but is designed to spread balanced information in the run up to the planned referendum in 2017.

A similar exercise is underway in the Netherlands where the government favours cooperation in Europe for issues such as energy, climate change and defence but opposes further harmonisation of social security systems. It also is against what it sees as the creeping competency policies of the Commission but is not considering a referendum as in Britain.The British government is opposed to an increased role of the European Parliament preferring to strengthen national institutions and national parliaments.
Whilst the rather elaborate Audit of balances may be a way of keeping critics busy, at least a serious exercise is underway to examine what exactly has shifted towards the EU after treaty changes and whether this is the best way forward. The submissions for the Audit are all published on the Internet and provide for the first time a review of how the EU has shaped different policy areas in the UK. Experts agree that to date not only people have not understood the way the EU works but also members of parliament have not been able to explain it to their voters. This information exercise serves to increase understanding and go beyond mere slogans. It could be something worth trying by other states in an effort to conduct an objective informed discussion about the Europe of the future.