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You and the EU, A Year in Review

by nanne Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 05:38:57 AM EST

Eager to shore up its relations with the public, the European Commission has launched a slick website boasting 10 achievements the European Union has made for you in 2007. The Commissioner for Communication, Margot Wallström, writes:

The EU is there for the citizens and its aim is to respond to their needs and concerns. In 2007, its 50th anniversary, the Union has again taken concrete actions leading to concrete results. These range from measures to combat climate change to providing the European consumer with a wider choice of goods and services at lower prices.

In 2006, when the Commission was still at a loss at what to do about the stranded Constitution, it launched a "citizen's agenda", which focused on "delivering results for Europe" through concrete policy drives. The focus on implementing policies that will benefit citizens in order to increase the popularity of the EU was deliberate, as the Communication (.pdf) testifies. The promotional website and folder on "Europe and you in 2007" have to be seen through this lens.

(Originally posted as 'EU Achievements for Its Citizens 2007' on the Atlantic Community and 'The State of the Citizen's European Union' on the Atlantic Review

Diary rescue by Migeru

Europe and You in 2007:

  • EU reform package agreed
  • Europe creates new jobs
  • EU leads fight against climate change
  • Passport-free travel extended
  • Eurotariff brings down mobile phone bills
  • Growing demand for EU election monitors
  • Energy suppliers compete on service and price
  • More choice and cheaper fares on flights to USA
  • The EU promotes healthier eating
  • Dominant companies cannot limit consumer choice

Reading eurosceptic blogger Richard North on "this naked propaganda", one wonders if the EU is even allowed to make policies that are designed to make it more popular. It seems logical that an institution that makes policies would try to make popular ones, if it seeks greater legitimacy. It also seems logical that it would have to communicate its achievements if it is relatively low on the radar.

That does not mean that we should be uncritical about the list...

The new Lisbon Treaty is the first achievement claimed. However, this is largely a gift the EU has given itself. It does provide some improvements for citizens, most notably, a citizen's initiative. The EU will get a clearer structure, which should make it easier for citizens to understand the EU. However, that improvement has been undercut by the secretive procedure for drafting the treaty, which is still being continued. Public debate of the treaty presents an excellent opportunity for learning, but that opportunity is being foregone.

The EU has led the way on climate change, but it still has to put real achievements behind its promises. So far only a few Member States have made headway to meet their targets for reducing climate pollution. However, over the course of 2007, the European Commission has been strict in setting limits for the next phase of emissions trading and has gotten all large Member States to play along. The outlook for 2008 is positive.

When the EU talks about 'you', you are mostly being thought of as a consumer. In most areas, the EU is working to protect you, which is good. Contrary to what Richard North thinks, the free market does not always bring you, the consumer, the best outcome. Rather, information asymmetries and limited choice lead to you getting creamed a lot. The EU's competition policy and its decision to limit roaming charges for mobile phone calls abroad help you out.

But it's not all positive on the consumer front. The 'open skies' agreement with the US is rather funny at a time when the EU is proposing to unilaterally apply emissions trading to international flights. The EU also is all too happy to give your passenger data to the US. Liberalisation of the electricity market will indeed increase consumer choice, but it will also lead to higher prices than nationalised electricity generation, in a market with high fossil fuel prices (.pdf). Oil just hit $100. Do you want to pay more so that you can have a choice?

That's a narrow perspective, granted. But aside of caring about your vitamin intake, the Commission does not go beyond it. There are no social achievements on its list and the social, personal and even intercultural side of an improvement like limits on roaming fees is not explained. Though that is rather simple to do: it's just easier to contact people.

Here's to a better list next December.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 14th, 2008 at 05:43:18 PM EST
Brilliant. I hadn't gotten around to requesting it and here it is!
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Jan 15th, 2008 at 02:21:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's your public participation right there!
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 15th, 2008 at 02:29:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep - what's striking is how insubstantial the list is - as it is the fruits of the combined efforts of 27 Member Governments, The European Parliament and the European Commission.  A fudged attempt to create a borderless zone for mobile phone tariffs is one of the top ten achievements for 2007?

The propaganda effort would have more credibility if it also mentioned the difficulties and challenges faced by the EU during the year, and the many, many non-events.

Was Kosovo mentioned? - No.  Was the reform Treaty actually ratified and implemented?  No.  So how has it actually changed the lives of most Europeans in 2007?  Ah - less need to carry your passport - but your better off if you do anyway.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for the EU.  But the report cARd for 2007 reads:  "Needs to try harder and do a lot better!"

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 14th, 2008 at 06:58:25 PM EST
Perhaps Frank Schnittger has a point about the year's achievements being insubstantial, and there remains much to accomplish to bring the EU into a semblance of a more sustainable future.  But from the perspective of a amurkan now six years here, i'd still rather be here for a hundred different reasons.

In fact, reason is the reason.  The debate here is more reasoned, on any issue one chooses.  That simple.  Don't get me wrong, i miss debating energy policy with a person who believes the universe is 6,423 years old, and i do find it sad that the EU sacrifices its military development in order to fund schools and health care and clean tech.  But you don't find the amurkan bureaucracy working to keep microsoft out of my pants.

I do have a fear, growing nastily in my febrile brain.  I just don't want January 2009's report on 2008 to state, "2008 was the year where T. Poodle Blair became the first EU President, bringing truth and dignity to  Europe's quest for world subordination.|

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Jan 15th, 2008 at 04:58:36 AM EST
Indeed. I hear Melanchton is working on a petition against Blair...
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 15th, 2008 at 06:42:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For me, the most positive point was the REACH directive. On different levels: it protects me, and it is really something only the EU can implement, the first but not of the last of its sort hopefully (stopping the run to the bottom by corporations playing smaller entities against each other); it was a democratic fight between parliament and executive...

It is not on the list.

Wasn't it in 2007?

La répartie est dans l'escalier. Elle revient de suite.

by lacordaire on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 02:47:31 PM EST
18th December 2006.

And I completely agree, it's a monumental piece of work. Both the product and the procedure. Its full implementation - starting this year - will be even more important.

This is a pet peeve of mine about music end of year lists! The January albums always get underrated, the late December albums always get left out. One reason why the record industry just stopped releasing records in December, focusing only on bringing out compilations. I guess.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 04:21:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree the list of what the EU has done directly for the citizen looks rather limited and uninspiring, but that is probably a result of the strict application of subsidiarity.

The EU really cannot with against the Eurosceptics in this case because if it tries to do too much close to the individual citizen they will say it is intruding in the competences of local government, and if it does too little it is accused of  being aloof and irrelevant.

I am more concerned about the bad things the EU did for us, such as agree to airline passenger data transfers to the US, refuse to prosecute the SWIFT data protection violation, stop pushing for visa-free travel to the US for all EU citizens, and so on.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 29th, 2008 at 05:35:07 AM EST
The EU -- well, parts of the Commission, notably, Margot Wallström's Communication department -- is operating on the assumption that it has to do things for the citizen and then explain them, as a way to gain greater legitimacy. It's not the biggest problem ever, but what you say makes me wonder if they aren't getting the EU wrong.

The bad things - of course. We have to push harder to get all Schengen states into the waiver agreement. Perhaps it would be better to let the waiver go alltogether, though I'd wait out the Bush administration first.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 29th, 2008 at 08:22:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, if the Communications Department doesn't get the EU we have a problem.

I think it is more likely that they don't understand the EU from the point of view of the citizens. That is, they are vaguely aware of an image or legitimacy problem, but they can't put themselves in the citizen's place. A case of "why do they hate us?"

A communication department that can come up with the name "Plan D" for their communication strategy is doomed.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jan 30th, 2008 at 04:48:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
cannot with against

cannot win against

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jan 30th, 2008 at 04:45:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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