It is said that the EU plans to make their citizens stop thinking in terms of their national identity, to evolve into thinking of themselves as Europeans. If this is truly the plan, then the Union must brace itself for much resistance, for the majority of Europeans do not trust the EU Project to begin with, let alone be ready to forgo their identity.
67% EU citizens believe they are powerless at EU level, even though, in theory, this may not be entirely true since:
- They elect their Prime Minister, and therefore their national ministers; who are components of the European Council and the Council of the European Union, respectively (the European Council then proposes commissioners to make up the European Commission).
- They elect the Members of the European Parliament who elect the President of the European Commission.
The above basically means that citizens directly pick elements responsible for:
a) legislating and approving the EU budget - i.e. the European Parliament & the Council of the European Union share these powers in what is called the Ordinary Legislative Procedure and the Budgetary Procedure.
b) setting the EU's political agenda and coordinating the foreign policy of EU's member states - i.e. the European Council.
c) influencing the composition of the EU Commission that detains the quasi-monopoly of legislative authority - i.e. the only institution that can initiate laws.
Most citizens believe Brussels has hijacked their country's sovereignty; but this is said to be a misconception because the Treaty of Lisbon determined that the EU's powers were to be regulated by a set of principles:
- Principle of conferral: all EU's competences are voluntarily conferred on it by member states.
- Principle of proportionality: it dictates that an EU act must be "suitable and necessary to achieve its declared goal".
- Principle of subsidiarity: in areas of shared competences, the EU may only intervene if able to act more effectively than member states. This principle is controlled by national parliaments, in what is called the subsidiary check.
The above standards further limit EU actions through three basic competences:
- Exclusive competence: member states can only legislate after EU permission
- Shared competences: member states can legislate until the Union decides a law
- Supportive competences: the Union only coordinates and adopts supportive legal acts
Although, in principle, there is little margin for the EU to kidnap the sovereignty of member states, Europeans still don't trust the European Union and, quite frankly, we can't say they are entirely wrong because – by looking at the EU structure and principles – we have to ask if in the present moulds, the EU isn't a redundant institution (performing tasks that national parliaments and ministries can perfectly do).
Citizens Remain Distrustful
EU citizens continue to have doubts about the EU, which can be explained by the European Paradox: despite beneficial policies (e.g. the free movement of people, goods, and services - the most popular measure, with 56% rate of approval) the EU popularity remains low. Shouldn't the most popular measure be an indication of how Europeans see Europe and how they want it to function? Economic integration is viewed favourably but when we step into the uniformity of Europe (one law-policy-culture-language fits all) that's when problems arise.
The resistance to Pan-Europeanism is so great that European citizens, in general, correlate national politics with the EU (because the EU elections are often used as national mid-term elections); therefore, if their country's economy is bad, if the rate of illegal immigration is high, they will automatically think the EU has had some influence in that outcome. Resisting the EU Project is a sign that national identity still matters and always will.
What could be done to overturn the Europeans' turn-off?
Reform the Union. Make it simpler and more effective, as suggested by President Hollande in 2014; meaning that the EU should go back to the original spirit of its Founding Fathers:
"The mission of the European Coal and Steel Community is to contribute to economic expansion, the development of employment and the improvement of the standard of living in the participating countries through the institution, in harmony with the general economy of the member States, of a common market as defined in Article 4" (Article 2 of Treaty of Paris, 1951)
People want less Europe. Citizens tend to associate their national politics with the EU (often accusing it of being responsible for their country's woes, despite the limitations of powers the union actually possesses, in theory); notwithstanding, we have to admit that today's EU has gone beyond the original plan laid out by the Founding Fathers (Jean Monnet, for example, envisioned a simpler and technocrat mechanism for Europe), so if the EU would scale back its competences perhaps citizens would feel less threatened by the project.
Until serious reforms are carried out, Europeans will always ask themselves “Who can trust the European Union?” and instead of making use of the European Citizen Initiative to participate directly in the development of EU policies, they will use its model to soon start working against the union.