Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 3 October 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
Task Force Report on Subsidiarity, Proportionality and Doing Less More Efficiently: Discussion
I thank the witnesses for their very interesting contributions. I will follow up on some of the comments made by Senator Richmond. Subsidiarity is at the heart of it. The problem the European Union faces is that in its original form, namely, the European Coal and Steel Community, one had effectively a group of nations with a very similar background and socioeconomic situation that wanted to come together and that had structures in place in terms of their own parliamentary democracies to enable that to happen. They fashioned a Europe that really fitted with where they stood. We then got to the point where the European Union expanded following the end of the Cold War, where there was a very sustained expansion of the Union to try to consolidate the view of what would become Europe. The problem then was the combination of an economic recession and the way in which politics works. Everybody sat back and took their foot off the accelerator and a situation was allowed to develop where we now have within the European Union a wide, disparate group of countries, some of which have almost no interconnectivity at all, apart from the fact that they have membership of the European Union. Some of them view subsidiarity as a way to address that.
It is quite interesting. This report highlights that subsidiarity is most popular among regional and local administrations which, ironically, want to disentangle themselves from the federal state they are in so they can be more closely aligned to a super-federal state. That says a lot about the way in which they view subsidiarity or the way in which, in a longer-term situation, subsidiarity will become an issue for them.
In terms of the reform process, Europe needs to do two things. First, it needs to more clearly try to define and lock in what it is as an institution. Connectivity with the people is important but I think we sometimes get a big hung up on this. I lived for a period in the United States and most people in Albany, New York, cared most what happened in Albany and did not give a monkey's about what was happening in Washington D.C. because that is what directly impacts on their life. We have to be realistic. As long as the EU is a confederation of member states, most citizens are going to be more interested in what their national governments are doing in terms of what directly impacts on their lives. What Europe has missed a trick on is that because it has a problem defining what it is, it then has a problem selling what it is to the people of Europe. One of the greatest ironies of the whole Brexit situation is that it is only when a country's citizenry was facing down the barrel of the gun of losing what it means to be European that we saw a discussion on European issues and values taking place, and more discussion probably took place in the UK than in any of the other 27 member states.
I am very much in agreement with much of what Dr. Schön-Quinlivan stated. The heart of it, I believe, is that subsidiarity goes more towards the member state than the region. However, it has to be hinged off with regard to the definition of what is the future of Europe. The latter is the key question. This must be in terms not just of a Europe with benefits but a Europe that looks at this and says, "If you do go off the rails and you do decide to disavow the common value, there is a consequence." So far, we have been too scared to go down that route. The process that was launched in recent days will take so many years to complete that half of us sitting in this room will not even be alive to see the end of it. That is not a process for dealing with a problem within the European Union.