Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Is a Social Europe What Citizens Want? (Original Posting 3rd July 2007)

Guess what? We do! This is a new topic under current discussion within the EU. After attending the latest Forum on Europe meeting in Dublin Castle last Thursday (28th June) I got to hear all about what we citizens of Europe want. Or that seems to be the initial findings of this intensive debate that went on with the citizens of the EU during the early months of this year.

All 27 member states convened a “National Consultation”, which took the form of focus groups, and a number of citizens from each state spent 2 days covering various areas of EU policy. Some 60 Irish citizens took part here and similar representative samples from each other member state.

Now, the transcripts of the speakers remarks were not available on the day (a first since I have been attending these meetings), but I was assured on the day that they would become available over the next few weeks. So I am waiting. But I still felt uneasy as I listened to what was said.

In general, the EU has tended not to get involved in social policy within the member states, instead that was left to the respective national governments. It would seem now that on the basis of these consultations the EU may be looking for a mandate to start playing a larger role in our lives. Forget the constant stream of health & safety regulations, the high levels of corruption in Brussels, the mountains of bureaucracy, etc., etc., etc...no Brussels might be getting involved in our family lives!

We have all seen the TV advert and heard the immortal lines... “This is going to be great!”

Come the end I found myself shaking my head and saying, NO, the citizens do not want an EU more involved in their lives by choice. It is more a case of citizens frustrated by the failings of their own national governments looking for other “service providers”. In fact, one of the speakers (Mr Gerrit Rauws, Director of the King Baudouin Foundation Belgium) pointed this out in his closing remarks. With any hope this voice of caution might curb Brussels enthusiasm to get involved in micro-managing our lives.

A better option, in my humble opinion, is for the EU to continue, maybe expand, it's role as being an ombudsman over the national governments. Giving the citizens a genuine fighting chance and delivering fair rulings. This way the EU will be able to become a source of hope for the citizen. By trying to step in and fix the problems national governments are unable (or unwilling) to fix they run the risk of either annoying the member states governments or disappointing the citizens by falling short or worse, failing on both counts.

Oh, in case you are wondering, a total of 1800 citizens were involved in the consultations, or approximately 0.000006% of EU citizens...so a while to go yet before it could be considered a serious mandate to move forward with...YET!

Having lost sight of our objectives we need to redouble our efforts” -Anon