September 30, 2014
#FOREIGNAFFAIRSMonday, June 9, 2014
Bring in the Eurocrats
For The Herald
They do not have good press. And probably never did. There are more than 33,000 of them and each year they get paid an aggregate of 4,200 million euros. Their job is to manage a wide range of issues including environment, trade, human rights and several etceteras. In fact, their decisions deal with matters affecting the daily life of 503 million people living in 27 countries spread across an area of over four million square kilometres. Moreover, they manage the single currency used in 17 of those countries. They come from all over Europe and most of them live in Brussels. Ladies and gentlemen: meet the Eurocrats. They are the political bosses of the European Union and the civil servants working for them.
Eurosceptics complain that the nosy Eurocrats get their fingers into anything and everything from air traffic liberalization, to passenger rights or roaming charges. Europhiles praise them for exactly the same reason. But this multi-target social, political and economic build-up has very humble origins. The first brick of this wall was placed in 1951 with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community which included six states: Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy and Luxembourg. Beyond economics, the main objective of that intial supranational organization was, in France’s Robert Schuman’s words to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.”
Then came the other bricks, the European Economic Community in 1957 and the European Union in 1991. The successive steps were accompanied with the inclusion of new members and, of course, a dramatic increase in the Union’s supranational element. So much so, that 17 members were ready — by joining the Euro — to resign one of the pillars of sovereignty, monetary and currency policy and management.
True, it has not been an easy road. In fact, right now things look far from rosy in the EU. In the last European elections the (some rabidly) anti-Europeans made impressive, and in some cases frightening, electoral gains. Their blaming of the EU for current unemployment and economic hardship pushed many votes in their direction. It is a serious crisis but by no means the first and surely not the last. But, while politicians from member states and the political heads of the EU scratch their heads and exchange acrimony, their civil servants continue to manage the vast number of issues contained within the EU framework. And containment seems to be the operational word. This allows many matters to be sorted out before they get out of hand.
Meanwhile, on this side of the world, we seem to have significantly less lucky. Obviously, Mercosur’s predecessor, the Argentina-Brazil Integration and Economics Cooperation Programme signed between Raul Alfonsín and José Sarney back in 1985 — which included the “gaucho” as a common currency — was over-ambitious. But even the 1991 Treaty of Asunción and its amendment with the 1994 Treaty of Ouro Preto seem to leave a sense of non fulfilment.
The truth is that, as things stand now, the four original member countries of Mercosur exchange acrimonious accusations. Protectionism seems to be at the top of the list but many other items complete it. Uruguay and Argentina are at rather undiplomatic loggerheads over navigation on the River Plate. Argentina and Brazil seem to be fighting the mother of all battles over the automotive industry agreements, although fortunately many expect an agreement to be reached soon. The list is actually longer. And there seems to be no way of managing them in an orderly and constructive win-win style.
It would be more than unrealistic to think that the EU is a problem-free paradise. Differences and controversies between member states are a daily issue, especially because of the sheer extension of the EU’s remit.
The truth is that the EU survives — and from time to time thrives — thanks to Brussels. A myriad of civil servants deal with issues from human rights to mobile phone tariffs going private, national and supranational interests to be compatible with each other, and submitting give-and-take options to the political masters when issues get complicated.
By no means is this a suggestion that Mercosur should go out and hire 33,000 staffers, let alone spend that kind of money. For the time being, Mercosur’s remit and volume means that the staff requirements would be a very small fraction of that.
But that staff would need clear mechanisms and procedures which today seem not to exist or to be too general to be routinely applicable. Without clear regulations and procedural specifications, even the best treaties are nothing more than a collection of good intentions. And here we come to the sticking point: none of the above is possible without some room for supranationalism. Regional unity means more than presidential family photographs and end-of - summit statements. It also means giving up bits of sovereignty.
This is far from easy to stomach and needs strong political leaderships at national and Mercosur levels to carry it forward. The EU shows that supranationalism is possible and often desirable. So bring in the Mercosur Eurocrats.