Pour manifester notre caractère internationaliste et pour nos lecteurs étrangers, nous publions ce texte en Anglais de Nicolas Tenzer
Efficiency and legitimacy in Europe: how could structural reforms and new policies in the Lisbon agenda empower democracy in the EU?
Let me say a self-evidence, which has been underlined by all the official and non-official reports: the Lisbon strategy is unkonwn in the public opinion. This ignorance is that of the working class and of the less educated people, but also –I made myself the observation– of many intellectuals, academics, CEO and –I do fear‑ of some MPs. Most of them didn’t pay attention to the European Council of Spring 2005, which partly did adjust this strategy. In the debates on the project of constitutionnal treatise –which lead to the clash of May 29th French referendum and to the awakening of status quo strategies in Europe‑ we had in France and some other countries, either the supporters or the opponents to this project do not bring to mind, directly or even non-directly, this strategy. It didn’t explain the “yes” or the “no”, which means it was considered as inessential.
Now, there is more serious. In these debates, the advocates of this treatise meet with difficulties or seem reluctant to advance the success stories of Europe as well as its tasks for the future. Its adversaries, from left or right, traditional euro-sceptics –I mean nationalists– or protest-uprisings inspired by extreme left, criticize liberalism which would have inspired Europe, or even the principle itself of free markets which are supposed to jeopardize the Welfare-State. The more developed countries in Europe are supposed to adjust their wage to the lowest ones in Europe or even to these of our Asian competitors. And this could explain the appearance of the figure of the Polish plumber in the self-styled arguments of the French opponents who did generally never accept the enlargement. In any case, Europe ’s credibility in building up the world’s most competitive area within the next five years (2010) (or even when we postpone a little bit the deadline), in boosting the growth and in developing the jobs seems quite poor. In spite of the success and the popularity of some programs like ERASMUS, the citizens don’t see Europe ’s contribution in superior education or training. Of course, some laboratories receive grants from EU, but I don’t think that they recognize the specific mission of Europe in research polices.
We have to worry about this paradox because it generates a contradiction between what is conceived as essential by the citizens –effectively the Lisbon ’s content‑ and what is viewed as the real skill of the EU. In other terms, Lisbon has point out the real priorities of the next decades but Europe seems deprived of the means to bring them a solution. We would even say that if the citizens better saw what Europe could do for growth, employment, innovating firms, new technologies, training, higher education and research, their scepticism would have been less. Unfortunately, it’s not the actual situation. Europe is generally considered more as a constraint than as a plan, more as an instrument apart from politics than as a vision nourished by a clear and credible idea –it’s a reality at least in some countries.
Who is responsible? How could we set up again this situation?
The essential responsibility is evident: it is the fault of the ruling class and of the policy-makers. At first, they didn’t enough praise Europe ’s benefits and its contribution to the quality of live of all the citizens. Moreover, it’s quite worrying to read in the last Eurobarometer on the Lisbon Strategy that the opinion didn’t usually see any relation between the amenities of live and the economic competitiveness. Next, as the assessment of Wim Kok and the preparatory document of the Commission before the European Council of Spring 2005 pointed it out, the states generally didn’t act as the Lisbon Strategy had been their priority. At last they show, in 2000 as well as in 2005, their reluctance to build more constraining mechanisms with real sanctions. They also balk at the idea to give to the EU the means to engage more ambitious policies in order to palliate the insufficiencies of the states. The paradox is well known: the Lisbon Strategy is an European policy, but without real European instruments. The effective actors of this Strategy are – or should be‑ the states, but they do as if this Strategy was a fiction (or for some of them perhaps a nightmare). The limits of the open method of coordination were often underlined. It’s a necessity than Europe goes further in these policies, which are the heart of today’s European challenge. We have to reconsider the European priorities: the necessary structural reforms must receive a counterpart. But we cannot imagine that the responsibilities could be divided into popular and unpopular purposes, targets and means.
A contradictory legitimacy
Before elaborating on the way to advance in this direction, I will shortly deal with an apparently theoretical question, but whose impact is really huge if we accept the idea that Europe ’s future depends of the implication of the citizens. That is the question of the legitimacy. The legitimacy, which is not a question of truth but could be analysed as a belief –as Max Weber already pointed it out‑, which is a fact more than a rational being, depends of three elements: justice and fairness, efficiency and recognition –which is a difficult concept related to a sort of spirit of community of feelings and of destiny. In the same time, the concept of legitimacy applies itself to the institutions, the policy-makers as identified figures and policies. On all these issues, the Lisbon Strategy doesn’t seem perfectly legitimate because off a lack of clearness, for the opinions as well as for the experts, of the respective tasks of the Union and of the states. The citizens don’t know what is binding and common and what is optional and depends of the domestic political choices –in fact, these are more concrete and conflicting.
To conclude on this point, the Lisbon Strategy includes some contradictions in its own legitimacy. Of course, the main targets ‑jobs, growth, environment, research‑ are considered as legitimate in terms of justice when we describe them as global purposes. But they are too global to avoid scepticism. The concrete consequences on the proceedings are not as legitimate since they aim at adapting the Welfare-State and the regulations of labour markets. They mean the end of some barriers and competition, which scares many citizens. The main problem concerns the coherence of the package, technically effective, but politically disputed.
In terms of efficiency, the legitimacy of the EU seems to be weak, because many citizens don’t perceive what could be today its additive value. The states preserve the presumption to be more efficient… but not totally. That is one of the biggest dilemmas of European democracies: efficiency is likely to be nor in the EU either in the nation-states. The twilight of the traditional share of responsibilities is in itself a factor of erosion of the legitimacy.
Legitimacy is even more problematical regarding the question of recognition – which implies feeling of community and attachment. Indeed, the purposes of Lisbon strategy are seen as legitimate. But, when we are dealing with conflicting choices –burden share through taxation, organisation of public sector and status of the public employees, and so on.‑, the states are considered as the only bodies which are entitled to decide. The European constraints are not viewed as acceptable. In short, when Europe brings subsides –through regional policy and CAP‑, it receives congratulations. When it announces reengineering and adjustments, it becomes the scapegoat of all the political, social and economic failures.
Let me add that the question of legitimacy puts directly the one of Europe as great power, we will consider here only from an economic point of view. The target of the Lisbon Strategy is to transform Europe as a power able to compete on equal terms with the other areas in the world, today the US, tomorrow the great Asian countries, even if I don’t know it’s is really possible and if the Lisbon Strategy is not in this case a little short or late-comer. Europe has to become an economic model and, if this condition is fulfilled, a social one, even if it isn’t a logic consequence. But this aim is not enough connected to Europe ; it doesn’t appear as creating an identity as euro does. Within many states, included, the word “power” isn’t politically correct. Above all, there is no linkage between the national power in this or that activity, and the European power. If we expect Europe to be more legitimate, we’ll have to explain how to tie these two dimensions of power, national and European.
How to restore the responsibility of the states?
My second point deals with the responsibilities of the states in the reform process engaged by Lisbon , but also with those of the EU. I’ve already pointed out the ignorance of the Lisbon Strategy by the public opinion. The key-point is that the states themselves very often did never conceived a reform’s strategy a domestic level in all the pillars of the Lisbon Strategy, only some atomistic reforms, short-dated, without any bond with a general target, national or larger. We can worry about the weakness of the national institutions –in certainly– in terms of forecast, prospective, strategy and ability of the policy-makers to integrate long-dated points of view in the political agenda. We often assist to a closing of political mind. Nevertheless, the keystone of the political success stays in the capacity to create the conditions of a democratic debate and in the faculty to bring out social compromises. Sometimes, the reason could be a lack of will, but mostly of brightness. It’s difficult to ask the citizens to be enthusiastic on aims they ignore. The consequence is that the responsibility of unpopular reforms is said by the politicians to be the one of Europe .
The idea, which occurs unfortunately as optional in the decisions of the European Council of Spring 2005, to appoint a domestic coordinator for the Lisbon Strategy is very opportune. Some experts did criticize it because his or her place does not actually exist in the governments of the EU and would be quite different according to the state. This is moreover related to the position of the ministry in charge of European affairs within the executive. In , his or her institutional weakness and the low power of the Parliament in European matters explain in part the lateness in integration of the European directives into the domestic law. It’s necessary to identify a political leader for the Lisbon Strategy to engage a public debate on state’s level. We meet the same problem within the Commission. Europe must have a one and only phone number in each state.
Bring back the competition into citizens’ favour
The second internal problem concerns the lack of acceptance of the virtues of competition. It was, is and will be for a long time the most outstanding incentive to adapt the European societies and markets. These were prompted to competitiveness, quality, innovation and to lowest prices for final consumers who became wealthy and consumed better products. Competition puts also an end to unjustified situations of rent or protection of traditional corporate advantages. It restores more fairness in the social body. Of course, we have to limit the field of competition: I don’t see for instance any economic reason to extend the idea of competition to taxation. In addition, taxation depend of social and political deal and compromises, which are related to internal choices.
Public services, especially utilities, are more involved in this competition. It does not affect its principle and does not endanger particular regulations for the weakest part of the population –free access, low costs for the low incomes‑. But the competition to assume the charge of these services (public by their purpose, possibly private by their ownership and their management) could improve their quality to the essential benefit of the poorest citizens. This competition will certainly extend to all the sectors without any social prejudice. It will change the habits and the routine, but doesn’t mean that the commercial point of view will dominate. It won’t jeopardize the Welfare State, the social security and the laws which protect workers even if we could conceive that there could be a competition to organize and manage the social institutions within the frame of public regulations. We can appreciate the positive impact of competition on the quality of research and education: it’s a way to excellence but doesn’t implicate the decrease of the contribution of the public bodies, a lower priority to fundamental research or the removal of scholarships.
I want to underline that the governments and the political bodies cannot stay apart from competition. It would be a powerful mean to restore democracy and to modernize political life. The policy-makers are compelled to provide an effort to ensure transparency and accountability. It prevents corruption and domination by a unique ruling class controlled by uncontrolled people. The elites have to give up their privileges. Regulations on corporate governance must limit collusion between managers and civil servants or politicians, decision’s and supervision’s bodies. We have to explain to the public opinion the European contribution to the public ethics and the democratic and social virtues of a fair competition in economic, political and social life.
Europe’s responsibility in the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy
Europe is essential to the success of the Lisbon Strategy. First, it could offer the way to abolish some domestic constraints and the slowness in implementing the reforms because off political realities we cannot play down. Second, it’s an incentive to quality. Let us consider one of the main purposes of the Lisbon Strategy: the organisation of research and higher education. In realistic terms, it’s impossible to change in most countries on a radical sense the way to appoint scholars and research workers, their carriers and their status, to generalize the numerus clausus in the universities and to strengthen the selective access, to revise completely the criterion for granting the faculties and the laboratories. In generating powerful bodies with a critical mass, Europe would break up or overpass the national impediments and develop exemplary institutions. These universities and research’s centres, which wouldn’t be under states’ control or multinational, but properly European, would give to Europe an unknown legitimacy in these matters. They could be also an incentive to quality –and to reform, necessarily gradual‑ in the European states. Emulation through excellence is the motor of competitiveness. Of course, we have to tackle the problem of their status and also engage the states to accept that their national enterprises give grants, without any taxation, to these new European bodies.
These considerations must not conceal the choices which have to be done for Europe and decided by the states. First of all, budgetary choices related to political priorities: the Lisbon Strategy has a budgetary implication, which implies to be affordable and sustainable to “sacrifice” other policies –it was one of the most audacious proposals of the report laid by André Sapir in 2003. The citizens could agree to this new deal if Europe recognizes the necessity of a critical mass and of a more severe selection of its purposes. I approve the idea supported by Dominique Strauss-Kahn in his report for Romano Prodi, who suggested that 0.25% of the European GDP would be dedicated to the research in the European budget and claimed for the creation of a European Agency for Research. It requires that the Commission revises its procedures, which are not enough rigorous and efficient. We must organize competition, but without bureaucracy, and avoid the waste of restricted resources.
Moreover, Europe has to build up tools for strategic analysis, assessment and prospective. It needs to shape its own vision of the risks and of the challenges, by means of academics, experts and non-governmental bodies. It has also itself to provoke and to nourish the public debate. Many people request for think tanks at European level –Bruegel is a great progress, but it should not be the only one. They must remain free and independent either from the member states or from the Commission, but the European leaders have to learn to pay attention to their recommendations and to integrate them in the policy-making-process.
Finally, Europe has to be flexible and this commitment appears rightly in the project of constitutional treatise. In many matters which pertain to the Lisbon Strategy, we won’t avoid the special concern of the states. But as the states won’t be able to do everything alone and won’t accept to renounce to maintain a political control, they will join with other states in actions which won’t be these of Europe as a whole. We must be able in the future to link, in a common frame, Union ’s policies and these of a restricted group of specific states. Europe as power needs also a new institutional pragmatism.
To conclude, the Lisbon Strategy could imply the best as well as the worst policies. It allows more democracy but could bring also the domination of an inefficient bureaucracy. It could create the temptation of window dressing, unrealism and utopia – and it would in this case destroy the hope of a best future in the opinion‑ but could also be an incentive for governments to focus on the real commitments as the citizens analyse them: in the same time, more prosperity and competitiveness and more social justice. It would mean that Europe and the states are able to master and to shape the future. If the disempowerment of the European institutions and of many states remains, it would be a non-policy for the EU: only the Euro-scepticism will grow, but the politics itself will receive more and more extreme contests. If we take it seriously, Europe will be able in the next decades to become a real power.