On top of the politics, Europe’s agenda must include a common culture

Ajakirja Europe’s World 2014. a sügisnumbris ilmus minu artikkel Euroopa Liidu tuleviku teemal. http://europesworld.org/2014/10/09/on-top-of-the-politics-europes-agenda-must-include-a-common-culture/#.VD99TCKsUnd

These are not the easiest times for the EU as a unified structure. Some member states even express doubts about the value of being in the EU and some of the more pessimistic analysts have predicted the breaking-up of the union. Tensions are being intensified by the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, which is demanding not only moral support but monetary costs too. Russian sanctions imposed on the export of goods from the EU have rendered the situation more complex as they have affected the agricultural and food sectors of some European countries

Can the EU stand up to these challenges, or is the idea of a unified Europe becoming akin to the Tower of Babel and doomed? I feel certain that we can avoid that, but this will mean paying much more attention to the balance between the EU’s common policies and individual interests of member states. The important decision that has to be made concerning which areas would most benefit from unified action? And where would it be more reasonable to act as independent national states? And where, perhaps, could they meet in the middle?

“We also need to introduce measures that ensure EU directives are easier to apply, and can be adapted to member states’ unique regional needs”

There’s no doubt that a EU common energy policy is something we need to strive for as it should ensure competitiveness and cheap electricity for households and enterprises. A common energy policy would also make the EU less dependent on energy sources from third-party countries and improve our energy security. By creating new energy connections between member states, we would also be able to create a common energy market.

One of the pillars of the EU is the single market that provides tens of millions of jobs. A comparable common market for energy, financial services, transport and health services would be the basis for future EU success. A common EU security and defence policy is also of great importance as it ensures the independence of member states. The EU also cannot turn its back on human rights violations and threats to the rule of law in neighbouring countries, because everyone has a right to a democratic society and a law-governed state. EU policy with regard to neighbouring countries must facilitate the protection of European values, even if this sometimes interferes with the direct economic interests of some member states. And here I would urge others to show more solidarity and understanding towards smaller EU countries where geographical positions and past histories mean they need the support of the Old Europe. When it comes to relations with Russia, Europe must take a co-ordinated approach and be unanimous in its decisions and that is true of the EU’s foreign policy in general.

None of this nullifies the need to strengthen democracy in the EU. It is important that both the European Parliament and member states’ national parliaments should be more involved in EU decision-making, and that negotiations and voting processes in the union should be more transparent. We also need to introduce measures that ensure EU directives are easier to apply, and can be adapted to member states’ unique regional needs.

“The constructive step could be the creation of joint information systems and educational programmes aimed at introducing a common European cultural heritage”

Some sectors benefit massively from unified action and common markets, but there is also a need to retain national autonomy in others. For instance, member states have to remain responsible for their own direct taxes and social policies because domestic taxation is an important part of their independence and is the basis for developing state budgets. Education is a more controversial topic as one cannot deny the benefits of free movement of knowledge as a stimulus to innovation. Education in each country should nevertheless preserve its own traditions, as this is where people learn of their own culture, and that in turn fosters healthy patriotism.

But member states’ cultures can help to create a common cultural approach. The constructive step could be the creation of joint information systems and educational programmes aimed at introducing a common European cultural heritage. There’s also a need for a translation programme to ensure that cultural works in the languages of minorities are available in other EU languages.

I never tire repeating that the EU must take into account all the geographical, cultural and historical peculiarities of its member states. Here I would quote Jean Monnet, who once said: “We are not forming coalitions of states, we are uniting men.”