TCS Daily


The Paranoid Manifesto

By Evgeny Morozov - July 11, 2006 12:00 AM

Unfocused, ambitious, naïve: Finland has drafted a tedious agenda for its six-month EU presidency. Judging by the outreach efforts implied in that document, Helsinki is under a severe global-power inferiority complex, which it plans to rectify while presiding in Brussels.

The manifestations of self-denial within the EU vary. Austria, which presided over the EU in the first half of 2006, left the agenda blank and took some time off to enjoy Mozart, prepare for some bakery competitions, and enter a period of deep reflection, taking the "aim low/get even lower" track. Finland, embarking on a million little things but ducking the debate on big issues, has chosen the "overwork yourself to death—it will take your mind off all the important issues" track. Both tracks converge on the road to nowhere.

Economic competitiveness, transport logistics, biodiversity, electronic communications, chemicals policy, R&D, internal market, Kosovo, Bulgaria/Romania and Croatia/Turkey, audiovisual affairs, Russia—the list of things Finland wants to do in EU reads more like the Paranoid Manifesto. Add to it a host of planned summits (one with Asians, one with Americans, and one with Russians). Even climate change got an honorable mention. Wait for new Finnish initiatives on Iran, Iraq, and Gaza.

Of course, there are a few issues on which the Finns might succeed, mostly by chance. Kosovo is one of them; the final talks slated to conclude during Finland's presidency might yet result in the long-sought independence. As it is a Finn—the former Finnish President Maarti Ahtisaari—who orchestrates these talks, Helsinki might stage some good PR for itself. The same is true of enlargement: whatever progress is achieved in talks with the applicants from Southeastern Europe will be due to the assiduous travails of another Finn, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn.

Yet even those achievements are predicated on building an effective system of governance and communication within the EU as well as getting Europeans excited about the EU project. The French and the Dutch, who said "No" to the constitution, had already felt betrayed by their elites. Now they are on the verge of a second betrayal with the European leaders pretending there were no referenda to start with—so why not talk about EU transport logistics instead?

However, without reinvigorating the constitutional or post-constitutional debate, all other questions which Finland hopes to tackle are meaningless. Until there is more clarity as to who and how will govern the EU over the next five-to-ten years, arguing about economic competitiveness and liberalization is useless. Whatever good initiatives the Finns might prepare, they will follow the fate of the service directive: prepared in good faith to tackle the EU's economic problems—and then eviscerated of any substance, to fit the needs of the member states.

Finland's aspirations are noble:

development of the internal markets (especially in relation to services and energy); innovation, increases in labor productivity (e.g. by improving the quality of working life); and development of an EU energy policy

All sounds nice on paper. But now take any of those—say, the common energy policy—whatever the Finnish achievements on this front are, they will never accommodate German demands to deal with Russia unilaterally (and the Italians might soon want to join this chorus, having entered a number of very important bilateral deals with the Russians). So isn't the need to first find a governing framework to replace the faltering current one apparent?

Or take another bloated quote from the Preliminary Agenda:

"The remaining obstacles in the internal market must be removed so that the full benefit of economic integration can be felt"...

If you had said this a year ago in most national capitals, you would have been thought to be working either for Frits Bolkestein or some US right-wing think-tank. Yet today this rhetoric is touted by the Finns. And touted, one should add, in vain. The French and the Germans might be mesmerized/traumatized by the World Cup for the rest of the year...But in 2007 they will awaken—and make sure that during their own presidencies all this liberalization talk is strangled.

With pro-globalization presidencies like Finland's, for six months EU feels like Hong Kong. But then, when the big powers assume their laurels, everything returns to normal—and Europe is back to being Pyongyang.

Until the EU sets up a framework to replace the constitution, any efforts at real leadership by individual members will be wasted. The Finns would be wiser to drop their ambitions plans and use their workaholic zeal to fill in the legal vacuum left by the rejections of the constitution.

Or, alternatively, take some time off in the sauna, listen to Lordi ...and leave all the problems for the Germans to take up in six months.

The author is a TCS contributing writer. He blogs at www.sharpandsound.com.

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4 Comments

Any suggestions as to how Finland should..
"fill in the legal vacuum left by the rejections of the constitution"?

non
There is no legal vacuum. The constitution was a complete pile of crap, that didn't solve any of the issues that concern europeans (chief among them checks and balances on brussels).

Energy, obviously, is not an issue where we want the Union to be involved and the same goes for many, many other areas. We want the union for the internal market, the European Court, security and a few other issues. Everything else should stay closer to the citizen.

As to how to keep French influences at bay: punish them. As soon as France requires yet more subsidies, yet another EU investment to be placed in France or the like, then the rest of us ought to say something along the line of "well, we might want to review the CAP earlier".

who are "we"?
Nulldotnet, you raise interesting points:
--if the constitution was the pile of crap, it is still a bit bizzare that so many EU leaders want to push it through and can't get over the idea. If the Finns think it's a pile of crap, won't it make sense for them to actually say what everybody already knows about the constitution?
--Energy: when you say "Energy, obviously, is not an issue where we want the Union to be involved"--whom do you mean by "we"? I mean if you look at the Commission--they definitely want to have the EU involved---and so do countries like Poland, the Baltics, pretty much all of EU 10, and perhaps even Britain wouldn't mind, as long as they can make sure that Germany is not allowed to strike unilateral deals...i'm all for keeping things closer to the citizen, but don't you think that having energy in the hands of the German citizens when the rest of EU depends on it, is a bit, ummm, dangerous?

talk about it?
well, any solution which would actually start discussing the options that can replace the constituion wouldn't be that bad. it is definitely better than shelving the constitution until the Germans become the president of EU and then decide whatever they want to do with it...

what's the point of an EU president that doesn't really want to do the big work?

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