Three score and four years ago, our fathers brought forth a new union to Europe, conceived in liberty and freedom, and dedicated to the proposition that never again should our continent be laid to ruin by divisions among its people. We are now engaged in a great debate testing whether that union, or any so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. It is a fitting testament to the EU’s founders that the secession of one member state has resulted in dialogue, not civil war.
But, in a larger sense, we should not assume our fathers’ work is complete. Our freedoms were paid for by the blood of millions who died on the battlefields of Europe. The enemy they defeated was an idea; that some men are better than others born elsewhere. This idea is once more present in today’s debates and in many of the arguments made by secessionists.
We must, however, acknowledge our union is not perfect. It often falls short of the ideal that a great man, fighting a war for equality, declared to be “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. And it is in the second part of that declaration our union falls short. Let us be frank: the European Commission is an affront to this ideal.
The EU is based on four freedoms — free movement of goods, capital, services and, above all, of people. Only with that last freedom can we ensure that through knowledge and understanding, we never again lay our continent to ruin. These freedoms are under threat and they need defending. It is altogether fitting and proper that we the people should do this. Shall we defend them through a closer union? Or by celebrating our differences?
Europe rose to prominence thanks to a unique combination of shared ideals and multiple nation states. Our differences enabled us to try many methods of government, of production, of ideas than more centralised states. Our shared ideals have allowed us to adopt the most successful solutions. To lose this extraordinary ability to try different things could be our doom.
Let us therefore make the European Parliament, elected by the people, sovereign in all matters that defend the four freedoms. Only if goods, services, capital or people move across borders should the parliament’s laws apply. In all others, national or regional parliaments should be sovereign.
And so, in concrete terms, where is this thinly veiled reference to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address going? These are my modest proposals to reform the EU after Britain’s exit: abolish the European Commission and enact a new treaty that will give the European Parliament and council the right to pass directives, but, crucially, restricted to matters that concern the four freedoms. That will primarily focus on interstate commerce and borders. The Working Time Directive and Floods Directive are examples of laws that need not exist at a European level. The parliament and council should then decide which existing directives can be repealed.
There also needs to be a framework for state bankruptcies. Nations should be allowed to declare bankruptcy without losing access to the European Central Bank for their banks, or access to the EU markets. This mechanism would do away with most issues blighting the euro — the stability and growth pact could immediately be rescinded.
So let some try a new New Deal and let others stick to more conservative ideas. Or perhaps someone will have an even better idea and we can all adopt it.
The writer is a fund manager at GAM global asset management
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