Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Thu Jul 3rd, 2008 at 05:07:17 AM EST
Disaffection, affection. A lack of trust. Perceived loss of relevance. A need to bring young people into the European picture. The gap between citizens and the EU (fill in institutions, leaders, "elites", whatever). We may discuss these (and incidentally note, for instance, that there may be more "trust" than we might have thought), but I think we would probably all agree (possible, unpossible???) that, given referendum results over the last three years, and given our own experience as EU citizens (or not, in some ex-pat cases), the relationship between the individual's daily existence and the EU is sketchy at best.
What if we live as (perish the thought) Europeans? What if we live for a time in another member state, want to study there? If we settle down and live there? Or work in two or more countries during a career, acquiring different pension and other rights? What if we marry someone from another member state? Borrow money, hold property? Have children? Divorce? Retire to another member state? Lose someone and have to deal with a succession, die and leave others to deal with a succession? Or, more prosaically, get involved in litigation through Internet contacts and purchases? How easy are these things to handle, what efforts has the EU made to simplify them - what efforts, indeed, to move beyond the pre-existing bilateral arrangements or absence of arrangements between states? How well informed are we about them? What impression do we have that there is steady progress, a forward movement that actually changes our lives for the better?
A report published last week on The Citizen and Community Law (pdf, FR), says this:
| Au total, le paysage est celui d'un espace de liberté encore très inégalement réalisé au niveau des individus. L'espace des citoyens en est encore au stade où en était celui de marchandises avant l'Acte unique de 1985 : les frontières sont abolies mais d'innombrables obstacles réglementaires rendent difficile une vie harmonieuse dans cet espace commun. L'Union a suscité plus de rêves que de projets, plus de projets que de lois, plus de lois que de réalités concrètes.||In all, the picture is that of a space of freedom still far from properly finished at the individual level. The citizens' space is still at the same stage as that for commercial goods before the Single European Act of 1985: borders have been abolished but innumerable regulatory obstacles get in the way of a harmonious life within this common space. The Union has given rise to more dreams than projects, more projects than laws, more laws than concrete realities.|
How much does this matter? As the report states, only 2% of the population of the EU live in another member state than the one they're nationals of. Only 2.3% of students are involved in the Erasmus progamme. Only 3% of European researchers work in another member state (while 7.5% work in the... US). Only 16% of marriages celebrated in the EU each year are between people of different nationalities, and by far the majority of those are contracted between Europeans and non-Europeans.
But isn't that a measure of the problem? Shouldn't the phases of European construction have been accompanied by a parallel concern to involve individual citizens in such a way that there was increasing perceived and practicable freedom - whereas currently such freedom as we have been granted is dimly perceived and barely practicable? Barely practicable because old national laws and administrative rules have not been adapted to take new principles into account, and dimly perceived because the voice of regional media (by regional I mean linguistic/cultural groupings that are generally but not exclusively national) has grown in influence over the decades, while well-meaning feebly-funded campaigns at supra-national level are hardly even noticed. For instance, the Treaty of Maastricht (1992) enshrined the principle of citizenship of the European Union, held in common by all citizens of member states. Yet a poll organized for DG Justice in January 2008 found that only two out of five EU27 citizens had heard of the expression and said they knew what it meant. Here's what the poll found, country by country, on citizens' perception of how well-informed they are:
Only 3% across the board felt they were "very well informed", and only a further 27% "well informed": less than one citizen in three. And it's not a question of "new" members against "old": look at the positions of France, the UK, Netherlands, Belgium...
Back to the report quoted above. It's by Alain Lamassoure, former French Secretary for European Affairs and longtime MEP (EPP). The report was commissioned by Sarkozy in view of the French presidence of the Council that starts today. Though Lamassoure is a member of Sarkozy's party, the UMP, he came from the UDF and can fairly be described as a pro-European centrist.
In an interview for Toute l'Europe he says:
| L'intégration économique est allée jusqu'à la fusion des monnaies nationales, alors que l'union des peuples et des citoyens reste balbutiante.||Economic integration has gone as far as merging national currencies, while the union of peoples and of citizens is still stammering|
| parfois les lois européennes existent (...) mais ce sont des lois anciennes. Parfois (...) leur contenu est faible et leur application est décevante [comme] pour tout ce qui concerne la reconnaissance des diplômes et des qualifications. Et puis parfois la loi européenne n'existe tout simplement pas. C'est tout ce qui concerne le droit familial, le droit patrimonial, le droit successoral.||sometimes there is European legislation (...) but these are old laws. Sometimes (...) their content is weak and their application disappointing, [like] everything to do with recognition of degrees and qualifications. And then, sometimes, European law quite simply doesn't exist. This is in everything that concerns family law, estate law, succession law.|
Out-of-date laws (health insurance legislation that goes back to 1971, for example); poor implementation of laws; absence of laws. On the second point, Lamassoure writes a good historical rundown on the transposition of European law into national law - how it may be badly done, done with no enthusiasm, side-stepped, delayed - and cites France as "the worst student in the class". And on the third, he writes a fascinating summary of the history of private international law (Conflicts of Laws) that takes the place of missing European legislation on issues concerning the personal and family life of "citizens of the EU".
| Nous nous trouvons ici devant un sujet fondamental, dont l'importance est considérablement sous-estimée par les dirigeants européens. L'Union est victime de son succès et, plus généralement, des conséquences humaines de la paix : les voyages, les migrations, les rencontres favorisent les liens, les projets communs, les échanges, la vie en commun, les contrats, y compris familiaux. Or, le droit civil en général, et le droit de la famille en particulier, sont considérés comme intimement liés à l'histoire et à la culture de chaque pays. C'est donc un domaine où l'on a toujours considéré que la subsidiarité devait s'imposer de manière jalousement exclusive. (...) jugé trop sensible pour être traité entre Européens, le droit de la famille dépend, pour l'essentiel, de la compétence nationale et, pour ses éléments extra-nationaux - dans le cas où le champ du contrat dépasse un seul pays, ce que les juristes appellent « extranéité » - des conventions internationales relatives au droit international privé. Nous sommes dans un cas d'école d'anti-préférence européenne.||We are faced here with a fundamental subject, the importance of which is considerably under-estimated by European leaders. The Union is a victim of its success and, more broadly, of the human consequences of peace: journeys, migrations, and meetings favour ties, common projects, exchanges, living together, contracts, including family contracts. But civil law in general, and family law in particular, are seen as closely linked to the history and culture of each country. So it's a field where it has always been considered that subsidiarity should be applied absolutely exclusively. (...) judged too sensitive to be handled between Europeans, family law lies essentially within national competence and, for its extra-national parts - in cases where the contract goes beyond a single country, what jurists call "foreign elements" - depends on international conventions concerning private international law. This is a textbook case of European anti-preference.|
He goes on to describe the long, slow progress of the Hague Conference on Private International Law since 1883.
| La vénérable Conférence de La Haye du Droit international privé a vu le jour dès 1883. Elle s'est attaquée courageusement à une réglementation générale en matière de successions et de testaments dès sa 4ème session, en 1904, puis lors de sa 6ème, en 1928 : hélas, dans les deux cas les opérations militaires ont débordé les juristes. Mais la Conférence a survécu, jusqu'à devenir, en 1951, à l'âge guilleret de soixante-huit ans, une organisation permanente, regroupant une trentaine d'Etats. Ses travaux y ont gagné : à partir des années cinquante, sa persévérance confucéenne a fini par être récompensée avec la signature d'une demi-douzaine de Conventions dites « de La Haye » sur les conflits de lois et de juges en droit privé. Toutefois, par égard pour ses auteurs, on s'abstiendra ici de donner la liste des pays dans lesquels ces Conventions sont entrées en vigueur depuis. Mentionnons simplement que la plus importante, la Convention du 1er août 1989 sur la loi applicable aux successions, fruit de quatre-vingt-cinq ans d'efforts, n'a été signée que par la Suisse, l'Argentine, les Pays-Bas et la France...||The venerable Hague Conference on Private International Law saw the light of day in 1883. It got bravely stuck into general regulation of successions and wills in its 4th session, in 1904, then in its 6th, in 1928: alas, in each case military operations outflanked the jurists. But the Conference survived, until it became, at the sprightly age of sixty-eight in 1951, a permanent organisation, grouping about thirty countries. Its work gained from this: starting from the '50s, its confucian perseverance was finally rewarded by the signature of half a dozen Conventions called "Hague" on conflicts of laws and judges in private law. However, out of respect for their authors, we shall abstain from listing here the countries in which the Conventions have been applied since then. Let's simply point out that the the most important, the Convention of the 1st August 1989 on succession law, the fruit of eighty-five years of effort, has only been signed by Switzerland, Argentina, the Netherlands and France...|
| Or, pendant que se déroulait cette course haletante entre tortues, escargots et bernard-l'ermite, la Communauté économique européenne se créait, s'approfondissait, s'étendait peu à peu à tout le continent, et brisait, bien au-delà du Mur, toutes les cloisons invisibles qui enfermaient les peuples. Toutes ? Non point, hélas ! Subsistent les différences des lois nationales, et spécialement en droit civil, matrimonial, patrimonial : bref, la vie, l'amour, la mort.||But, while this breathless race between turtles, snails, and hermit crabs went on, the European Economic Community was coming into being, was deepening, spread little by little to the whole continent, and struck down, far beyond the Wall, all the invisible barriers that closed in the peoples. All the barriers? Certainly not, alas! Remain the differences between national laws, and specially in civil, matrimonial, estate law: in short, life, love, and death.|
| Il a fallu attendre les années 90 pour que l'on prenne conscience du fait que la diversité des systèmes juridiques européens, y compris en droit civil et commercial, était une source d'insécurité pour les citoyens mobiles.||It was not until the 1990s that it was realized that the diversity of European legal systems, including in civil and commercial law, was a source of insecurity for mobile citizens.|
Some of Lamassoure's propositions set out in a separate pdf file (FR):
Concerning EU-level law:
Concerning transposition of EU-level law into national law:
- Move ahead quickly with updates of EU-level rules concerning health insurance, health services, supplementary pensions;
- Study the option of a "28th system" of work contracts, social and tax rights for mobile workers;
- Strengthen cooperation on the recognition of professional qualifications;
- Set the goal of multiplying tenfold the number of student exchanges of the Erasmus type (by opening up national grant systems);
- Carry to its conclusion the projected regulation concerning divorce ("Rome III") and on alimony;
- All member states to ratify a number of international conventions of importance to mobile Europeans (on protection of children and of vulnerable adults, on nationality, on multilingual birth certificates).
Concerning citizens (information, handling of individual cases):
- Have the European Council decide that every directive must contain a clause of execution obliging each member state to communicate a table showing elements of the directive and corresponding elements of national law;
- Agree on a Charter of good practice in transposition of community law (based on work by national and European parliaments).
Concerning border zones:
- Rebuild the entire structure of the information system on community law, starting from the citizens' needs and no longer the flow-chart of Brussels institutions;
- Set up an information network bringing people together around an Internet portal and identifiable (by symbol or logo) information relay points;
- Set up a programme of cooperation between national social security (health, pensions) administrations;
- Create a European citizens' card bearing identity, nationality, marital and family status, situation with regard to labour laws, social situation (right to benefits etc). This would replace up to ten documents in current use, and take on a strong symbolic value.
Concerning redress and appeals:
- Back the creation of cross-border European territorial cooperation groups;
- Encourage networks of municipalities engaged in cross-border cooperation.
Concerning EU governance:
- Class actions of citizens against national laws that violate EU-level laws;
- Make it easier for groups such as cross-border workers, mobile workers, students, international couples, to petition collectively;
- A major programme of training in EU law for national judges;
- Encourage national and European parliaments to follow up on the application of EU-level laws, and allow the President-of-Council-to-be the right to do the same.
- Commission and Parliament should build European law starting from citizens' needs, using a dedicated web site and interactive radio and TV, with a Follow-up Council making sure these are properly taken notice of;
- Encourage systematic double or multi-nationality for persons whose family, residential, or professional links go beyond a single country;
- Find the best electoral system for bringing MEPs into closest possible contact with their voters (using Duff report).
These are just a quick pick among a large number. A laundry list? Pony wishes? Not quite, Lamassoure knows what has been done, has not been done, what can be done, what might be done. The report is well worth a look, anyway (sorry for non-French readers, it's not available in other languages).
Oh, he also suggests France gets its act together by becoming a shining example in the matter of adapting its laws and regulations to EU legislation, which is not currently the case. (Example, France should join the experimental accelerated procedure for examining citizens' complaints, which fifteen countries have signed up for but France has expressly rejected!)
Will the French presidency of the Council act on these suggestions? Hmm. Sarkozy has already announced (just after receiving the report) that anything "social" is national business in his view. And Lamassoure's fundamental attitude is pro-European in a way Sarkozy doesn't understand. So - though I think a lot of what Lamassoure says and suggests is essential - I'm not holding my breath...
[Translations and errors are all mine]
by Oui - Nov 26