EU Commission: Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don’t

The same people who criticize the EU for not being responsive to its people criticize it for — you guessed it!

European commissioners Carlos Moedas and Miguel Arias Cañete speak in Brussels, May 18
European commissioners Carlos Moedas and Miguel Arias Cañete speak in Brussels, May 18 (European Commission/Jennifer Jacquemart)

The American Interest, usually an intelligent publication, has a rather simplistic take on the European Commission bowing to pressure to give national legislatures a say in ratifying a proposed trade deal with Canada.

Back in April, I reported here that lawmakers in tiny Wallonia, the French-speaking south of Belgium, threatened to derail the pact, which eliminates tariffs on almost all goods and services and is projected to raise transatlantic trade by more than €25 billion per year.

Now it looks like they might succeed.


There is a dilemma here for the European Commission.

It has the power to negotiate trade deals for the whole bloc and the treaty with Canada would clearly be a net positive.

But it also recognizes that when decisions are taken over the heads of ordinary Europeans and their representatives, it tends to aggravate Euroskepticism.

There is no easy solution to this.

For years, the commission has gone with option 1, assuming that the benefits of economic integration and freer trade would in the end be enough to silence the Euroskeptics.

Slow growth and the debt crises in the periphery of Europe have made those benefits less obvious, however, and now the commission has come down on returning power to the member states on an issue that many voters care about deeply (if for the wrong reasons — but that’s another discussion).

Out of touch

It’s the sort of decision you would expect The American Interest to endorse.

It, after all, has published many pieces over the years that argued European elites were growing out of touch with their voters, that resistance to immigration and other pressures of globalization should be taken seriously, that stubbornly laboring toward ever-closer union in the face of such adversity would certainly doom the project.

Yet it now criticizes the commission for taking a step back and giving anti-globalist sentiment a chance to be heard.

They’ll say this isn’t what they meant.

“Yes, of course the EU requires buy-in from national governments,” the magazine writes.

But where supranational organizations like the EU actually have a constructive role to play is in streamlining the adoption of deals like this one precisely so that they don’t have to go through dozens of national and subnational legislatures at the expense of lawmakers’ time and taxpayers’ money.

True enough, but you can’t have it both ways.


You can’t on the one hand argue that EU hasn’t been responsive enough to its citizens, that it has been too centralizing (they even throw in the rules for curved bananas again — how many more times will we have to read about that?) and then take it to task for being, well, responsive to its citizens and decentralizing.

You either accept that some decisions are taken in Brussels even if that means some people will feel disenfranchised. Or you involve everyone in the decisionmaking process and accept that means very little decisions will ultimately be made.

The EU has struggled with this tradeoff for years. The people who were berating it from the outside for not listening to its citizens should probably have thought of that before they helped undermine the public’s trust in European institutions.

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