What does “EU reform” actually mean?

A tweet by Philip Oltermann caught my eye:

David Cameron is doing his best to spin himself, and his opposition to Jean Claude Juncker as Commission President, as being the ‘reformer’ versus a defender of the status quo, or the old EU, Juncker.

The problem is that no-one ever really challenges this narrative of what and how Cameron seems to want to reform the European Union.

There are at least three possible components of what reform could actually mean. It could mean political and institutional reform of the European Union, it could mean economic reform, and it could mean changes to the relationship between the EU and its Member States.

If we look at Cameron’s March piece in the Sunday Telegraph for example, we end up with a muddle of all of the above. When Cameron speaks of EU reform, it is actually his wish list for how he would like the EU to look. It is basically shorthand for the Tory EU line: less Europe.

Take Juncker’s nomination, by contrast. The fact that all major EU party families put forward candidates for Commission President prior to the 2014 EP elections is one of the most major de facto democratic reforms to the way the EU works in recent years (see this blog entry for the case). Connect the EP elections to the choice of Commission President. It is democratic or institutional reform. So the very presence of Juncker could be framed as a reform, yet all we hear is the opposite side.

Or look at what the European Greens were saying before the EP elections – theirs is a completely different notion of change and reform of the European Union. Yet some of the core vocabulary used – words about change and reform are similar.

So the next time you hear a politician trumpeting ‘EU reform’, stop to ask: what reform? Cameron’s EU reform? Juncker’s? The European Greens’? There is no one way to reform the EU, so we better stop talking as if there is, even if it suits Cameron’s aims to talk as if there is.

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4 comments

  1. Do we really need EU reform? Or just different policies? | Kosmopolito

    […] (journalists in particular don’t seem to be interested in the fine print) and wonder what “EU reform” actually means. Does it mean we need a new ‘reform treaty’ or do we simply want to change existing policies? Is […]

  2. rz

    “As Castells argues compellingly in Communication Power, increasing globalisation – especially of capital – is a major constraint on political action, ”

    that is certainly true and very important.

    “If Europeans are to shape how globalisation works, and to defend the social market economy that is so central to how Europeans live, the choice, as I see it, is stark – make sure that view of the world can be defended. Because there is no hope that individual European countries, without the EU, can possibly manage that.”

    But the EU has enabled capital mobility and sees the maintanance of capital mobility as its core goal. more so then mobility of people, as you are documenting on your blog. Why then is the EU an important part in maintaining the social market economy?

  3. rz

    ‘In short, it is a matter of democratising and legitimising the EU, or face inexorable decline.’
    let me comment here on your previous post, since both, this and the last one are about the Spitzenkanditat. I fear that the EU does not have the time left to become more democratic. If I look e.g. at my home country, Germany, I feel that majorities to be found for a subtantial reform of the banking sector, majorities for higher taxes on high wages and capital gains and so on. But with the EU intact nothing of that will matter. On the EU level, none of those reforms will happen. And in most countires people don’t even want the EU to have influence over, lets say taxes. This probably even includes Germany!

    I have no hope anymore for an improvment on the European level. The only way to get the majorities necessary to change things is on the national level. And this means the Nations have to have control over capital movment and trade.

  4. Anthony Z

    See also: “pro-European” and “anti-European”. The whole debate is infested with meaninglessness.