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Does the EU Need a Baculine Discipline?


In early May, the European Commission came up with concrete initiatives to bring order to the European Union. If they get approval, from 2021 Brussels will be able to force the member states to implement collectively adopted decisions and strictly adhere to their EU obligations under the threat of the EU funding reduction.

The first reaction to this news from observers and Eurosceptics was as expected. Those, against whom such measures can be directed, naturally rejected them. Those, who are in favor of greater freedom and independence within the EU with national specifics, considered them as a convincing confirmation of Brussels' and Berlin's aspirations toward dictatorship. For them, all this is nothing more than "tightening the screws".

But is such reaction justified? Is there some sort of crookedness? Let's start with something that is not subject to ambiguous reading. Putting your hand on your heart, please answer the question: are you for the enforced laws? Please remember the unshakable foundation of Roman law, which in absolute form insisted, that no matter how stern the law might be, everyone must follow it.

Are you for the fact that treaties and commitments must not remain meaningless pieces of paper in international affairs, in relations between states? Millennia of bloody human history forced the peoples to recognize that "treaties must be respected". This maxim is the basis of the UN Charter – the constitution of the modern world. All modern international laws are based on it. When Washington questioned it and tried to pull out from its influence, the whole modern world order fell like a house of cards.

Why, for the sake of integration, everything should be somehow different? Rather, on the contrary.

Let's try to answer two other questions. First, are the EU's internal sanctions completely new elements? Second, were the initiatives of the European Commission unexpected? The answer to each of them is no, no, and no again.

The EU faced a blatant violation of its basic values about two decades ago. In Austria, the extreme right entered the government. The EU could not stay idle. He introduced against Vienna some kind of diplomatic ostracism." I watched this with my own eyes, working at that time as acting permanent representative of Russia in Strasbourg. Always active and self-confident Austrians were neither visible nor audible. They were avoided. They were ignored. Their allies tried not to notice them.

However, very soon the EU bureaucrats realized that they had invented a headache for themselves, but getting rid of it was not so simple. Therefore, in the constituent treaties a special sanctions mechanism was introduced against member states, whose practical policies would be contrary to the EU imperative statutory requirements. Now this mechanism is launched against Poland. It has a multipurpose nature – pressure, coercion, prevention and punishment.

On this occasion, a great hype was raised, which seems now to have come to ought. But this is the most common sanction mechanism. Much less is known about other, specialized ones, some of them have already been tested in practice.

Compared to all other international and supranational judicial bodies, the Court of the European Union stands apart. It is much more efficient in the field of law enforcement and judicial rule-making. The decisions it takes are laws for national courts and administrations of member states.

Nevertheless, in its respect, Brussels invented how to "encourage" member states to implement its decisions faster, more accurately and in full scale. If states are engaged in obstruction, they can be punished, and the EU Court has the right to impose fines against them.

Fundamentally new sanctions mechanisms functioned in the EU in the interests of the euro zone consolidation, observance of the Stability and Growth Pact, and making the member states strictly adhere to budgetary discipline. The EU institutions are entrusted to impose financial sanctions against the violating states, which can reach 0.2% of their GDP. Specific mechanisms – freezing of funds and their final withdrawal, are carried out in a proactive manner. To complicate their blocking, a fundamentally new decision-making procedure is used. Sanctions are introduced automatically (!), and to cancel them (not to approve!) a consensus is necessary.

Finally, something about the unexpected or unpredictable things. Speaking in Strasbourg with a keynote speech in September 2017, Jean-Claude Juncker made it very clear that the EU will not tolerate violations of the integration law. At the same time, he proposed a change – the New Europe will continue to adhere to the general order without any exceptions, while the Old one guarantees it to overcome the inequality in the wages, social guarantees and the quality of the supplied goods.

The conclusion is that new steps to equip the EU with financial tools to consolidate a unified economic space and enforce supranational laws are natural, logical, legitimate and expected.

For dessert, some other questions: Will the toughening of internal discipline harm the unity of the EU? Will it strike another blow to the increasingly fragile European integration building? Will it shoot in the opposite direction? The answers will lie the intra-EU polemic...

© Mark ENTIN,
professor of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University),
Ekaterina ENTINA,
Associate professor of the National Research University Higher School of Economics (Russia)

№6(131), 2018