Europe and money have always gone hand in hand, not just because the EU evolved out of the economic integration of coal and steel but also because Europe isn’t cheap. And yet it seems no one wants to talk about it. In order to avoid addressing the question of money directly, people talk about a political Europe vs. the Single Market, “people power” vs. military power, social benefits vs. liberalisation of the labour market. Politicians, so as to not to sully their hands with the new euro coins, have even managed to disassociate themselves from the European Central Bank, which is entirely independent.
But there is no hiding the fact that Europeans love money. As the debate over the European constitution and Tony Blair’s re-election, despite the Iraq issue, have shown, a nice fat wallet or the prospect of jobs is more important to people than having an EU Foreign Minister, as promised in the constitution. Despite this, while the European budget for 2007-2013 is being decided, the European press seems to be ignoring the issue of money in Brussels, leaving the debate over prospective EU finances to ministers behind closed doors, resulting in agreements reached by vetoes which preserve opposing, selfish, national desires.
This battle over money should instead start a debate on how the crisis facing the European economic and social model can be resolved. During a dismal period for the economies of most of Europe, neglecting to talk about money means avoiding giving basic answers to concrete problems that have contributed to so many Europeans saying no to the European constitution in referenda.
Whatever happened to the fundamental principle “no taxation without representation” (observed by national governments) during the construction of the European Union? By giving back democratic control and improving transparency and effectiveness with regards to the way money is spent, Europe could regain some credibility, rather than continuing to be held hostage to the paralysis of fallen stars such as Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder.
So, putting the dreams of a constitution to one side, the best thing to do would be to learn to spend and save more prudently, reform outdated and unjust spending such as the Common Agricultural Policy, respect our obligation to invest in the Lisbon Strategy and not give out funds that should be used for helping development as gifts for dictatorial or corrupt regimes. It is also time we put a stop to the European Parliament wasting money by constantly switching between Strasbourg, Brussels and Luxembourg and make it answerable to the people when it comes to public spending. There is no excuse for not having a democratic debate on how money should be spent.