Dutch student newspaper De Observant spoke with Academic director Anne Pieter van der Mei of Maastricht University following his editing of the publication – “Twenty Year Treaty on European Union: Reflection from Maastricht” – on the realities of the treaty and its future within a growing anti-European climate.
Van der Mei – an associate professor in European law – co-operated in the editing of the publication, which contained contributions from over thirty legal experts, each of which reflected on the treaty’s effects over the last two decades. All of this can be read in the introduction to the book Reflections from Maastricht. Van Der Mei stated:
“In the articles, the authors discuss what changes the treaty has brought and what the future will bring. But it is hard to predict future developments. How will the Euro be doing in five years? Nobody knows.”
This uncertainty is partly due to the current anti-European climate. The speech by British Prime Minister earlier this year was typical for this attitude, says Van der Mei. David Cameron announced his plans for a referendum in which the British people – in 2015 or later – will be able to decide on withdrawal from the EU. This is not very wise, according to the professor:
“Referendums sound nice, but don’t work in practice. Look at the Dutch referendum in 2005 about the European Constitution. The reasons against Europe make no sense at all. First of all, people did not seem to understand what the voting was about. And secondly, most people voted simply against the European constitution because Prime Minister Balkenende was against it, without even knowing why. I am in favor of representative democracy: let the democratically elected politicians decide on these matters.”
Pandering for votes
The current euro-skepticism has indirectly to do with the economic crisis, claims Van der Mei: “Although the crisis is not a result of the introduction of the euro, the recession does expose the weaknesses of the monetary union. The funds that keep countries like Greece from downfall are no solid solutions but clumsy palliatives. What the EU lacks, is a common economic policy and a tax system that can generate its own money. This way the Germans won’t get the feeling that they are paying for the Greeks.”
That is, after all, what feeds the resentment towards Europe and the rise of populist parties. And that’s not all. Europe imposes an unnecessary amount of rules according to Van Der Mei. To illustrate: “In the UK there has been much fuss about working hours in hospitals. There are doctors who stay in the hospital after a workday to rest there and be available on call. Europe argues that those resting or sleeping doctors are still at work and should be paid. I think that we need rules to get to a shared standard among the 28 countries, but Europe should not poke its nose into everything”.
What euro-skepticism also maintains is the nonsense that many politicians are spouting:
“Do you really think that the Netherlands is limited in its capabilities by European integration laws? Secretary Fred Teeven recently exclaimed that the influx of Eastern Europeans is an attack on our social security and put us in deep financial trouble. Nonsense. Most come to work. Moreover, someone who has no intention to work and applies for social assistance will simply be refused. It is nothing but disguised pandering for votes.”
Europe is a “must”, says Van der Mei:
“There is no way back. The world is shrinking and we now know that you can only address cross-border problems such as environmental pollution and terrorism in a European context. That idea seems accepted in academic circles but not within the wider population. Ignorance among citizens also plays a role. I remember that farmers at the summit in Maastricht fiercely protested, though agriculture was not even mentioned in the text. In fact they owed their very careers to the EU. It would help if we would explain Europe better, if we teach our children in European history.”
Perhaps the eternal fear of the Super-state will eventually disappear as well. Van der Mei grabs a booklet containing the basic European treaties:
“Look, you have three types of competence: exclusive, shared and coordinating. When it comes to exclusive authority the programs of the EU are mandatory. This applies to the policy in the field of customs, competition, fisheries, international trade policy and monetary matters. These are all cases the Member States support unanimously. In all other cases agreements are made in consultation. So we really don’t have to be afraid for a super-state. Brussels will not prescribe us how to organize our health care system, to give an example. At most, the EU will try to encourage, not to impose.”
Edited and Translated by Nele Goutier