Thursday, July 06, 2006

EU - baaad, prejudice - goooood

The new Eurobarometer was published today. According to the survey, Finns are the most eurosceptic people in EU, with 26% thinking Finnish membership in the EU is a baad thaang. Britain and Austria take the other places on the dubious podium. The fieldwork for this was done in April, so at that point the previous, current and future presidency-holders were holding the hats of top-sceptics in the survey.

Does this say something about the leadership crisis of the Union? The countries holding the presidency should be driving the union forward - legislative processes, reforms, constitution etc., as they have some control over the agenda of the meetings, and by preparing and chairing them can influence the outcomes by setting targets and committing to work towards them. One of the major arguments for rotating precidency is that when every member state is in charge in its turn, this gives everyone in the union the reassurance that they can influence the future of EU, which is often seen as a bureaucratic behemoth. So, while the elected political officers in the member states take their turn on the driving seat, they should be able not only to push the Union forward but also gain support for the project in their own electors. Deferred success on both counts, if the Eurobarometer is to be believed.

There are other factors, such as lack of definition of "forward" in the Union at the moment, which of course is not a small deal. Also, having a highly critical electorate to begin with doesn't encourage the political leadership to take leading roles on the European stage - if the people who vote for you see keeping things in a standstill as the best way forward, no amount of European pressure will make you behave otherwise. Unless you want to end your final term in office with a bang! Or at least a crash.

I have very modest expectations for the Finnish presidency. I expect everything to run smoothly in terms of organising the meetings etc. The civil servants who carry the weight of the organisation and run much of the backstage diplomacy will be top notch. But, the lack of vision and reluctance to take risks is a defining trait of the current government coalition, and this is especially clear in foreign policy. Especially with the parliamentary elections looming in March 2007, it will be low profile all around - management, not leadership. The current govt defines "forward" as "hopefully not going backwards too much". Most of the sorely needed reforms in Finland have been ground to a halt by the current government, by setting up an infinite number of committees and steering groups and commissioning an endless stream of reports and studies. I have nothing against proper background research, but when you commission a new study on an issue where the previous study with practically identical mission was published in 2005 rather than getting on with the damn legislation, there is something fundamentally wrong in the way these people see their role as leaders.

Why are Finns so Eurosceptic? We get a fair share of the structural funds, have done good work in using them, and altogether in financial terms the membership doesn't cost us all that much. The access to the European market has benefited our businesses, helped people to travel, study and work abroad. We have even gained some self-confidence from being a part of a "Western", European club instead of having to repeatedly tell everyone we are NOT part of the Soviet bloc.
Well, take the recent "survey" or a webpoll in a Finnish tabloid: they wanted people to tell them things that were better before the EU membership. OK, but you never see any polls, stories or discussion of the things that are better with the membership. These are branded as propaganda. It's no news that people are always nostalgic for the past, and running these kinds of polls just taps into the simplest fallacy in research: correlation does not imply causation. Asking people to list things that were better 10-15 years ago compared to how things are now will provide you a list of things; from people missing certain trademarks to longing for those warmer summers and more snowy Christmases. Replacing the term "10 to 15 years ago" by the term "before the EU membership" will produce pretty much the same list, but this time EU becomes the culprit.

Just as I'm fed up with the mickeymouse soundbite science, I'm fed up with the unfounded "EU will forbid this and stop that" -stories. And the "polls" described above. They are irresponsible, as much as they are wrong. It tells a lot about the media who are ready to publish anything as long as they think their readership will enjoy the laughs. I think they knew what they were doing in the poll, it wasn't just their total ignorance of how public opinion and attitudes should be measured. But as they are at the same time twisting public perception of the European institutions and what they are for, I think it's sad and cheap.

Could we please move to the next level in the discussion? Not everything in EU is good, not everything that's been proposed by the commission, council or the parliament should be put forward. We need critical discussion, but not the kind of childish whining much of the public "debate" is at the moment. Will Germany deliver? MEP's? Anyone? Media? Ahh, you're all at the beach already. Well, we'll get back to it after the holidays. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day, although it seemed to be buried in one. Anyone for Pimms?

No comments: