In secular Europe, it is rare for politicians to suggest that the European Union's expansive, imperious policies should be reformed by implementing a Christian doctrine. Yet that is precisely what a manifesto aimed at curbing EU excesses has done.
The document proposes paring back the EU's authority in the name of subsidiarity, the Catholic principle that a higher level of government should refrain from intervening in the actions of a lower level of government (and, we should add, in the actions of civil society). "The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism," The Catechism of the Catholic Church states. "It sets limits for state intervention." Such a program inherently diminishes the autonomy of global governance bodies like the EU.
The “Manifesto of Slovak Eurorealism" - issued to mark the 60th anniversary of signing of the Treaty of Rome - was written by Richard Sulik, a Member of European Parliament (MEP) and leader of the opposition Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) Party in Slovakia. He's also a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.
The manifesto answers the challenge by Europhiles that reformers offer something beyond a critique of Brussels' bureaucratization:
This manifesto is an answer to all those who are accusing us of constant criticism without concrete solutions. Well, here they are – 23 very concrete and, with enough political will, practicable proposals. And, as a heads-up to our voters – whenever there is an opportunity, we will act in line with the proposed changes.
The manifesto endorses European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's fourth possible scenario for the EU's future, contained in a white paper that he released in March: "doing less, more efficiently."
Sulik notes that the solution was present within the EU's governing document. The Lisbon Treaty formally establishes subsidiarity by name in Article 5(3), saying that the EU will intervene in local affairs only if "the member states cannot sufficiently achieve the objectives of the proposed action at the central level or regional and local level and can ... be better achieved by the Union.”
That ambiguity furnishes the European Union with far too much discretion:
[W]ords such as "satisfactorily" and "better" give too much room for subjective decisions and disputes. We believe that the principle of subsidiarity should be defined so that if something can be decided by the member states alone, it should not be decided by the EU. The question whether member states’ decisions are better or worse should not play a role ... [T]he key is whether they can decide on the matter at all.
The manifesto proposes that the EU establish a Subsidiarity Court, a concept Sulik credits to former German President Roman Herzog, a proponent of subsidiarity who passed away this January. (Interestingly, the report also quotes the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, marking a transatlantic contribution to limited government.) This court would review whether EU actions accorded with the principle of national and local sovereignty. However, its rulings would be subject to appeals made to the European Court of Justice.
If implemented, subsidiarity would not only increase member states' self-determination but reduce their tax and regulatory burden.
Subsidiarity brings savings
Due to the shrinking role of the EU in the lives of the remaining 27 member states, the report suggests the abolition of two advisory bodies and nine standing committees. That pillar alone would save members at least €322 million and reduce the bureaucracy by more than 1,700 employees.
In addition, Sulik would halve the number of MEPs from 751 to 376 and fire "thousands" of the European Commission's 33,000 employees.
Large, and largely unaccountable, government deprives people of a voice in their own future.
He would also abolish the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union - which is not to be confused with the European Council (with which it would be merged). He further proposes an independent audit to determine if additional EU committees can be abolished.
That's all well and good, but it leaves the problem of the long shadow of EU laws and regulations, which cover such minutiae as the proper curvature of bananas. The EU has imposed more than 12,500 regulations - 769 in 2016 alone, according to the manifesto. To restrain out-of-control decrees in the future, the report proposes a "one-in, two-out" rule for new EU regulations: repealing two administrative rules for every new one written. President Donald Trump enacted such a policy by executive order this year, although it has antecedents in Canada and the UK, making it another reform with transatlantic roots.
William F. Buckley Jr. and common (market) sense
Sulik proposes an additional reform that seems like common sense, known as "netting." Some nations are net beneficiaries of the EU's wealth transfers; they receive more from the EU than they pay as their share of the budget. But under EU rules, they still have to pay their assessed fees in full. For instance, from 2014 to 2020 Slovakia will owe the EU €6.5 billion - but it will receive €13.8 billion. Yet a €6.5 billion bank transfer must cross the wires from Bratislava to Brussels. It would be like American readers learning that the IRS owes them a massive income tax refund, but that they have to write a check for the full amount of their tax liability, anyway.
As William F. Buckley Jr. wrote in Up From Liberalism, "Keep this up, you will readily see, and the skies are black with crisscrossing dollars" - or euros, as may be appropriate. Sulik proposes Brussels simply subtract liabilities from assets and send member nations the remainder.
Unlike much Euroskeptic criticism, the manifesto is libertarian in nature rather than populist, with a pronounced market orientation. "The capital, technology, and know-how brought to our country by [foreign] investors" due to EU membership "would have taken us decades to accumulate ourselves," Sulik writes. Foreign investment does not merely benefit the investors; Slovak wages rose by 37 percent since joining the EU. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has made similar observations about his own country. But market distortions harm everyone's well-being - and large, and largely unaccountable, government deprives people of a voice in their own future. Sulik is not sanguine about the prospects of the EU taking up his reforms, though.
"Perhaps some time, when Hell freezes over, at least some of these changes will be successfully implemented," the manifesto concludes.
That would be a sad end for a heavenly proposal.
You can read Sulik's full manifesto here.
(Photo credit: LMih. This photo has been cropped. CC BY-SA 3.0.)