July 22, 2013
Guest post by “Yuri Diabolos”, European Commission civil servant, Brussels
The current debate on Brexit in England is raising strange arguments in Brussels, the consequences of which may not be considered in London.
Reading the outcome of last month’s summit, I was frustrated that most commentary focused on how much a given Member State had got or had not got out of the common pot. This point has repeatedly been made, for example, by Mr Cameron.
This zero sum game approach to the European Union, first brought in for me by Mrs Thatcher and her famous “I want my money back”, misses a key point. The Union has allowed Europe to be reunited as a continent and economic zone, allowing all countries to develop economically AND keep much of their identity and values.
Since UK joined the Common Market, I’ve been a great fan of my British schoolmates and girlfriends. They taught me rugby and French kissing. When I joined the Commission they taught me liberal economics and quality public management. But the current debate on Brexit in England is now echoing strange arguments in Brussels, the consequences of which may not be considered in London. I hear more and more disappointed Eurocrats and lobbyists saying “Well if we have to do without the Brits, let’s plan for it: there are also advantages”.
The Brexit debate appears to be all about the cost to the UK of the EU. Few see anymore the enormous cost of non-Europe, for all Europeans. For me it’s evident, as Emma Bonino said only 3 years ago “Today, there is no need for expert reports such as the Cecchini report. The costs of non-Europe are obvious to everybody, and they are represented by the enormous sacrifices imposed on our citizens – an obstacle to the whole European economy – and by the useless coexistence with anxious doubts about the future of the euro and of the entire European project”.
But these points appear to be missing from the debate in the tabloids. After years of trying, I think this is not a point that will get into the debate. Let’s take it from another angle: if minimising the costs of the EU is the agreed principle, I would like to suggest two possible major cost sources which must be addressed now, or which will bear on the European Union for years to come.
Some Member States and Regions have posited the possibility of taking advantage of the opportunity offered by the Lisbon Treaty and leave the European Union. The only time a similar event happened is when, in 1972, Norway did not accede to the European Economic Community which it was expected to join following an overwhelming majority vote by its Parliament. A referendum was called and lost by the government.
This was a major surprise for all (rings a bell?) and the 6, soon to be 9, Member States, were the first to pay the price. The European Commission, in its indefinite wisdom, had anticipated the enlargement process and, to be ready to translate meetings in Norwegian as of 1/1/1973, the agreed accession date, had already hired Norwegian translators and a few other staff. These became Eurocrats and most of them decided to stay in the Commission until they retired.
To avoid that this happens again, I would suggest taking advantage of the parallel negotiation of the 2014-2020 budget and of the Staff Rules for European Institutions to include a clause that currently does not exist: all permanent staff must be a European citizen. In case a region or a Member State would leave the EU, the contracts of its citizens with the EU Institutions would immediately be terminated, so that the remaining countries would not have to pay their salaries alone without any contribution from their home country or region.
Another cost that was born by the 9 countries in the EU, was that a few pupils had already enrolled in the European Schools. Which are also paid partly by the Member States and partly by the Commission. It was not possible to sack in November those who enrolled in September 1972. True, the Norwegian teachers went home, but a few pupils stayed, taking advantage of the Danish or English teachers to follow their classes. Just like many non-British Eurokids who, today, take advantage of the excellent quality of British teachers without contributing to their salary back in UK.
For the above reason, UK recently decided to reduce the percentage of teachers it provides to the European Schools to bring it in line with the percentage of its national pupils in the European Schools.
Conveniently, the Statutes of the European Schools are also up for revision next year, so I would include a clause that all pupils from a country or region leaving the EU would have to leave the school immediately. All national teachers would be called back home, to care for their education as they will very probably return home.
Maybe, using the two arguments above, some Brits might reconsider their vote if ever a referendum on Brexit would be called. So that we, in the European Commission, could still benefit from the quality of our British colleagues. And my kids would benefit from the quality of British teachers.
UK would benefit too: investing in the salary of British teachers in the European School, they convinced my own kid of the quality of liberal economics and of its teaching in UK. UK has therefore reaped from me 15.000 € this year only. And more to come as my son progresses in his studies. All foreseen to be in UK universities, unless the UK quits the EU soon and university fees triple. We might reconsider then.