Period of reflection needed if Brexit bullet is dodged

Let us assume for the moment the British people vote in 10 days time in favour of continued membership of the European Union.

Is that it then? Do we all breathe a sigh of relief and get on with our lives?

More to the point, do the statesmen and stateswomen, and the bureaucrats and jurists, who ensure that the union ticks over from day to day, carry on regardless?

Or do they engage in some serious self-examination following a divisive campaign, and perhaps a pretty tight result?

There is an argument for moving on. Events pile in. This is no time for navel gazing. There are decisions to be made.

The Council of Ministers will have big decisions to make.

Greece, no doubt, will be on the menu as its latest deal creaks.

Somewhere down the line, a markets shock awaits, another summer of financial discontent matching the labour problems spreading in France.

The migrant crisis looks certain to keep the lights on in the Council of Ministers HQ.

A plan has been hatched under which 160,000 refugees will be spread across countries of the union, except the UK.

European Commission president, Jean Claude Juncker has proposed that states which refuse to take in asylum seekers should be fined €250,000 for every person refused entry. Imagine how that would going down in Hungary and Austria.

Juncker and his team may have little option but to press ahead in the face of member state hostility but, following events involving refugees in Germany and Sweden, more efficient means of repatriation of troublesome refugees may have to be devised.

For all the arguments put forward, an ageing EU needs fresh young migrants, communities across the union baulk at the changes now being forced on them.

The rise of populist parties across much of the union will ensure these concerns must be met through an accommodation of some sort.

The story of Europe in 2016 is one in part of elites under challenge and called on to be more responsive.

However, the story in places like France is of separation of a bureaucratic, business and political elite from the citizenry.

Officials on the Continent can often be tin-eared, thin-skinned and unsympathetic to the citizens they are paid to serve.

Those mittel-European paper pushers are not creatures of myth and some of that spirit has managed to infect the admittedly modestly-sized Brussels bureaucratic machine.

Few could deny that EU regulations have not on balance been a boon for the citizens of the union.

The people of north Co Dublin have suffered in recent weeks from leaks of raw sewage that barred them from their beaches and the EU environmental machine has been cranking up in response.

Dungarvan, Co Waterford-based Environet Solutions reports 15 cases are being taken against the Irish State, of which five are at stage two.

This means the prospect of heavy fines now looms large with the state facing a lump sum fine of €2.7m, with another €23,000-plus added for each day of delay, for failure to regulate septic tanks.

Few could argue with such EU moves aimed at shaking up our complacent officials and politicians.

Yet all too often, the EU can also be the source of clunking over-regulation. Some time ago, the UK department of business produced a lengthy report proposing the simplification of EU law.

It claimed that the second Company Law Directive alone imposed 75 information obligations on firms at a cost of €67m to UK business and a total EU-wide cost of £471m.

It reckoned the two directives regulating domestic mergers imposed a cost of €136m on UK firms and one of almost one €1bn across the EU. It claimed that by simplifying its pollution control laws, the EU could save firms almost €950m.

The department accepted the new integrated pollution directive, applying to 45,000 installations across the EU, represents a “fundamentally sound approach”.

In other words, clean out the dirty bathwater, but don’t throw out the baby. Pages of legislation could be swept away. Inspections and enforcement could be improved, with micro firms being exempted.

An EU group headed by the former Bavarian premier, Edmund Stoiber, has said over 90% of SMEs operate only in their home country and should be spared EU regulatory burdens.

By slashing compliance burdens, here, an EU-wide saving of €2.2bn could be secured.

The Eurocracy needs to get out of the business of over-checking and acting the fusspot while concentrating its fire on really serious sources of breaches.

A properly functioning single market remains the key goal along with the maintenance of basic conditions of decency in the environment, in health standards and in the workplace.

The EU has worked well in ensuring such standards, something we take for granted. The bureaucrats need to restrain their natural impulse to churn out edicts often couched in dense language and contained in heavy tomes.

The union leadership, above all, needs to learn how to communicate with its citizens. The great democratic leaders from Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt to JFK and Obama, have understood the power of phrases and the need for poetry in statement.

Too often, the EU governs in drab prose. It needs to draw on the traditional skills of wordsmiths and on the new technological tools in reaching a citizenry which with good reason, has grown disillusioned.

At the heart of the EU malaise has been the failure of the elites in many of its key member states to create jobs and opportunity for young people.

That is a failure that has tainted the EU as a whole, highlighting the shortcomings of a generation of leaders and public managers who have not managed to bring their populations with them along the road towards necessary reform.

Leadership above all is about inspiration which has been notably lacking in Europe’s conference halls where the drier skills predominate.

If the EU elites escape the swish of the Brexit sword, it should use the period of remission that follows to embark on a period of reflection and self-examination that hopefully leads to a revival of the sort engineered by the commission’s then- President, Jacques Delors, a generation ago.

Period of reflection needed if Brexit bullet is dodged

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