The ideology underpinning the ‘Union’ in EU is all-pervasive. Sometimes the pressure is subtle, at other times overt. As an example of the latter, consider parental leave following the birth of a child. Sweden has extraordinarily generous terms, Spain’s are mean by comparison. Now the EU is considering unifying such provisions across its realm. What are their choices? Well, they could recognise that the terms of parental leave vary widely and go for some sort of unified compromise. But whatever position they choose Sweden and others will have to reduce the benefits they provide. This would not go down well in Sweden or other relatively generous member states. And lowering standards would not look consistent with EU propaganda (“…a better and fairer life for all citizens“).
Predictably therefore, the EU is proposing something along Swedish lines, as it is obliged to, for political and ideological reasons. Sweden offers couples 480 days parental leave for each child, paid by the taxpayer at about 80% of their salary; the parents can share this leave, as long as each has at least 90 days, and it can be taken at any time before the child’s eighth birthday. Britain offers 90 days leave per parent. A new mother in Spain must take 30 days post-natal leave, on full pay, while her partner is offered 10 days non-mandatory paternity leave. Current EU legislation specifies 14 weeks minimum maternity leave, of which two weeks are mandatory. An infographic with more detail on maternity and paternity leave, covering all member states, can be found on the EU’s europa.eu site, here.
Another source of commentary that we have used is The Economist (TE), which has an article here.
The variation in childbirth leave policies is wide and, we can assume, derives from the wide variety of cultural norms that member states’ different histories have produced throughout Europe. While most countries are trying to raise the level and flexibility of leave entitlements following childbirth, the difficulty of doing so is evidenced by the different rates at which optional leave is taken up. In Sweden most fathers take up as much offered leave as they can; in Spain only some 2% of fathers take up their non-mandatory paternity leave entitlement.
If Sweden is ‘good’, as it is the most generous, then Spain is ‘bad’, being among the least generous. Such judgements are the consequence of basing every policy on an ideology; non-uniform policies, and the practices that follow from them, must be rooted out. [Diverse cultures-1or2]This leads to political policies that have disruptive practical outcomes. Instead of considering what would fit each nation’s culture (in which case why would you need a Union?) the ideology forces the EU to impose uniformity, which no one (other than EU demagogues and unthinking supporters) would tolerate. We already see this in the case of migrant policies, which the EU is attempting to impose uniformly, to the disgruntled resistance of Eastern European nations. Not to mention the eurozone, in which the Union is attempting to force uniformity on economic cultures as diverse as Germany’s and Greece’s.
The ideology is well exhibited in the following, taken from the Five Presidents Report:
“…the convergence process towards more resilient economic structures…should become more binding. This would be achieved by agreeing on a set of common high-level standards that would be defined in EU legislation, as sovereignty over policies of common concern would be shared and strong decision-making…would be established. In some areas, this will need to involve further harmonisation”.
That report, from 2015, was about economic and financial policies but the “economic structures” could be replaced by almost any feature of national policy and the rest would stand as written. The key words to note are “binding”, “common high-level standards”, “defined in legislation”, “sovereignty… shared” and “harmonisation”.
If uniformity had any purpose beyond promoting central governance then that purpose would surely be to enable and support sound labour markets and welfare systems (among others). But there is no reason to believe that the European Union could achieve these. And there are many reasons to believe that it cannot do so. Evidence from EU experience is among them. Also, no rational person could believe that setting uniformity (convergence) as a pre-condition for completing economic and monetary union makes any sense. In the real world, the Germans are not going to give up their hard-earned surpluses and the Greeks are not going to be able to match these (see Fixated on Union).
The notion that sovereignty is shared in the EU is particularly deceitful, as sovereignty is extracted, passed upwards and never, ever returned. This is like sharing your marbles with the school bully. Defining something in legislation sounds like a nice way to say, ‘you will obey’, disguising the intent to exterminate diversity.
EU propaganda asserts that ‘Europe’ needs the uniformity that it demands in order to achieve clout in the world, in competition with the USA and China in particular. There is no reason to believe that the world needs a third hegemon, or that the EU could become that. The contrast with the USA is particularly interesting. It shows that a stable union does not require such coulourless uniformity; in the USA the states decide the details that don’t require federal oversight and this has worked since its foundation. The separation of powers extends ‘downwards’ as well as horizontally.
This vertical separation is in fact built into the EU’s treaties but is consistently ignored as it clearly conflicts with the drive towards a complete and dominant Union. Here is ‘subsidiarity’ as described in the EU’s fact sheet “The Principles of Subsidiarity“:
“In areas in which the European Union does not have exclusive competence, the principle of subsidiarity seeks to safeguard the ability of the Member States to take decisions and action and authorises intervention by the Union when the objectives of an action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, but can be better achieved at Union level, ‘by reason of the scale and effects of the proposed action’. The purpose of including a reference to the principle in the EU Treaties is also to ensure that powers are exercised as close to the citizen as possible, in accordance with the proximity principle referred to in Article 10(3) of the TEU.”
This may be the most important area in which the EU ignores its own rules – and demonstrates its obsession with federalism. They have ensured that few areas remain in which the EU “does not have exclusive competence”; competences (which means powers to act), once passed up from the member states, are never returned. Do they truly believe that parental leave “cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States”? What nonsense! And what a clear demonstration of the pervasive ideology. And what arrogance to believe that it can be dictated (sorry – “better achieved”) at Union level.
The Oxford English Dictionary offers a less clunky and ignorable definition of subsidiarity as, “the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level.” This is subsidiarity upwards, which makes sense.
The explanation for the EU’s self-imposed problem is the ideology of uniformity that underlies the term ‘Union’. Achieving high and common standards is best left to individual nations, which could collaborate under a community free of both ideology and over-weight bureaucracy. The EU is clearly not that organisation.