Social Policy : Alain Lamassoure Pinpoints Deficits of Citizens' Europe

Article excerpt

On 25 June, French MEP Alain Lamassoure (EPP-ED, UMP) gave French President Nicolas Sarkozy a report on European citizens and Community law implementation'. The report, which in principle is purely national, is in fact of interest to all of Europe because its findings and the solutions it proposes are primarily European.

The 200-page report presents 61 proposals. It identifies four types of problems experienced by Europeans: 1. social security; 2. portability of social rights (pensions, unemployment, right to social assistance); 3. equivalence of diplomas; and 4. family issues (divorce, child custody, maintenance allowances, etc).

The report notes that the European Commission (which has not been very active on this issue in recent years), the French EU Presidency and the other member states have to face their responsibilities. It urges them to seek more concrete results for European citizens who move from one member state to another, whether for work, education, tourism, family, retirement or health.

ECONOMIC-SOCIAL IMBALANCE

The report observes a "worrying imbalance" between economic integration, which has gone so far as to achieve the merging of national currencies, and free movement of persons, which still faces numerous obstacles. Citizens' free movement is still at a stage of development similar to that of the movement of goods prior to the 1985 Single Act: borders have been abolished but harmonious living in the common area is impeded by countless obstacles. While the "European preference" is undeniably a success in terms of foreign trade (on average, each European country conducts two-thirds of its trade with its Union partners), that is much less the case for "citizens' Europe". In most member states, there are twice as many non-Europeans as Europeans among foreigners; the proportion is identical for binational marriages. In spite of the success of Erasmus, more university exchanges are conducted with the rest of the world than among Europeans. The major national media devote more air time to US politics than to European politics, not to mention the rest of international politics.

A CITIZENS' AREA IN ITS INFANCY

This situation is sometimes due to shortcomings in European law, though mostly to its very poor implementation, notes the rapporteur.

The first problem: the inadequacy of European law as such. On professional mobility, the portability' of social rights and the mutual recognition of degrees and qualifications, reality is very far removed from the principles underlying Community legislation which, though tried and tested, is often outdated and poorly implemented. Human resources executives in multinationals based in Paris estimate that the cost of an executive's international mobility inside the European Union and inside a single group is two to six times higher than in the country of origin. Erasmus is still only benefiting less than 3% of European students. And contrary to what was initially hoped, the universities themselves are still responsible for the mutual recognition of degrees, which therefore takes place on a case-by-case basis. As for the recognition of professional qualifications, apart from half a dozen regulated professions, this lengthy process is still in its early stages in the Union and relies entirely on the good will of the member states.

Second problem: the transposition of European directives, which can only be implemented following their transposition into national law. The zeal for doing so varies with each member state.

Third problem: information on applicable law. The uninitiated European citizen needs a magic wand to track down scraps of information, unaware that oceans of it are within reach, though these remain uncharted. There is no coherent information system catering to all citizens, but a mass of information providers accessible to the initiated. The chosen few' are very few indeed and not very happy at that'. …