A Single Europe: So Far and Yet So Near?

By Crockett, Eddie | Communication World, May-June 1990 | Go to article overview

A Single Europe: So Far and Yet So Near?


Crockett, Eddie, Communication World


Equally disconcerting is that the Community's history is one of compromise, backbiting, recrimination, petulance, grandstanding, infighting and ad hoc political and commercial alliances, many of them of short duration.

Presiding over these uneasy bedfellows is another layer of cumbersome, mutually incompatible bureaucracies in the shape of the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Together with the European Court of Justice, this triumvirate churns out each year close on one million pages of rules, regulations, directives, drafts, position papers, court judgments and the like. These documents are duly translated into the nine Community languages so that bureaucrats in the 12 Member States can conveniently ignore them.

A Pat on the Back and a Kick Up the Derriere

The European Commission recently patted the EC Council of Ministers on the back for reaching final (or almost final) agreement on about 50 percent of the 279 measures identified in the 1985 White Paper as being essential to completion of the Single European Market by December 31, 1992.

Little matter that the vast majority of these measures relate to earth-shatteringly tedious items like the prevention of African swine fever, the prevention of African swine fever in Portugal, the prevention of African swine fever in Spain (note, three separate measures), permissible noise levels for tower cranes, the chemical properties of toys, and acceptable noise levels for hydraulic diggers.

Clearly, each of these measures is important, if it happens to impact on your sector of activity. That said, it is reliably reported that the IBMS, Unilevers and Siemens of this world are not losing too much sleep at the prospect of new Community measures such as these. Nor, for that matter, are they revamping corporate strategy to accommodate new rules on electro-medical implantable, non-automatic weighing machines, tire pressure gauges, protection of hotels against fire, lawn-mower noise, swine vesicular disease, boar meat, enzootic bovine leukosis, or brucellosis in small ruminants.

The Council of Ministers probably deserves the occasional pat on the back. But it also deserved-and got-a kick up the derriere in the form of a reminder from the Commission that the Member States, collectively, have failed to implement 90 percent of the EC Directives which should by now be national law. Of the 70 or so internal market directives which should now be in place throughout the Member States, only seven had been implemented by all 12 at the time of the Commission's review released last September.

It is probably unfair to single out Spain and Portugal for too much criticism-after all, they only joined three years ago and they are still digging themselves out from under the avalanche of 1,000 or so prior directives they automatically undertook to implement when they joined the Community.

As far as Greece is concerned, the Karamanlis Government rushed the country into the Community before being ousted by the Pasok Party (which, at the time, was assiduously anti-Community membership): In their anxiety to get in, they committed themselves to implementation deadlines that were totally unrealistic-and everybody knew it. They have been playing catch-up ever since.

The Greeks seemed to be hauled before the European Court of Justice every other week. But the Italians are the frontrunners in the non-compliance stakes. The European Court issues second rulings which-as one might expect-compel an offender to comply with a first ruling. Only tO such second rulings have been issued in the history of the Community. And every single one has been directed against Rome.

Europe: a Complex Mix of Governments

There are valid reasons for this. Europe is a complex beast, a strange admixture of monarchies and federal states. And many of the federal states have devolved power to their regions; Italy is a case in point. …

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