Unity in Diversity : The issue of a unified capital
The project of European Integration is marked by non- linear events, starting with the Treaty of Rome to the recent Treaty of Lisbon, with a less clear vision of what is to become of the EU. Notwithstanding Europeans are drawn together to form a unified future. Obviously, it could in the short-term never become a Nation state in the Westphalia sense nor should it try.
Therefore, the question arises whether the EU should reflect itself in the form of a capital; geographical unification of all institutions is thus counterproductive. Yet, this vision of a state called Europe is the nightmare scenario for most Eurosceptics, using it to delegitimize further European Integration and to reinforce stereotypes within the European peoples about the EU. Surprising is in this context a report which wants to bring all aspects of the EU parliament together in Brussels. In affect reinforcing Brussels’ role as the “CAPITAL”. The recent report by MEP McMillian- Scott signifies this in a very dramatic manner. Pragmatism as a cover, it is arguing to try to bring all parliamentary administrative services to Brussels, thus establishing it as the “Capital” of the EU.
From an economic and efficiency standpoint, this step seems sensible, even bold. Yet, it seems to forget an important issue, public opinion in such an endeavor. Actually it is playing on two main established prejudices within Eurosceptic circles which are shared with the wider public and thus provide for support for this endeavor. Firstly, the economic argument in a time of crisis is of course supported, as it is deemed necessary to cut on unessential forms of governance in order to decrease expenditures. Of course, but the report further does not explore whether Brussels is supported by the wider public. In this respect the move to streamline the Parliament in Brussels is also a try to undermine, the already decreasing, trust into EU institutions.
Secondly, the argument, that having all institutions at one place will increase the efficiency between the institutions and makes it easier to find consensus. In a sense this is accurate, as the physical travelling time in Brussels is only a couple of minutes. Though, it leaves one aspect out: that of the familiarity issue. A European democracy works on the principle of the separation of power. In conclusion when continuing this thought, might it not be better for a democracy that its institutions are separate, also in terms of familiarity? In addition, in the time of modern communications via Internet and video conference this argument is further proven wrong.
What is the alternative? The EU is built upon the principal of diversity. By extending this notion to the geographical diversity of its institutions, it might benefit by not having one but many capitals. The spreading of the institutions has first of all the economic benefit to the recipient city. Particularly this has the added benefit that the EU is seen as a positive factor in these places. Strasbourg as a city defines itself as a European capital. Institutions are thus becoming the “ambassadors” of the EU.
Geographical diversity will therefore connect the abstract notion of an EU institution, with a real face which is easier accessible to more citizens. For EU citizens, Strasbourg is defined by its unique history and by the seat of the European parliament. The parliament in Brussels is also not designed to function as a representative seat with a proper plenary hall. Strasbourg is a symbol for the democracy the EU is. It is furthermore a place which plays with the very symbols many Eurosceptics are scared by: Democratic Symbolism and the seemingly easy access it allows to the general public to follow sessions of parliaments. In fact, the report is not about efficiency but it is an attack on the EU project and on the public’s right to follow plenary sessions of parliament.