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'Brussels consensus' widens gulf with EU electorates

Updated: 2013-12-09 16:03
( Agencies)

PARIS - Call it the Brussels Consensus. A system of beliefs rooted in European Union treaties helps explain the growing gulf between policy elites and ordinary citizens that may cause a political earthquake in European Parliament elections next May.

These articles of faith are widely regarded as self-evident truths in the European Commission and the European Central Bank but are often regarded by voters as the cause of their misfortunes rather than the solution to them.

This disparity, exacerbated by a four-year slump and soaring unemployment due to the euro zone's debt crisis, is fuelling attacks on the EU itself and on its single currency, the euro, by populists of the far right and the radical left.

Like the free-market Washington Consensus that prevailed in the 1990s, there is no official definition of the Brussels Consensus.

Economist John Williamson coined the Washington Consensus in 1989 to describe a set of neo-liberal economic policies prescribed by the US Treasury, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for developing countries in trouble.

Here is a rough outline of its European cousin, with apologies for journalistic simplification and exaggeration:

1) Brussels knows best. The answer to the financial and economic crisis is "more Europe".

2) Free trade is always better than protection.

3) The free movement of workers and services within the EU's single market takes precedence over protecting the rights of workers in their own country.

4) Europe needs more immigrants to boost growth and pay for our pensions and welfare benefits in the future.

5) It is better to tax consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than labour and high incomes.

6) Free and unfettered competition takes precedence over promoting national or European industrial champions.

7) To fight unemployment, you need to reduce the protection and sometimes the pay of workers currently in jobs.

8) The "community method" of European integration is always better and more legitimate than intergovernmental cooperation.

9) National sovereignty is an outdated idea, both in Europe and around the world.

10) The market should prevail in all things, including public services - except agriculture.

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