The European Union, EU, had its origins in noble ideals; the French and the Germans decided to beat swords into ploughshares and to trade instead of fighting with each other and with the rest of Europe, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson said in a panel on possible reforms of the EU at the European Resource Bank in Porto 15 April. He recalled that before 1914 no passports or work permits were needed to cross European borders except on trips to the backward countries of Turkey and Russia. Almost the only visible presence of government was the friendly policeman at the corner of the village. But unfortunately the EU has been undergoing a change, Gissurarson added, from a confederation of states to a federation where the member states have had to surrender much of their sovereignty. Power is being transferred from the member states to the immense, faceless, non-transparent, un-elected Brussels bureaucracy. This development had to be reversed, Gissurarson insisted.
It was true, Gissurarson pointed out, that the Italian economist Luigi Einaudi, one of the most distinguished supporters of a European Union, and a committed classical liberal, had argued that the reason why the League of Nations had failed after the First World War was that it was a confederation and not a federation. It had no power to tax and it had no army. But Gissurarson respectfully disagreed with Einaudi on this. What was important, he submitted, was that the power to tax was divided between many political units so that there was active tax competition, as in Switzerland between individual cantons and indeed also municipalities. Again, Europe did not need a unified army while NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, was functioning, although admittedly the European powers should not rely too much on the United States for their defence and security.
Gissurarson suggested a Nordic model for international relations. It had four components: 1) Peaceful secession: Norway seceded from Sweden in 1905, Finland from Russia in 1917, and Iceland from Denmark in 1918. 2) Border changes by plebiscites: Contested regions in Northern Schleswig were divided up into constituencies, and they could in 1920 vote on whether to belong to Denmark or Germany, with the result that one constituency, overwhelmingly Danish-speaking, was incorporated into Denmark, while two others remained parts of Germany. 3) Autonomy of special regions. The inhabitants of the Aaland Islands, located in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland, spoke Swedish and wanted after the First World War to become a part of Sweden. But the Finnish government granted them autonomy, and now they have no problems with being a part of Finland. 4) Cooperation without the total surrender of sovereignty. Since 1952, the Nordic countries have cooperated in the Nordic Council, abolishing passport controls and work permits between themselves, and coordinating legislation. This has been a gradual and almost spontaneous development, based on reciprocity and mutual benefits. Perhaps the EU should look at this Nordic model rather than try to become a superpower in fierce competition with the United States and China, Gissurarson said.
The European Resource Bank annually brings together several institutes, organisations and foundations in Europe, including New Direction in Brussels, Svensk Tidskrift in Malmø, the Austrian Economic Center in Vienna and the Taxpayers Association of Europe. The local organiser was the +Liberdade. Speakers at the conference included Dr. Barbara Kolm of the Austrian Economics Centre, Dr. Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute, Robert Tyler of New Direction, MEP Veronika Vrecionová, Rolf von Hohenau and Michael Jäger of the Taxpayers Association of Europe, Juan Ángel Soto of Disenso, John Fund of National Review, Rod Richardson of the Grace Richardson Fund, Anders Ydstedt of Svensk Tidskrift, and Portuguese MP Dr. Carlos Guimarães Pinto.