The recent French presidential elections have confirmed a lack of understanding and disapproval on the part of many citizens of policies that go back several decades, and also of the leaders who carried out those policies. They have also reminded us of how these same citizens distrust — or even reject — the European Union, which is often quick to figure as a scapegoat for national problems. Yet, as this article by Gabriel Arnoux shows, this rejection of Europe is based on a misunderstanding — very often maintained by national governments — of the EU’s actual areas of competency.
There is, in fact, a real difference between the perception many European citizens have of the role of the Union in shaping and determining national policies and the reality of that role. The exclusive areas of competency of the European Union are actually rather limited (relating mainly to compliance with competition rules, currency, and customs and trade policy). In most areas, the EU intervenes only to support member states or in collaboration with them. This clarification of the EU’s real areas of competency is vital, since the Commission has just begun a process of reflection on the future of Europe, based on five scenarios aimed at determining how the Union might develop and what its proper areas of competency should be. It is also essential because the vagueness around the actual responsibilities and legal competencies of European and national institutions is an indicator of a more general malaise regarding the way public policies are presented and evaluated, which also plays a considerable role in the citizenry’s general disaffection with politics.