Not as exciting as the World Cup

If anyone has the energy to think about the European Constitution at the moment, I’m afraid this entry will not encourage you to keep up the effort.

Last week, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) put on a show for those of us in Brussels who are interested: a lunchtime meeting, discussing the way forward after the “period of reflection” on the fate of the Constitutional Treaty. The speakers were the leaders of the three main pan-European political parties – for the European People’s Party, former Belgian prime minister Wilfried Martens; for the Party of European Socialists, former Danish prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen; and for the Liberals, Belgian politician Annemie Neyts.

I found it a depressing meeting, depressing because of the complicit complacency of the three.

All three believed that EU member states have a duty to continue ratifying the constitution (fifteen have so far done so, with Finland apparently likely to follow suit this month), despite the “no” votes from France and the Netherlands. Those who are dragging their feet were roundly condemned. There should be no defeatist talk of “cherry-picking” the It is, apparently, all the fault of national political leaders who have failed to think of the European common good and instead, we were told, think only in national terms.

The argument then goes that once four-fifths of EU member states (ie 20 at the moment, 22 after Romania and Bulgaria join) have ratified the Constitutional Treaty, the European Council can amend the glorious document to make it acceptable to the French and Dutch, and then win renewed referendums. Exactly what amendments might make the French and Dutch change their mind remains deeply unclear. Exactly how a treaty that was acceptable to the French and Dutch might be made acceptable to the electorates of the more traditionally Eurosceptic countries, such as the British, remains equally unclear.

The arguments put forward by the panellists as to the necessity of a Constitution for the EU were very poor. We were told that the decision-making process set up by the Treaty of Nice is so complex that it is unworkable. (One of only two points put from the floor was from a CEPS researcher, reporting that their research indicates that in fact the Nice mechanisms are working perfectly well in practice.) We were told that without the constitution, there would be no provision for choosing a smaller Commission after the 2009 European elections. (The other speaker from the floor pointed out that there are, in fact, several ways of getting around this problem.) We were told that the European public were very keen on having an EU constittuional settlement. Well, the most compelling direct evidence on this point is surely that of the French and Dutch referenda, which points rather in the opposite direction.

Of the three panellists, Rasmussen was much the best speaker. Martens, although he made a few good points, went on for far too long, and Neyts, since she agreed completely with the other two, could only repeat what they had said.

Some day, perhaps, the debates between the different pan-European political parties, telling us their different visions for Europe, will inspire and uplift us all to greater political participation in the European project. For now, it is profoundly depressing that the three appear to have essentially the same vision of the way forward for the EU, and that that vision is so far divorced from the political realities of the 25 (soon 27) member states.

46 thoughts on “Not as exciting as the World Cup


  1. There should be no defeatist talk of “cherry-picking” the It is, apparently, all the fault of national political leaders who have failed to think of the European common good and instead, we were told, think only in national terms.

    I’m not sure what your point here is. You seem to be cheering the fact that politicians often think in national terms rather than the common good, whereas I see it as a distressing failure.
    One of the various hooks LBJ used to get Civil Rights bills pushed through the Senate was precisely this same point — to appeal to Senators to look beyond the narrow concerns and even wishes of their own states (which might have close to zero African-Americans and thus no interest in the subject, or be actively opposed to it) and have them consider themselves of all Americans, and to do the right thing by America. Do you think this was a foolish or even immoral strategy?

    Even if the new constitution is, legally, dead, voting in support for it is a symbolic act and, given the behavior of the US and the many problems of the UN, the EU remains our last great hope for providing a government that can address problems larger than the individual state. I see that as more important than the wangling about resubmitting it to France and the Netherlands which is, as you say, problematic.

  2. David,

    Yes, all in English. Martens and Neyts are native Dutch speakers, and Rasmussen is a Dane.

    Maynard,

    It’s a question of how you invest your energies. To be honest I see the current Constitutional Treaty as more analogous to the Articles of Confederation than the eventual 1787 U.S. constitution. In particular, I perceive that the hurdle at which it fell was the hurdle of popular legitimacy. I’m not convinced that the problems of day-to-day running the EU and the problems of the wider legitimacy of the European project are related – indeed, I’m not convinced that there are big problems in the day-to-day running of the EU equivalent in gravity to the civil rights crisis of the U.S. in the 1960s.

    To my mind the Constitutional Treaty, as drawn up, answered the wrong questions; and pressing ahead with ratification in the face of popular rejection by two large member states simply cannot be legitimate. In the U.S. the majority of states were indeed able to impose terms on the minority, both in the 1780s and the 1960s; the political dynamic in Europe is different.

  3. The problem with the referenda on the EU constitution is the same as with EU elections (and I think that’s what your party criticism is aimed at) – they’re largely secondary national contests, and as such of limited explanatory value with reference to the question they’re actually about. Ask the same EU related question in two different national political settings and you’ll get two different results. So, referenda should be seen as what they really are: a political instrument construing political will of the highest authority that no one really knows how handle, except that politicians too often believe they do.

    Still, what do you think about Schüssel’s EU-wide referendum “proposal”?

  4. I’m surprised no one brought up the substantial difference between the adoption of the EU constitution and the US constitution of 1789.

    All the US states agreed in advance they would be bound if the constitution were ratified by 9 of the 13 states.

    In addition, popular referenda were held in order to legitimate the government as a national government, with powers independent of and not coextensive with those of the states, a government not just the creature of the state governments.

    Of course I know the southern states later took issue with the definition of the national government I just gave, but I believe my point is still correct.

    In terms of the EU this would mean you need a unanimous decision of the member states to agree to abide in advance with majority decision, implicitly giving up their national vetoes from the beginning.

    I think you would also need some politicians to show leadership in crafting a document that provided a meaningful political framework for the EU, instead of the vague statement of cliches you got the last time.

    Of course this also means a host of critical issues would have to be addressed head on, such as the separation of EU powers from the national governments while still mainatining some form of national representation, addressing the powers and elections of the EU parliament and the selection of an executive (parliamentary or presidential), etc., etc.

    All of the above probably explains why we won’t see an EU constitution passed in the near future. And maybe, in the long run, that’s a good thing because it’s important that such an important matter be decided clearly and definitively (as much as possible) up front.

  5. PM,

    Your basic point is entirely right – countries are not going to give up their vetoes at the beginning of the process, which means that the pace of writing the constitution will effectively be determined by the most reluctant.

    Tobias,

    I don’t see any reason to expect that EU-wide referenda will be any more edifying than national level ones. I do see huge technical difficulties (as every country will have different standards for such details as printing ballot papers) and also horrible political echo effects, as bad translations of remarks made by campaigners on one side or the other in country X get bandied about in country Y. It does not fill me with enthusiasm.

  6. Jesus, no. A pan-European referendum is an idea that neatly incorporates all the bad things about referenda – unrepresentative yes/no question on poorly understood and complicated issues, inevitable use as either a show of strength by a popular government or a bash-fest by a popular opposition, probably a low turnout, instrumentalisation by factions irrelevant to the point at issue, demagogic nonsense – while not getting any of the good things – ultimate legitimacy and certainty. Does anyone think that, if country X votes No and the EU as a whole votes yes, that the X-ers will consider themselves bound by it?

    On the substantive point, I am really annoyed by this religious insistence on flogging the dead horse/constitution around Europe’s capitals. What on earth is the point, seeing as it can’t go into force?

  7. BG, I don’t think Netherlands counts as a ‘large’ member state.

    Alex, I don’t think it’s a ‘religious insistence.’ I think it’s governments living up to their commitments. It’s also the only way to have an accurate (or even semi-accurate) gauge of the reception of the items in the proposed treaty. What is the Finnish view? The Swedish? The Czech? At this point, the only answer is, ‘We don’t know.’ Finding out is worthwhile.

    Also, continuing the process is part of the negotiations for the next round, both within member states and among them. If the final score is 23-2, the position of the Dutch and the French is a bit different than if it is, say, 18-7.

  8. I think, Doug, we can be fairly sure that final score will not be 23-2, i.e. the French and Dutch will not be alone.

    The Brits will never vote for the Constitution – and for that reason no pro-European PM will ever call a referendum, as he would be sure of defeat. A eurosceptic PM might call one, in the assurance of victory, but what’s the point?

    Ergo, there won’t even be a referendum in the UK, and if there is the vote will be No. The Constitution is therefore dead, as it has already, in effect, failed in three major member states.

  9. SeanT: Really? That only holds if you assume that any and all European policy is certain to lose, which didn’t work for the Tories in the last three elections when they were standing on a platform of “not quite withdrawal, but demands for changes tantamount to withdrawal that cannot possibly be accepted”.

  10. All the US states agreed in advance they would be bound if the constitution were ratified by 9 of the 13 states.

    To quote from the US constitution:

    The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.

    Do you really think it wise to have a referendum about leaving the EU coupled with a questionable constitution? I’d say we’d have seen some member states quitting due to that.

  11. Doug,

    The Netherlands are certainly one of the larger member states. I concede that the usual meaning of the phrase is to refer to the Big Four (or possibly Big Six, counting Spain and Poland); but the Dutch are next in line, ie larger than three quarters of the other member states.

    Alex,

    I agree with SeanT’s prediction, at least in the UK for the present. The Tories were rejected at the polls; their European policy (such as it is) was not.

    Oliver,

    I think you have hit the nail on the head.

  12. I think you dismiss the value of a possible euro-wide referendum too easily Alex. All the arguments you list could well apply to any referendum not specifically a euro-wide one. Plus, why use it only in relation to the Constitution, when it could be used to avoid national-only referendums on enlargement say.

    The problem is there is no way back on this one, we will see more and more referendums. And since the issue at stake (Treaty change or enlargement as examples) would be European, why not envisage a European tool. I think it’s worth a thought if we believe there can be something called transnational democracy.

    On the current ratification. It deeply depresses me that almost everyone agrees this Constitution is long gone, but none of the leading heads has the courage to actually say it. I would for sure be quite happy to get some honesty on tv screens. If you can’t ratify, you can’t. full stop.

  13. Alex, I have to jump in and agree with SeanT here. It isn’t about the Tories. I can’t imagine any British /electorate/ giving 50.1% approval.

    I won’t say it will never happen; attitudes can change. But I’ll bet good money that it won’t happen in this decade.

    SeanT’s other point is thus valid too: no Labour government will want to let the thing go to a vote. (And what a sigh of relief there was in No. 10 Downing last May.) A Tory government might or might not, depending.

    So, at this point we’re looking at a 22-3 split, at best; and those 3 include two big members and one medium. (Don’t let the map fool you. In population and GDP, the Netherlands is at the top of the middleweights.) In terms of population, they’re about 1/4 of the total. Too big to roll over; they have to be talked around. Good luck.

    Doug M.

  14. So, at this point we’re looking at a 22-3 split, at best; and those 3 include two big members and one medium.

    It should be noted that this would mean that every net payer holding a referendum voted in the negative. This could endanger the very substance of the EU.

  15. I wouldn’t be overly certain Ireland would vote yes; a lot of people are still upset that the Nice Treaty was rerun after we voted the wrong way first time round…

  16. I think the whole constitution business should be buried and not talked about for another five years. Remember that it is only 13 years since the Single European Act came into force, and only 2 years since the eastern europeans joined the EU. People need time to adjust.

    I think western europe is knitting together quite well – see the number of Brits who live in Spain, the number of people commuting across the border each morning to work in Luxembourg and the way the Germans have invited other police forces to help and make arrests during the world cup.

    However the eastern europeans are still strangers. They’ve been separated from the west for 60 years – their culture has developed differently, and they haven’t had the benefit of the last 13 years “free movement” that western europe has. It took Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece a good decade, sometimes much more, to adjust and become “European”. The easterners haven’t made the adjustment yet, and it’s too soon to have a “closer union” with them.

    Ask yourself, would you want to get into bed with the homophobic ultra-religious Polish Law and Justice party? We can’t proceed till they realize that such behavior is “un-European”. That will take about a decade.

  17. Ask yourself, would you want to get into bed with the homophobic ultra-religious Polish Law and Justice party?

    We are in bed with them. The expansion is a done deal and the new members must have equal representation. 40 years of communism won’t go away in a decade. This will take two generations and Europe will be changed in between. There’s no way we can admit so many people and hope that the whole isn’t significantly altered.

    Having a badly functioning EU for all that time will not help matters either. You may come to the conclusion that too much competencies have been shifted to the EU. That is certainly a debateable position. But even in this case we should have a final decision about what shall be regulated by the EU and what should be done by the member states.

    Delaying the constitution does not help. It must be realised that a new constitution must be drafted. And it probably has to be less ambitious.

  18. Yes, Uncle Willy can be a little long winded.

    If it was up to me, I’d scrap the constitution since it proposed nothing genuinely new anyway. Letting the EU constitution become a referendum on public happiness was a real failure on the part of national governments, especially the French government. Instead, I’d propose an actual constitution that radically changed European government, demand that it be placed before public referenda, and invite refuseniks to join the EFTA.

    Reduce the European Council to a rubber stamp nominal executive (a bit like the Queen), that merely meets now and then to express its disgust with European legislation but can’t block it without a 3/4ths majority. Demand each nation set up an elected local government for each EU electoral region which is charged with enforcing European law (and funded from Brussels). And, empower the European Parliament with full legislative power.

    No member government would stand for being disempowered like that, but at least there’d be a European alternative for all the Europeans who hate their present leaders, which seems to be most of them.

  19. PM, Oliver, Scott: indeed, a big difference with other federal states (like the USA) is that the current European proposal is not proposing to move towards democracy at all.

    This is what everyone outside Europe calls the “obvious democratic deficit” of European institutions. And the proposed text did not do anything to fix that HUGE problem.

    25 people, as far as possibile from any voter sanction, having monopoly on the legislative agenda, veto power on legislative outcome, and the hardest criteria ever for the “parliament” to get them out (2/3 vs 1/2 everywhere else in the world) was “tolerable” as long as they were just fiddling around with uniformizing technical regulations about tomato production.

    But now it’s over and the proposed text made it clear for everyone that these guyes tried to unduly extend their power at the detriment of the European citizens basic democratic rights.

    It’s a shame some people haven’t yet drawn the obvious conclusion and keep lamenting about nationalism and “local politics” having played a role in the referendum outcome.

  20. So, here’s the problem: Those 25 men, and the national governments they represent, genuinely do not want an EU able to lay claim to a democratic mandate comparable to their own. To allow it would do exactly what at every turn they’ve said they won’t allow the EU to do: undermine the power of national governments. The solution proposed by the eurosceptics is to abolish the EU as it exists and make it nothing more than a weakly bound free trade area.

    How do you sell a more democratic EU when its own legal mandate makes it impossible to actually bring it into being?

    In Eastern Europe there seems to be a real constituency for a Europe with expanded powers and more independent institutions, so probably there is also a constituency for reducing the power of the Council and increasing that of the Parliament. A lot of that is simply not trusting their own governments. Brussels has many faults, but it is not terribly corrupt and it doesn’t actually hate anyone. This is more than can be said for some of the EU’s constituent governments.

    But is there a constituency for any real reform in the West? In the UK, clearly not. In France? Probably not. In Belgium, not much. In Germany, I’m doubtful. The kinds of people who really hate their own national governments see the EU as little more than an extension of what they hate about their own regimes.

    There needs to be some sense that an empowered EU is a better government for really existing Europeans. It needs to tap into some of that widespread resentment. I just can’t for the life of me figure out how.

    A couple months ago, I posted something on Electrolite on what a “modern European myth” might look like, stealing heavily from a Ken MacLeod quote:

    This is Europe. This land covers the bones of our ancestors and the stones of their works are everywhere. We have built our nations on the ruins of empires. We beat back the Moors, we assimilated the Huns, we’ve held back the likes of Genghis Khan and the Janissaries. We are the children of the survivors of genocides and of their perpetrators. We have conquered continents and shattered empires. We build up tyrants and we tear them down. Our liberties were won in wars and revolutions so terrible that we do not fear our governors: they fear us. Our children giggle and eat ice-cream in the palaces of past rulers. We snap our fingers at kings. We laugh at popes.

    There is no European century because we have dominated the world for half a millennium.

    If we enjoy our present security and comforts, do not mistake that for decadence. We won those luxuries through threats of violence against those who would deny them to us. If we retain our privileges when others so easily give them up, if our governments back down when they want to take them away, it is a sign of the terror we instill in those who would govern us.

    We are a continent of energetic mongrels and we are very hard to kill. And we have nuclear – fucking – weapons.

    The first line of the EU constitution should come from Alan Moore: People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

    So why is this such a hard sell? In America – heck, even in Canada – folks lap this kind of stuff up. Why does stifling, narrow-minded nationalism and populism for idiots sell better here?

  21. We have built our nations on the ruins of empires.

    Our own empires.

    We beat back the Moors,

    Nice slogan in a French banlieu

    we’ve held back the likes of Genghis Khan and the Janissaries.

    Turkish negotiations, anyone?

    they fear us

    And have largely conquered us. Indirect election of the governments, an indirect supernational level of legislation, etc…

    We snap our fingers at kings.

    God save the queen!

    We laugh at popes

    Make the tar hotter! More feathers!

  22. See. Oliver shows exactly why the “democratic deficit” of the EU will simply never be overcome. Although I should point out that every time someone talks about changing French labour law, people pour into the streets in mass and the government backs down. I think only the Brits have been conquered by their government – everybody else still knows how to make the state back down.

  23. Reduce the European Council to a rubber stamp nominal executive (a bit like the Queen), that merely meets now and then to express its disgust with European legislation but can’t block it without a 3/4ths majority.

    That however is a sure recipe for doom. You can’t have as diverse a body as the EU and hope to get away with a unicameral legislature. The small states need a voice. And the differences in financial contributions cannot be overlooked for all eternity.

    That leaves us with the commission. Somebody came up with the idea that the parliament be added to the procedure. It’s a damn piece of horse trading and back stabbing agreeing on a commission without that added complication. That would have led to a permanent grand coalition in the parliament and even more rubberstamping.

    This leaves two things that could be done:

    1. Popular election of the commission.

    2. Clear areas of responsibility. We absolutely must abolish directives that are to be transferred into national law. This is the primary channel for using Brussels to push domestic legislation. And secondarily governments must never be allowed to get through the EU what the national parliaments won’t pass. It must be crystal clear what the EU legislates and what the member states. And there must be no overlap.

  24. Scott, thanks for your comments.

    First something I disagree strongly with: “it is not terribly corrupt”, well two commission went down for corruption, and the current one has Neelie Kroes… Plus even basic transparency laws they have in the USA with respect to lobbying do not exist in Europe and have zero chance of passing.

    Non voter accountable institution at their best. No wonder european citizens are turning their back to “Europe”.

    As to how to solve the issue? I honestly don’t know how to undo the big mistakes that led to current catastrophic image of the european institutions in the past two decades. That will probably take a long time.

    One way I can think of could be to greatly reduce the number of areas where the european legislator has power over the national one, get it a real budget to cover those areas and set the democratic accountability of the european legislative process at very high level. May be a subset of environment, privacy, human rights, high-level education and research, fight against international crime (including money laundering and tax evasion), public transporation infrastructures (lower energy spending), clean energy production projects, foreign policy, foreign humanitarian intervention (build a real democratic state task force).

    But of course this relies on willing “elites”, and we know they’re not willing yet…

  25. Fantastic blog and thoughtful posts.

    So why is this such a hard sell? In America – heck, even in Canada – folks lap this kind of stuff up. Why does stifling, narrow-minded nationalism and populism for idiots sell better here?

    I think only the Brits have been conquered by their government – everybody else still knows how to make the state back down.

    Hence, the Brits continue their natural alliance with the United States. (I’m a British-American, so I’m allowed to tease both)

  26. When we speak of a bicameral legislature to ensure the rights of smaller states, we come to the meat of the matter. When we propose a superstate, we propose a group of, say, 500 men and women who will decide the affairs of 300 or 400 million people. That job is very nearly impossible in its complexity alone, but even if it didn’t encompass such wide-ranging and far-reaching legislation as to be almost impossible to manage, it necessarily means forcing a minority to accept majority will. How can you have a superstate, or even an ordinary state, without doing so? Otherwise, a village of twelve people, or a county, might pass laws to pardon a lynch mob from their family, because they form the majority in that county. Or, if one of these small member states of the EU is racist, shall they be allowed to pass racist legislation?

    However, what shall we make of the EU forcing a small English grocer, on pain of fines very harsh to a small businessman, to sell goods in kilos, when he and his customers only know and want pounds and ounces? The monolithic state here forces a uniform code of law upon everyone, when sometimes it should allow locals to decide their own fate. This is why, I believe, the EU constitution should be very broad and very simple, touching the major points of commonality without which one shouldn’t be in the EU, such as anti-racism or anti-fascism.

    The EU constitution, we should point out, is much larger and farther-reaching than the American one was. What’s more, the EU states are much more diverse than the American colonies were. The American colonies only divided into plantation-owners, bankers, and merchants, and even they had a simpler constitution. Is a micro-managing constitution a good idea for such a diverse group as the EU?

    We Americans have struggled with these questions since our founding. One of our politicians, John C. Calhoun, proposed a system called the “Concurrent Majority” system, by which a minority could veto federal legislation, if they would be hurt by legislation that the party in power put forth. So for instance, the plantation owners of America would be polled, to see if they accepted legislation that would affect them. This would check the power of the majority to pass bad or biased laws.

    The problem: John C. Calhoun was a slaveowner! And he put this idea out so as to protect the slavery economy. He didn’t see that the slaves themselves might also be a minority deserving of respect.

    So his protection of slavery was obnoxious. But I think that his idea of Concurrent Majority, if we take it out of that context, might actually have some merit.

  27. Laurent, I agree that the EU suffers from a lack of transparency, but as far as I know, the main corruption allegations against the EU are fairly small stuff: misallocation of funds for personal benefit, some small-scale contracting fraud, moderate amounts of nepotism in appointments by commissioners. Not to say that I approve of any of those practices, but it’s nowhere near the level of corruption in, say, privatization of state assets in any Eastern European country. Neelie Kroes is a problematic appointment for conflict of interest, but contrast her to, say, Berlusconi.

    No, EU authority shouldn’t expand without greater transparency. IIRC, one of the things in the constitution was an article requiring the Council to hold open meetings.

  28. The EU doesn’t need corruption to misallocate funds. The Common Agricultural Policy is sufficient and ample to do so.

  29. Scott, Berlusconi was elected and thrown out, Italy is a (formally) functionning democracy.

    Now, how can I throw out the commission because I don’t like its policies?

    BTW, opening of the council without provision for failure to meet transparency is just a joke, just like the popular petition is.

    Transparency is great, but you need also vote otherwise you just have a transparent dictatorship.

  30. Now, how can I throw out the commission because I don’t like its policies?

    A corrupt or really incompetent commisson can be removed. The provision has been tested and works.

    It requires a supermajority. This is a good thing. If we moved to parliamentary government, we would create consequences.
    Firstly, we’d need a mechanism to deal with a hung parliament.
    Secondly, eventually the apportioning of seats would have to be revisited.
    Thirdly, European parties would evolve. Can you imagine what happens if, e.g., the Italian Neofascists branch out to Germany?

  31. Laurent asks, “Now, how can I throw out the commission because I don’t like its policies?”. Well the Commission doesn’t have any policies. They are the civil servants of the EU – they carry out the decisions made in the Council (and the members of the council are the elected heads of states) and amended by the parliament.

    I think a lot of the angst about the “Democratic deficit” is down to a mis-understanding of what the commission does. Eurosceptics are always talking about “decisions made by Brussels”, but the commission has no power to decide anything.

    Everything is decided by the Council, most of the time they can either exercise their veto to stop whatever it is from proceeding entirely, or exercise the opt-out, where the others go ahead without them. Tony Blair saying yes I’ll proceed, or no I veto, or no I opt-out, at an EU level, is no different from him doing exactly the same thing at a UK level. And he’s elected. So how is that a democratic deficit? How is it that people think that when the governments say yes to something in the Council, this is somehow “imposed” on them by “Brussels”?

    I think the EU actually manages to function quite well as it is. The problem is in communication – for too long governments everywhere in Europe have pretended that “Brussels” made the decisions that they took themselves, it’s the easy way out for them.

    Example – the CAP reform of 2002. Britain agreed to the watered down reforms, didn’t back the commission (due to Britain being pre-occupied with Iraq at the time the deal was being hammered out) when they wanted much more drastic reform, but under pressure from tabloids in 2005, suddenly it’s back on the agenda, with a false spin that somehow “Brussels” was preventing reform!

    And it’s not just Britain, it’s all of them playing the same “Blame Brussels” game. The “democratic deficit” problem is down to the public falsely believeing that Brussels decides everything, and that is entirely down to the “blame Brussels” tendency of the elected governments, it’s down to spin.

  32. snowflake5, I’m really happy to learn that the only organ able to origin a EU directive “doesn’t have any policy”.

    Incredible!

    “The problem is in communication”

    Hey, I know this line! Well well, where did I hear that? Hmmm.

    No sorry, the problem isn’t communication except in the sense that communication=propaganda failed to win a yes vote in two countries for a really bad treaty.

    For reference:

    http://ec.europa.eu/codecision/stepbystep/text/index_en.htm
    >

  33. Laurent, it’s true they put forward proposals, but they can’t make any decisions. It’s a similar situation to when the UK governemnt sets up a Royal Commission to investigate options on pensions or tax or whatever. Whoever conducts the inquiry, interviews loads of people, takes testimony from experts, produces a report with any number of scenarios and recommendations and the government then decides what to do (sometimes rejecting them all). The EU commission is like that. Frequently, what they “propose” is suggested to them by the Council of Ministers in the first place. Jacques Delors might have been an exception in that he proposed many things on his own account – but that was a long time ago – it’s been nearly two decades since the commission behaved with any confidence or wielded any influence.

    As for the Constitution – there was a constitution convention where governemnts in all the member states sent delegates (elected members of the governments) to thrash out an agreement. It’s completely unfair to blame the commission for it – for instance it wasn’t the commisison’s idea to make the constitutional treaty so huge and consolidate all the previous treaties into one. That idea came from the French delegation.

    The problem is that it’s easy to blame the commission, it’s a dodge so that the elected people don’t have to take responsibility for their own decisions. And you are colluding by going along with that. Power in Europe lies with the Member States in the Council – it always has. It’s a nonsense to pretend otherwise.

  34. It’s a similar situation to when the UK governemnt sets up a Royal Commission to investigate options on pensions or tax or whatever.

    This is a political truth at best. The UK parliament is perfectly able to legislate without input from any commission.

  35. snowflake5, I’m not blaming the commission for the constitution.

    As for power of origination, if example if a voted directive turns out to favour big multinational in practice and destroys competition, innovation, SME, … Who has the political power to fix it or … not to fix it? (see the intellectual property mess).

    Oliver, I don’t think snowflake5 is able to make a difference between a dictatorship and a democracy :).

    The “yes” men answer to your remark is just that in practice the parliament with a simple majority can overthrow the government (in every democracy, excluding Europe of course) but that it very rarely happens in practice so it’s useless.

    I’ll answer it: of course it doesn’t happen often in practice, but the mere existance of the possibility changes A LOT the balance of powers between government and parliament.

  36. parliament with a simple majority can overthrow the government (in every democracy, excluding Europe of course)

    That is news to the citizens of Switzerland, the USA, Brazil and Mexico.

    the mere existance of the possibility changes A LOT the balance of powers between government and parliament

    Exactly. And therefore it is not the problem. When we complain about lacking democracy, we should introduce democracy, not shift power.

  37. Laurent – if the commission had even half the power you ascribe to it, the CAP reform they proposed would not have been watered down and the services directive proposal would not be sitting there gathering dust with no prospect in the near future of coming into force.

    You write: “As for power of origination, if example if a voted directive turns out to favour big multinational in practice and destroys competition, innovation, SME, … Who has the political power to fix it or … not to fix it? (see the intellectual property mess).”

    The Council has the political power to “fix it” as you put it. The commission can only make suggestions – it’s the Council that DECIDES. And both the Council and Parliament can amend the proposals. All the members of the council are ELECTED by the voters in their countries. If the commission proposes something that the Council doesn’t like, it simply gets vetoed. Note that most directives need a unanimous decision in the council.

    So in order for the EU to be “anti-democratic” as you put it, ALL 25 elected governments who sit on the Council must be anti-democratic! Which is absurd by definition, because they are all elected.

    If you don’t want the EU to do something, make it an issue in your National elections – that way, the government you elect is bound by electoral mandate to behave in a certain way in the Council. The trouble is that EU issues don’t get discussed in national elections at all, even though you are not only electing a government to deal with domestic issues, but a key player in the Council. It’s not the EU’s fault that voters in national elections don’t understand their responsibility. It’s the fault of politicians, and to a certain extent of us the voters, for not understanding properly how the EU works.

  38. All the members of the council are ELECTED by the voters in their countries

    Except for the president of France, no one of them is elected by the voters.

  39. Oliver, thanks for the counter examples! Switzerland is a special case here anyway since it has direct democracy features for law origination. USA has powerful parliaments that do originate laws in practice (even if the near directly electred president has veto). I don’t know Brazil and Mexico. Do you know of any counterexample within the EU?

    As for balance between the three powers, this is the essence of democracy (for me at least) so “shifting” is needed (mat be I don’t understand your remark though).

    snowflake5, I describe only two commission powers: monopoly over law origination and veto over legislative outcome. I don’t know how you cut that in half or transform these powers to just “suggestions”.

  40. Do you know of any counterexample within the EU?

    Is San Marino EU to you?

    As for balance between the three powers, this is the essence of democracy

    But you are not asking for balance. You are asking for the commission to be a slave of the parliament. If you do that for the sake of democracy, you will have to explain why a Maltese voter is worth 10.3 German voters.

  41. Oliver, San Marino is not a formal member, but it’s within borders obviously so let’s count it in. According to wikipedia parliament elect two head of executive (“from opposite parties”) every 6 month, so if I understand correctly technically the parliamant can change the executive every 6 monthes, change can be considered as “overthown” if needed (plus citizens can file some form of “complaints”). Am I misunderstanding

    BTW, do you have an encyclopedic knowledge of political systems accross the world 🙂 or do you have a super secret web site source? (wikipedia is not very precise in describing political systems most of the time).

    As for balance lots of political system have a chamber that do not represent population fairly (senate in France) but it usually has less power than the other more “representative” chamber. In lots of system the executive is an emanation of the parliament, so more or less “slave”. Changing the balance of European institutions will obviously require matched changes to keep the system reasonably democratic (as you point out).

  42. As for balance lots of political system have a chamber that do not represent population fairly (senate in France) but it usually has less power than the other more “representative” chamber.

    You could argue that the US Senate is the more powerful chamber. But I don’t care about democracy here. You could hardly make the selection of the commission any less democratic, so anything is an improvement.

    But you cannot simply alter the balance of power that much. Maybe it would be enough to simply remove the commission from the process of legislation.
    My point is that you cannot import only a part of Westminster to Brussels. We can live with the parliament as it is now, one part of many in legislation. Give all power to it, and it cannot stay as it is.

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