Friday 13 February 2009

The Democratic Europe Act

(Or, an exercise in vanity?) I've said before that I think the EU needs a modern day Single European Act. The SEA relaunched the EEC/EU and its economic/political rationale, and today we need a clean break in the form of a radical democratic reforming act for the EU. Here, I'm assuming that the competences and powers of each of the institutions is the same as under the Lisbon Treaty, apart from a few exceptions, which I'll put under "constitutional" (though they should be obvious anyway). Some of what I propose will be achievable through national or European legislation, or measures to encourage debate in the media.

Of course, the usefulness of setting this out is next to nothing in practical terms, but given the increasing need for more democratic input into the EU, and the German Bundesverfassungsgericht's concern for democracy, I thought it would be a good time to actually set out what I would like to see be done. I'll not say that I'll not change my mind in the future about some aspects, so feel free to think of this as an exercise in vanity if you want.

The Democratic European Act

1. Constitutional Changes.
2. Political Changes.
3. Changes for the Media and Member States.

1. Constitutional Changes:

(a). The Commission President will be directly elected by the people. Rationale: apart from the obvious legitimacy this would give the commission, it would motivate the EuroParties to put up candidates, and so explain their policies and attempt to live up to their political educational role. However, I wouldn't be opposed to the Commission President being elected by the EP as a first step.

(b). The Commission President nominates the members of his/her commission and they are individually voted into office by the EP. Rationale: widens the pool of talent available if the President can nominate rather than just pick from national nominees (which would hardly make much sense if the Commission President was elected...)

(c). The Council approves the Commission as a whole by QMV, but otherwise they have no input in the appointment of the Commission. They can remove the Commission by unanimity, or by a QMV vote with a very high threshold.

(d). The European Parliament will have the power of initiation - they can propose legislation, if enough MEPs sign up to the proposal, and then it would be put before the EP.

(e). The Council can block legislative proposals coming from the EP by QMV with a high threshold.

(f). The EP elections will be by proportional representation of the single transferable vote kind. Voters will be able to vote for candidates, not party lists.

(g). The Court of Auditors will evaluate each EU institution's and member state's spending of the EU budget, and will approve each one separately.

(h). When the treaties will be changed in a significant way, a Constitutional Convention will be convened to draw up the treaty changes. Each member state will directly elect 3 representatives (or whatever number is decided), and each member state government will negotiate too. The member states will still have the final say on the final wording of the treaty, but the Convention would be a more democratic way of drawing up a draft treaty and involve citizens more (and apply political pressure on the member states). Treaties will be ratified by each member state unanimously in accordance with their constitutional methods before they take effect.

2. Political Changes:

(a). Local party branches and the EuroParty leadership will have more input into the choice of EP candidate.

(b). There will be a Charter for the Composition of the Commission to ensure that a certain percentage of member states are represented in the Commission and that the Commission doesn't just end up being drawn from the big member states or from a few countries. This would not mean that the national governments have a say in who gets appointed (though see (c) in "constitutional changes"), but it will ensure that the Commission is still representative of Europe. While I think that the Commission has become too "nationalised" lately, as many member states should be represented as possible. (This can be done under a binding inter-institutional deal under Lisbon, as can (a), the case of the EP picking and electing the Commission President, under "Constitutional changes").

3. Media and Member State Changes:

(a). To encourage the media to report more on EU developments, a number of measures could be adopted. As correspondents based in Brussels/Luxembourg/Strasbourg/European capitals are vital to reporting on EU and European affairs, there should be certain tax exemptions for journalists based there to encourage TV, newspapers, etc. to investigate and report on developments without cost being as much of a deterrent to do so. This should help inform citizens about goings on in Europe that effect them, without the need for Commission info-campaigns which can be labelled as propaganda. It should also flag up interesting/important legislation so the public can influence the EP, national governments, protest, etc and be more involved in influencing the passage of legislation.

(b). There should be a number of pan-European televised debates: especially in the run up to EP elections.

(c). Other tax relief for covering up-and-coming topical legislation at a European level could be provided for the media too (this could be used for national level politics too!). Should help give the public greater access to legislative info while they can still try to influence the debate.

I'm aware that there are a lot of problems with the practicality of adopting this - member state governments would hate to see some of these passed. But I think that a lot of this needs to be done to involve the public more at a European level. I also think that involving the mainstream media more is crucial to providing the public with more information, though I'm not totally sure of my proposed ways of achieving this.


  1. This is a good starting point for discussion on what democratic change the European Union needs.

    Here are a few comments to start with:

    I am inclined to believe that a prime ministerial system and coalition governments would reflect the diversity of Europe.

    In my view, the new European Union needs a basic law / constitution, which can be altered by the two chambers of the European Parliament.

    The Convention method could be used for major constitutional reform.

    The lower house would need to represent the citizens fairly equally (one person, one vote).

    The differences in size between the member states are so great that I imagine even the senate would need some differentiation; possibly three groups of states with 1x, 2x and 3x the basic number of senators.

    Foreign, security and defence policy would be federal powers. So would international economic relations and the internal market.

    Internal security and justice would have a federal tier and a national one.

    Naturally income and expenditure would be decided by the federation for its purposes.

    The federation would be called the Federal Republic of Europe (not the United States of Europe), since it would be based on its citizens primarily.

  2. Well, while it does entail some further integration, my suggestion is meant to ensure democratic accountability of the powers currently held by "Brussels" and involve citizens more in European governance. I would be hesitant to define the final destination of European integration since I think it would be best for it to evolve. Evolution rather than intelligent design.

    I think that this opening of the system would provide a great boost too engagement with the EU and could lead to more integration.

    A more parliamentary system would be quite representative of Europeans, and it reflects the political systems of most member states; I've few problems with this system. The main reasons I went for the Presidential system are that it is a good institutional way of forcing the EuroParties to become better organised as they will have to compete for a single post. Of course there are many drawbacks to the presidential system too.

    In fact, the parliamentary system may even be better in terms of centralising EuroParties since the groups would be able to offer ministerial (commissarial?) posts. Still, I'm not decided on which system I prefer because the EP manages to make good enough use of its powers a lot of the time, and I'm not sure the parliament would be as effective under the executive-dominated parliamentary system.

    Is there some sort of workable 3rd way, other than semi-presidential systems?

    With regard to the MEP-citizen ratio, I think that it should be brought more into line with the one man one vote principle, but I do think that there should be a minimum number of MEPs per member state.

    On the Council, I'm still attached to a Bundesrat-style Council with national parliamentary oversight. I think that the member states shouldn't be excluded from the system, and I can't really see the EU evolving that way.

    I wouldn't want to see an EU where the EP and the Council/a Senate can change the constitution, except in perhaps the most minor of minor scenarios. If the EU became that federal, the states must be included, with at least 2/3 of states agreeing to the changes. As for now I think that unanimity of the states for treaty change needs to be preserved for the legitimacy of any changes. By major changes I mean any treaty that's not a treaty of accession, etc.