Friday 20 February 2009

Klaus, and levels of decision making

Czech President Klaus addressed the European Parliament yesterday, to tell them that the directly elected body is essentially anti-democratic.

"Are you really convinced that every time you take a vote, you are deciding something that must be decided here in this hall and not closer to the citizens, that are inside the individual European states?" Mr Klaus asked.

Subsidiarity is a very important concept for the EU, and it probably needs to be considered more, though of course it would be a political minefield, since "subsidiarity" is the EU's term for the distribution of power to where it is as effective and as close to the people as possible.

So subsidiarity poses 2 questions: is the European or national level best for [a certain power], and is the national or the local level best for [a certain power]?

This includes taking power from the national level and devolving it down too:

"[EP President Poettering] did concede one point to the Czech president, saying that decisions should be indeed taken closer to the citizen, but that it was also the responsibility of national government to devolve powers to regional and local authorities."

The EU institutions work mainly with the Internal Market; for the EP this is especially true as it has little to no input in the more sensitive areas of Justice and Home Affairs and the CFSP (Pillars 2 and 3). Now I would say that the best level for legislating for a transnational market is, well, the transnational level, so I would say yes, the decisions the EP take are generally best decided at EU level.

The implication of Klaus' speech is that he would prefer decisions to be taken at a national level. With regard to the internal market this is done to some extent through the ECJ's doctrine of Mutual Recognition (if it's legal to be sold in one member state, then ditto for the other member states, unless there's good reason for this not to be the case). But then Klaus has been positioning himself to avoid signing the Lisbon Treaty into law in the Czech Republic if the Czech Parliament ratifies it by saying that he won't sign it unless the Irish vote Yes.

On the basis that the closest level of decision making for the Czech Republic, is, in fact, Ireland? (....If only more countries would give us a veto on their parliamentary decisions.... In their own interests, of course. In fact, we should elect the Czech President to make sure s/he doesn't get any strange ideas about bowing to the will of the Czech Parliament).

So is the Czech Parliament an illegitimate vehicle for governing the Czech Republic? (Surely the President is even more removed than the parliament from the people, and, since the post can only be filled by one person, even less representative).

Klaus also makes the "EU is not just undemocratic, it's anti-democratic" argument. The composition of the EP cannot make a difference because it cannot form a government and an opposition, he explains.

Then, realising that this is just an argument for giving the EP more power to ensure the accountability of the Commission and (even more shockingly) the member states in the Council, he quickly moves on to the "polity" argument - that giving directly elected politicians more power won't be very democratic either, since people won't identify with them.

Personally, I've never heard of people identifying with national politicians, never mind European ones, but I think that the polity argument takes a very narrow-minded view of human identity: that we can only identify with one thing at a time. (Interestingly as media and economies have grown in reach, so human identity has been pushed up to higher levels while remaining to some extent at each level: family - tribe - city-state - nation state - ?) It also assumes that identity is essential to legitimate decision making, whereas I would argue that having a fair and open arena where ideas are discussed and voted on lends its own legitimacy. The EP needs to engage the people more, no doubt, and the media needs to do its duty in informing the public and holding the EP up to close scrutiny, but these are practical problems that can be addressed - we don't need to give up democracy here as a lost cause. (Jon Worth has a good article on this).

The conclusion would logically seem to be, for Klaus, to pull out of the EU, yet he rules this out as a viable alternative. He says there is no alternative to EU membership. (Grahnlaw disagrees). So does Klaus have a solution? Not really.

The thinking seems to be that powers should be taken back from the EU to national level, but the internal market remain in place. Some powers of the EU aren't essential to the workings of the internal market, but the vast majority are. So how should they be set? They can't be done nationally, and just agreeing to them in an intergovernmental fashion (i.e. just have the Council) is even less democratic than the EU we have now. Surely people should be involved in deciding how we run our common market? But apparently this wouldn't really be democratic?

Unless he doesn't want the internal market, but merely free trade (which is the term he uses), which is much, much less than an internal market - just the end to tariff barriers, with all the non-tariff barriers to trade still in place (no true free movement of goods, people, and services). If so, does that mean that Klaus is actually quite protectionist? I doubt he wants an end to the internal market, which is why he has recognised that there is no alternative to the EU when it comes to the internal market.

So why not come up with some solutions to what he perceived are the EU's problems? Far from providing the debate he claims to want, he merely perpetuates the same old tired arguments.

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