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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The Europe of Democracies
The Europe of Democracies
AbstractIn British politics, the debate over European integration has been confused by careless use of language. Those who believe that the future lies in a “federal Europe” or an “ever-closer union” are characterised as Europhiles, whilst those who assert the primacy of the nation-state are designated Eurosceptics. This implies that one “side” of the debate is pro-European, the other verging on hostility to Europe itself. Furthermore, it suggests that the only way to be “pro” Europe is to believe that full integration is desirable and inevitable. This false dichotomy between Europhiles and Eurosceptics influences continental politics as well, so that it has become harder to criticise integration without attracting the “anti-European” tag. Paradoxically, the European constitution currently being considered across the EU has created the possibility for serious debate, precisely because it is so radical and uncompromising in nature. In response to the Constitution, a group of parliamentarians from across the EU has produced a minority report that proposes an alternative model for Europe. For integration, it substitutes a flexible framework of co-operation, in which shared values are reinforced but independence guaranteed. The author of this article, a leading British “sceptic”, believes that this formula is more likely than a federal constitution to ensure that European nations work constructively together.
Keywords: European Union, Constitutional law, Federal government
There is a great debate going on today about a Constitution for Europe and submitting this idea to the judgement of the people in a referendum. It is not widely known that there is an alternative available to the “official” European Constitution, which avoids the risks of the plan to bind us ever more tightly into one country, or supra-nation called “Europe”. This alternative has been set out in a minority report presented to the same convention in Brussels that has offered the Constitution currently under discussion across the European Union (EU). It consists of 2.5 pages as opposed to the “official” Constitution’s 187 and has attracted support from many parts of the EU, including incoming countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The Minority Report is based on independent countries, linked by a treaty, rather than by a unifying constitution. It is as much about the preservation of independence as the practical organisation of interdependence. It does not offer Europe’s peoples a grand design, but a flexible, pragmatic basis for co-operation, between self-governing nations which share many values but also value their differences. In other words, the Minority Report points us towards a Europe of genuine diversity and democratic consent. Moreover, it demonstrates that there is an alternative to the centralised model that has dominated discussion of Europe’s future.
From the Minority Report emerges a new concept: the Europe of Democracies (TEOD). This gives up the ambition of the EU to build a great power by making all the countries of Europe into a single one. For that is the ambition that appears to underlie the “official” Constitution for Europe, which is why that document (or rather treatise) has aroused so much public anxiety. TEOD, recognising that it is not possible to practise genuine democracy over a wider area than the nation state, is based instead on the existing national parliaments, which are quite capable of dealing amongst themselves on the cross-border issues specific to Europe.
The most significant of these areas is trade, which should be as open as possible. TEOD accepts that a high level of trade between countries, which is the route for all of them to greater prosperity, needs some common laws. But this argument does not begin to justify the 97,000 pages of legislation that have been cranked out by the EU organisations.
It also accepts that in many cases the votes of a large majority of countries, representing at least half of the total population, should be needed to pass a law, provided that national parliaments may reject it if the matter is important enough to them. This goes completely against the current system in which national parliaments such as Westminster, find themselves overruled from above and told from on high what the law is to be. The notion that whatever laws are produced in the EU should override national law, a notion that is now reinforced in the Constitution, would go out of the window in TEOD.
TEOD allows countries that want to work more closely together to do so, provided other countries do not object. There is no reason for all countries to do everything in exactly the same way. Even the rigid EU that we have today has been obliged to live with important differences, e.g. for neutral countries or those that do not wish to adopt the Euro.
The closed doors policy of the European Commission (EC), which denies even members of the European Parliament access to information, would be reversed. National parliaments already practise democracy and should not be hindered from doing so when they are carrying out business with each other.
At present the EC acts as guardian of the treaties and controls all proposals for legislation. In effect it provides most of the government of the EU but is not elected by or answerable to the peoples of Europe. What national governments do, if anything, to steer the EC is not visible to electorates. All this would be swept away when commissioners are elected by parliaments and required to attend parliamentary committees. They would be liable to dismissal if they could not account adequately for their actions. The EC would stop being a government and become a civil service, which is what we used to think it was.
The ability of the European Court to widen and deepen EU powers and its supremacy over all our lives would be strengthened by the constitution, TEOD would reverse this by putting national parliaments back in charge. In fact the role of the court would be much reduced by the independence of parliaments.
Member countries and TEOD itself would be free to make whatever co-operative arrangements they saw fit with outside countries. The only activity expressly excluded from the ED would be the military. Countries would be free to make whatever defence arrangements with other countries that suited them but the TEOD would play no part.
Obviously, there would be many difficulties to overcome as details were ironed out and the new “Europe of Democracies” took shape. The negotiations would be complex, inevitably, but Europe is complex and attempts to deny or obscure that are doomed to failure. A Europe of Democracies, based on independent nations interacting on an equal footing, provides better possibilities for co-operation and friendship than a coercive and artificial “union”.
Lionel BellCampaign for an Independent Britain, Surrey, UK