Institutional Reform and the European Constitution

Download the Press Release

by Cllr. Deirdre De Burca to a Seminar on the EU Constitution.

Good afternoon everybody. We are here today as part of a process of debating the EU Constitution, evaluating its provisions, and trying to assess whether we can ultimately support the ratification of the Constitution, or not. It's quite a daunting task because the issues are broad and complex, and the provisions of the Constitution are such a mixed bag, ranging from extremely positive and progressive to those that raise serious concerns.

I am suggesting today that in trying to decide whether or not we should support the Constitution, the extent to which we believe its institutional provisions will guarantee a healthy, democratically- responsive, and accountable polity should be the central consideration in our decision-making process. That is not to say that concerns about the proposed economic, social, environmental or foreign policy directions set out within the Constitution should not be regarded as relevant considerations. However, it is important to remember that what we are being asked to ratify is a Constitution for the European Union. A Constitution, as we know from our own national constitution, is the founding instrument of a state. It is a solemn act by which a political community, a people or a nation, defines its values and makes provision for the legal rules to which it is subject. In fact, the essential purpose of a constitution is to organize the powers of public institutions and to set out the institutional framework that will govern political decision-making. A well-crafted political constitution should be the ultimate guarantor of an effective, healthy and democratic polity. I am proposing that in the interests of making the best possible decision regarding the Constitution, we should temporarily set aside the concerns we have about some of its policy provisions and focus instead on how satisfactory the institutional framework it proposes for political decision-making within the European Union is likely to be. I believe we need to look beyond the narrow 'efficiency' grounds that are often used to assess the functioning of the EU and its institutions, and to focus to a much greater extent on how democratic and accountable their functioning will be. If we don't do this, we run the risk of possibly endorsing a Constitution for Europe that will enshrine and consolidate its long-standing and widely acknowledged democratic deficit. This is not in the interests of either the European Union or the rest of the international community. I would like to explain why before moving on to evaluate the institutional provisions proposed by the Constitution.

The democratic deficit of the European Union has unfortunately become something that its citizens have learned to live with. As more aspects of national sovereignty have been transferred to a European level, the ability of citizens to influence and supervise this new power base has declined significantly. The failure of successive EU treaties to introduce bold initiatives to tackle this deficit has meant that it has become integral to the way in which the EU functions. I will now highlight some of the more obvious examples of the European Union's democratic deficit as it applies to the main EU institutions - the Council of Ministers, the Commission, the EU Parliament and the European Council. (i) Firstly, to date, the Council of Ministers, which is part executive/ part legislature, has met completely in private. The minutes of its meetings, reflecting how the Ministers of Member States have voted on particular policy issues, are not readily available to citizens. It is very difficult therefore for citizens to hold Ministers accountable for their actions and their decisions within the Council of Ministers. Furthermore, the parliaments of Member States have different and generally weak systems of scrutiny in place for monitoring Government Ministers and holding them to account for such decisions. These systems range from strong parliamentary scrutiny procedures in Member States such as Denmark, Austria, Sweden, and Finland where the parliaments can issue opinions that are binding on government in its negotiations in the Council of Ministers, to Greece where the government is not even obliged to consult or inform parliament. (ii) Secondly, the powerful Commission is part civil service but also part government, given the unusual powers it has as an un-elected body, including the jealously guarded right to initiate or propose legislation. Those who defend the Commission usually stress its role as a vital guardian of the European or "Community" interest. Dinan  describes it as a "strategic authority established by the founding fathers to guarantee continuity of the integration project despite the political or geopolitical hazards". While this may explain the unusual powers given to such an un-elected body by the early architects of the EU, the extent to which the Commission as a body appears, for example, to have become an ideological champion of neo-liberal policies without reference to the ordinary people of Europe or their voices and interests (eg its promotion of the 'Services Directive'), highlights the risks attached to giving such powers to what is largely an electorally unaccountable body.

Furthermore the powerful and increasingly undemocratic role in the EU political process played by the 15,000 permanent lobbyists based in Brussels, most of them representing business interests, is a matter of concern to many. In fact as recently as October 2004, the Corporate Observatory Europe wrote an open letter to the Commission President, Jose Manual Barroso, on behalf of 50 civil society groups from more than a dozen EU countries calling upon him to act immediately to curb the excessive influence of corporate lobby groups over EU policy-making. The letter argued that these lobby groups succeed all too frequently in postponing, weakening or blocking badly needed progress in EU social, environmental and consumer protections and called on the European Commission to take action now to prevent Europe from drifting towards the levels of corporate control exercised over politics in the United States. (iii) Thirdly, the European Parliament, the sole directly elected institution of the EU is the only parliament in the world without the right of legislative initiative. It also lacks the legal authority to hold the Commission to account for its actions. Its powers are limited to approving the appointment of the Commission in its entirety, and to dismissing the College of Commissioners, which naturally is a measure of last resort to be used only in the most extreme circumstances. To date it has had no role whatsoever in the development of the extremely important area of EU trade policy, and in particular the negotiation of internationally- binding trade agreements within the World Trade Organization. At present, this responsibility is shared between the Commission and the Council of Ministers. The exclusion of the EU Parliament from the EU's trade policy process contrasts with those of the US Congress which, even where the fast-track negotiation procedure is in operation, has the power to accept or reject trade agreements in their entirety.  (iv) Finally, the European Council is an extremely powerful body consisting of the 25 Heads of Government and State. It gives overall policy direction to the Union and to date has had formal power over economic governance and foreign policy. Issues are also referred to the European Council that can't be resolved by the Council of Ministers. This most powerful body of the European Union operates free from the constraints of institutional accountability. Its decisions are not subject to any real requirements for transparency, or for judicial or parliamentary control.

While citizens are generally encouraged by their political leaders to believe that the issue of the resolution of the democratic deficit is just another treaty away, the reality is that this deficit has remained to a largely un-addressed. This is extremely unfortunate and has convinced a growing number of citizens that real political democracy can only be properly realized within the framework of the nation state. This perception detracts from the otherwise attractive model of 'post-national governance' represented by the European Union which allows national sovereignty to be meaningfully pooled, potential national rivalries to be diluted, and people to live together peacefully both within and beyond nations. In fact, citizens are rightfully beginning to question whether the evolution of political systems from national modes of governance to more complex transnational forms of political co-operation should automatically result in significant reductions in the levels of democracy, accountability or transparency that have been delivered within the framework of the nation state. If this is the case, it gives rise to serious questions about the long-term future of the kind of regional models of political and economic co-operation exemplified by the European Union. If the continued development of the European Union results in a weakening of democracy at the level of the nation state without a commensurate strengthening of democratic guarantees at EU level, then the EU does not deserve the allegiance of its citizens. If endorsing a Constitution for Europe means that its citizens are accepting institutional arrangements that will make permanent the democratic shortcomings that have characterized the functioning of the Union to date, clearly they should not endorse it.

Any debate about whether to endorse the current EU constitutional treaty or not should also have regard to the context of the wider international community. It is clearly not in the international community's interest that a European Constitution should be ratified that consolidates and entrenches the existing democratic deficit of the Union. The momentum that has been generated by the process of European integration to date is quite impressive as Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and Croatia, among others, signal their enthusiasm for joining the Union as soon as possible. In fact, it is likely that in the foreseeable future the European Union will have to respond to considerable pressure for further enlargement from countries of significant size such as the Ukraine, Belarus and even Russia. The EU may continue to expand to incorporate such countries, or it may encourage them to form their own regional arrangements. In either case, the institutional framework and the model of governance that has been developed by the European Union will be extremely significant. They will either ensure that the EU is a flexible and responsive democratic polity that can satisfactorily absorb new applicant countries, or alternatively will provide an important political model which aspiring countries can emulate within other regional unions. The European Union is also likely to play a central role in the eventual emergence of a system of global political governance over the coming decades. For these reasons it is imperative that the Constitution of the European Union should not represent a flawed model of democratic political decision-making but instead should offer a model of governance that meets the highest standards of democracy, accountability and representation.

So how satisfactory are the institutional provisions of the European Constitution and to what extent do they succeed in tackling the EU's existing democratic deficit? More importantly, how satisfied should citizens be with the institutional arrangements set out in the Constitution and the prospect being governed by them for the foreseeable future? This is certainly a key criterion for citizens to use in deciding whether to support the Constitution or not. Although it is being presented to them in the form of a treaty, unlike previous treaties such as Amsterdam and Nice which, since the Single European Act in 1986, have regularly and incrementally advanced the process of European integration approximately every five years, the proposed constitutional treaty is likely to be qualitatively and substantively different. It is highly improbable that the Constitution will be subject to such regular amendment by other future treaties, at least in the short to medium term. The Convention Chairman Giscard D'Estaing suggested that this Constitution would be of a more enduring nature than previous treaties and would govern the functioning of the European Union for at least the next fifty- year period. This is a reasonable proposition, for two main reasons. Firstly because from a political point of view, it is desirable that a Constitution should be a more permanent, less changeable document that will guide the evolution of the Union into the future. Secondly the likelihood of being able to avoid the need to resort to the traditional revision process, involving national ratification procedures, is strengthened by the fact that the Constitution contains certain mechanisms which allow for important changes or legal developments to take place outside of this traditional ratification process. For example, the simplified revision procedure set out in Article IV-444 of the constitutional treaty states that where there is a requirement in the Constitution for the Council of Ministers to act by unanimity in a given area or case, the European Council may adopt a European decision authorizing the Council of Ministers to act by a qualified majority in that area. (The European Council must act unanimously after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament and this provision does not apply to decisions with military implications, or those in the area of defence). Furthermore, Article 1-18, known as the 'Flexibility Clause' states that if the Constitution has not provided the necessary powers for the Union, within the framework of the policies defined in Part III, to attain one of the objectives set out in the Constitution (which are very wide indeed), the Council of Ministers, acting unanimously on a proposal from the European Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, shall adopt the appropriate measures. In deciding whether to support the EU Constitution or not, it is important therefore to remember that the institutional arrangements which are set out within it are likely to be relatively permanent and not subject to the kind of regular review and amendment by other treaties in the future as they have been over the last two decades.

I now wish to make a number of key propositions about the institutional arrangements in the Constitution. These are:

  1. The Constitution does not provide adequate safeguards to prevent the European Union developing into a centralized Superstate, where power is largely exercised at the level of the EU institutions
  2. The Constitution's institutional arrangements largely promote the interests of States at the expense of their peoples
  3. The Constitution fails to provide sufficient protection for smaller states and
  4. It largely fails to tackle the democratic deficit of the EU's main institutions that I outlined in the earlier part of this presentation.

My first argument concerns the extent to which the provisions of the Constitution result in an excessive centralization of power at the level of the EU institutions. One of the main institutional provisions of the Constitution involves the clear listing of categories of EU powers and competences. This was seen as a symbolically important issue since much of the early debate about the need for a constitutional text had focused on the fears of 'creeping' EU powers, and of the difficulties for states, regions and citizens to know exactly what the scope of the powers of action of the EU and its institutions were. In fact, the Laeken Declaration 2001 that provided the impetus for the drafting of the Constitution referred to the possibility of 'restoring' certain tasks to Member State's parliaments. However, the Constitution doesn't contain a single proposal to repatriate powers from EU institutions to Member State's parliaments. What it does do is to set out three categories of competences that have been conferred on the Union by Member States. The first category is one in which the Union has exclusive competence, and includes areas where only the EU can act (eg competition rules for the internal market, customs union, monetary policy, the common commercial policy etc). The next category, sets out areas of 'shared competence' in which one would assume the EU and Member States share the competences listed. However, Article 1-12.2 states that in this category "The Member States shall exercise their competence to the extent that the Union has not exercised, or has decided to cease exercising its competence". In fact in this category the EU institutions have the prerogative to act, and if they do, Member States may not exercise any competence. While it is more difficult to give a ready and clear picture of the extent of the EU's powers in this category since they are defined by the scope of the policy areas set out in Part III of the Constitution, the areas covered are broad and include, amongst others, the internal market, some areas of social policy, economic social and territorial cohesion, agriculture and fisheries, environment, consumer protection, transport, energy, and the area of freedom, security and justice. Article I-16 also states that the Union's competence in matters of common foreign and security policy shall cover all areas of foreign policy and all questions relating to the Union's security. The third category of Union competence set out in the Constitution includes areas where it will have competence to carry out actions to support, co-ordinate or supplement the actions of Member States without superseding their competence in these areas or attempting to harmonize their laws or regulations. These areas include the protection and improvement of human health, industry, culture, tourism, education, youth, sport and vocational training, civil protection, and administrative co-operation. In fact, it is difficult to think of any area of public policy that either remains within the exclusive competence of the Member States, and which does not actually or potentially fall within the competence of the Union.

I am proposing that, given the broad range of EU competences set out in the Constitution, and more importantly the extent to which the EU will have a prerogative to exercise these competences independently of the Member States (certainly where the substantial categories of exclusive and shared competences are concerned), the Constitution fails to provide adequate safeguards to prevent political power being centralized and exercised largely at the level of the EU institutions. And this possibility raises questions about the kind of political form that is being aspired to by the European Union. Unfortunately, there has been a lack of honest debate, particularly on the part of Irish politicians, about the eventual political form of the European Union. While Irish people have been encouraged to support deeper and deeper levels of European integration, little has been said about whether the European Union will follow the model of some traditional federal systems where clear competences or powers exist at regional, national and federal levels of government or whether it is likely to evolve into a much more centralized system where power is exercised at an EU level, rendering the regional and national levels of governance rather weak and even irrelevant. I do not believe the latter centralized model would be in the interests of the citizens of Europe, firstly because of the democratic deficit that currently applies to the way in which the EU institutions function. However, I also believe that a genuinely multi-level system of governance, where regional, national and federal levels of government all play meaningful roles in overall political decision-making should be the model of a 21st century system of governance that is advanced by the European Union. The levels of local/regional and national government are more accessible to the citizen than the relatively remote level of the EU institutions, and it is through the former that citizens should be able to monitor and exercise some influence over decision-making and policy formation at a European Union level.

I anticipate that those who disagree with the analysis I have just presented will draw my attention to another of the new institutional provisions of the Constitution concerning the role of national parliaments. The first of two protocols attached to the Constitution relating to national parliaments provides that they are to be informed of proposals for EU laws at the same time as the Council of Ministers and the EU Parliament. The second protocol provides that a national parliament can complain if they believe the principle of subsidiarity has been breached, within six weeks of learning about proposed new EU legislation. If one third of the national parliaments object, then the Commission has the discretion to maintain, amend or withdraw the proposal, but it is not required to do any of the above. However, closer examination reveals that the concessions made to national parliaments are somewhat tokenistic. Firstly, the role envisaged for them appears to be a passive one, consisting essentially of surveillance and monitoring of the EU institutions. Secondly, while these protocols appear to empower national parliaments, in practice the time limits provided for are problematic. The provisions of the Constitution require that within a six week period national parliaments will have to examine the considerable volume of documentation sent to them, select the documents they want to follow up on, undertake the necessary consultations with regional or local government where appropriate, and finally come up with a reasoned opinion which is in line with the opinions expressed by other EU national parliaments. To reach the one third of the votes of national parliaments required in order to lodge an objection to the Commission, parliaments which object will have to deliberate and debate across national boundaries, and all within the same six week period! And even if all this is achieved, there is no guarantee that EU institutions won't decide to overlook parliaments' objections and maintain the draft legislative proposals.

The possibility for national parliaments to bring a legal challenge to a measure adopted in supposed violation of the subsidiarity principle is a very weak safeguard since the subsidiarity principle has not been well defined in the treaties in the past, nor is it in the current constitutional treaty. More importantly, in the handful of cases on which the ECJ has been asked to review an EU law for violation of subsidiarity, the Court has been minimal in its scrutiny and has almost entirely deferred to the EU legislature (e.g. the biotechnology directive case, the working time directive case, the German bank deposit guarantee case and even the Tobacco advertising directive, which was annulled by the court, wasn't annulled for violation of subsidiarity but for using the wrong treaty basis). The Constitution also contains no provisions for a meaningful strengthening of the role of local or regional government. In fact, the regional dimension of the European Union has always been its 'Achilles' Heel'. The reality is that EU integration greatly disrupts and weakens regional government. The Constitution, rather than attempting to counterbalance this trend by enhancing the role of regional government, leaves this matter up to the Member States themselves supposedly in deference to the national diversity that exists in regional systems. And within the Constitution itself, EU bodies that represent regional assemblies such as the Committee for the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee remain fairly insignificant in terms of overall EU institutional decision-making.

My second argument, which follows on from the first, is that the institutional arrangements set out by the Constitution largely promote the interests of States at the expense of those of the people of Europe. I will use several examples to support this point. Article I-1 of the Constitution states "Reflecting the will of the citizens of Europe to build a common future, this Constitution establishes the European Union, on which the Member States confer competences to attain objectives they have in common". However, it should be obvious to most people that the interests of citizens do not always coincide with those of the state. In fact, a convincing theory in the field of international relations known as the "collusive delegation" hypothesis holds that states often transfer their powers to supranational institutions in order to loosen domestic political restraints and to evade the democratic controls that apply at a national level. Karl Dieter Wolf , a well known theorist in the field of international relations, has argued that states have an interest in expanding their autonomy or independence with respect to society. According to Wolf states used to help each other mainly by perpetuating a threatening external environment, but he suggests that they now tend to achieve the same effect by creating binding intergovernmental arrangements. Now, as then, he argues: "states can co-operate against societies". Mathias Koenig Archibugi , Research Officer at the London School of Economics and Political Science, in an article entitled "the Democratic Deficit of EU Foreign and Security Policy", made the following assertion: "In the EU, the prospect of democratization seems particularly problematic because the main actors threatened by it are precisely those in charge of determining the pace and shape of the Union's institutional change, that is, the governments of the member states". I will now use several examples to support this argument.

I have already referred to the failure of Member States to provide for proper arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny of EU legislation and the decisions taken by government representatives on the Council of Ministers. This clearly suits the purposes of Member State governments who can thus evade the kind of parliamentary scrutiny and levels of accountability that they are subject to at a national level. This allows governments to blame what appear to be remote EU institutions for unpopular Directives and other legislation that must be implemented at a national level rather than having to accept responsibility for their role in supporting such legislation in the first place. It is unacceptable that the Constitution, beyond specifying that national parliaments have a right to receive copies of EU legislation at the same time as EU institutions and to object to proposed legislation on the grounds of subsidiarity, leaves the specific role of national parliaments in EU decision-making up to Member States. This gives rise to a situation where the citizens of some Member States are fortunate enough to have parliaments that can issue binding opinions on how Ministers should vote on the Council of Ministers, and other citizens have parliaments that have no powers to insist on any levels of accountability whatsoever. I would also argue that the failure of the Constitution to strengthen the role of regional government within the overall process of EU decision-making promotes the interests of states who, in institutionalizing significant competences at a supranational or EU level, are moving the decision-making process further away from citizens rather than closer to them.

An issue of concern is also the extent to which the EU Commission, given its extensive powers, is not directly accountable to the people of Europe. Commissioners are not elected, or even appointed by the European Parliament. Rather, they are appointed by states, and so actually represent a 'government appointed by governments'. The formal powers of the directly elected European Parliament are limited to approving and dismissing the Commission 'en bloc'. The Parliament is beginning to use this 'en bloc' power in a more individual way by questioning commissioners during the nomination process, as occurred when the present Commission was proposed. However, Commission President Barroso only yielded to the Parliament at the last minute because it seemed that its vote to approve the Commission would go against him. Otherwise he was more than prepared to defy up to 50% of the parliamentarians and their concerns about selected commissioners. The EU Constitution does nothing to change this situation.

There are many other examples of institutional arrangements that favour the interests of states over those of citizens, in particular the various bodies set up by States at EU level which operate in a secretive and unaccountable way and which cannot be monitored by citizens or even by national parliaments. One example of such a body is what is known as the Article 133 Committee. Each Member State has a number of representatives on the Article 133 committee and it is through this committee that Member States discuss and communicate their willingness to liberalise and open up particular areas of their economies to international trade, including public services such as health and education. The proposals of the Article 133 Committee go to the European Commission, which is empowered by the Council of Ministers to negotiate trade agreements on behalf of all the Member States of the EU. Of particular concern is that the deliberations of the Article 133 Committee are not made public. So citizens and national parliaments are not told in advance what their government's proposals are ­ either in relation to those aspects of their public services that might be offered for trade to the international service industries, or in relation to what their governments are proposing that developing world countries should do. (After the second referendum on the Nice Treaty in Ireland, for example, 32 Freedom of Information requests were made in relation to the Article 133 Committee and the activities of the Irish representatives on it: 31 of these requests were refused). Citizens and elected representatives of the Member States do not get to see what has been negotiated on their behalf until after the deals have been concluded ­ either in the WTO, or with individual countries, and at that stage the agreements are legally binding.

A second example of a potentially secretive and democratically unaccountable body that will promote the interests of Member States rather than those of EU citizens is what has been called the Article 261 Committee. Article III-260 and 261 of the Constitution propose that what was formerly known as the Article 36 committee will become a standing committee to ensure 'operational co-operation' in internal security and to co-ordinate activities of EU and national bodies such as police, intelligence agencies, customs, and border police. This body has been described by organisations such as Statewatch UK as the equivalent of an "EU Interior Ministry" with responsibility for the maintenance of law and order, internal security and external borders. According to the provisions of the Constitution its activities could potentially include, amongst others, public order (at football matches and protests), the use of para-military police units (at protests or to guard EU summits and other international meetings), anti-terrorist units, and the setting up of a European Border Police Force with EU wide powers.  Because the Constitution defines the role of this committee as a technical/ operational, rather than a legislative one, senior officials from Home and Interior Ministries of Member States will run EU-wide policing, security and external border management. This Committee will be answerable to the Council of Ministers conflicts and will not be subject to parliamentary or judicial control. I believe this case represents an example of the way in which the EU Constitution, rather than addressing the EU's democratic deficit actually advances and consolidates it in a number of its new provisions. A final example of the way in which the interests of states are promoted over those of citizens in the EU constitution relate to its provisions regarding the right to take legal action against EU institutions. In Ireland, for example, citizens have a fairly broad right to take a legal case against the state where they want to challenge a general law or policy that they consider to be unconstitutional. But a similar situation does not apply in the EU, where only states and EU institutions have that kind of general right to bring legal challenges. Individuals can only challenge legal acts that are individually addressed to them or which very specifically concern them in a way that they don't concern anyone else. Despite years of criticism from most lawyers and academics and even advocates general about the very limited right of individuals to challenge EU laws, only a extremely minor amendment was made in the constitution to this provision. (It specifies that individuals can bring a judicial challenge against certain kinds of EU legislation ­ Regulatory Acts - that affects them where there is no national law that implements it).

The third proposal that I have made in relation to the EU Constitution is that it fails to provide sufficient protection for smaller states. To date, given its small population compared to other Member States, Ireland has enjoyed relatively generous terms of membership of the EU. I would suggest that these favourable conditions of membership account to a certain extent for the considerable influence that Ireland has wielded within the EU. Up until recently we have had 15 MEPs out of 623, there has always been an Irish Commissioner on the EU Commission and the voting system operating on the Council of Ministers (including the weighted voting system agreed as part of the Nice Treaty) gave Ireland a level of influence that was disproportionate to its size. However the EU Constitution makes it clear that this will certainly change in the near future. The Constitution proposes a new system of qualified majority voting that will be based on a double majority principle- a majority of states (55%) representing a majority (65%) of the EU's population. This system effectively means that the voting weight of different member states will be much more proportionate to their population size. When one considers that the EU is actively considering enlarging to include countries with populations as large as Bulgaria, Romania, and even Turkey, the adoption of a new voting system that is much more related to population size has to be an issue of concern for a small country like Ireland. The Constitution also removes national vetoes in over 20 different areas.

These new arrangements might be more acceptable if compensatory arrangements applied in any of the key EU institutions. For example, in the US Congress although states are proportionately represented in the House of Representatives, each state also has two seats in the Senate, regardless of its size. This, however, is not the case in the EU. From 2009 onwards, Ireland, like every other Member State will be without a Commissioner for a period of five years on a rotating basis. As far as the European Parliament is concerned, the EU Constitution caps the potential future membership of the Parliament at 750 and states that representation of citizens shall be "degressively proportional", with a minimum threshold of six members per Member State (Article 1-20). Given its size it is likely that Ireland will find itself in the future with only 6 MEPs in a parliament of 750. These weakened institutional positions as far as Ireland is concerned, combined with the likely enlargement of the EU in the future, should be a matter of concern for the citizens of this country. This Constitution for the European Union contains no bold new institutional provisions that might reassure small states with regard to their likely power and voting weight in the EU in the future.

I will conclude now with my fourth point, namely that the proposed EU Constitution largely fails to tackle the democratic deficit of the EU's main institutions which I outlined in the earlier part of this presentation. The positive institutional reforms contained within the Constitution are that the Council of Ministers must meet in public when it is legislating. The European Parliament has also seen its powers of co-decision-making extended across a range of new policy areas. In addition, the Parliament has been given new powers of consent over new international agreements, including trade agreements, where these agreements cover fields to which either the ordinary legislative procedure applies, or the special legislative procedure where consent by the European Parliament is required. The Constitution also allows for a million citizens from a significant number of Member States to submit a petition to the Commission requesting that it proposes a particular piece of legislation in order to advance any of the Constitution's stated objectives. Unfortunately, as the EU Parliament has not been given the power to initiate legislation that every other parliament in the world has, EU citizens are deprived of the opportunity to petition their own elected representatives to introduce desired legislation. The provisions of the Constitution leave it to the discretion of the Commission, a democratically un-elected body, whether to act on such a popular initiative or not.

In many other significant respects the democratic deficit of the EU remains un-addressed. In particular, the power of the European Parliament in relation to the Commission remains limited to approving or dismissing the entire Commission. The Commission on the other hand has seen its power extended, particularly in relation to the negotiation of international trade agreements across all services, including health, education and cultural and audiovisual services while the unanimity requirement that gave Member States a veto in these areas has been removed. Under the Constitution the unaccountable European Council sees its formal powers extended from economic governance and foreign policy to all areas of External Action. Secretive and democratically unaccountable committees such as the Article 133 will continue to operate as they have done under the EU Constitution. Furthermore, a new and potentially very worrying Article 261 Committee has been established under the Constitution that, while acting as a virtual EU Interior Ministry, will not be subject to acceptable democratic controls. The EU Constitution institutionalizes the centralization of power at the level of the EU and gives its institutions the potential to exercise exclusive competence across a worryingly broad range of policy areas. The role of national parliaments set out in the Constitution is largely a passive, surveillance role and no areas of exclusive competence have been repatriated to them. Moreover the timeframe of six weeks allowed for scrutiny and possible challenge by national parliaments to new legislation proposed by the Commission is totally inadequate. The vague definition of subsidiarity outlined in the Constitution will offer a poor protection to national parliaments who do challenge such legislation and the case-law of the ECJ to date suggests that it is likely to rule in favour of the EU institutions in relation to any cases taken by national parliaments on subsidiarity grounds.

In conclusion, the institutional provisions of the new EU Constitution should reflect a model of governance that meets the highest standards of democracy, accountability and representation. Instead, while it does contain a number of welcome provisions, I am proposing that it largely enshrines and consolidates the EU's long-standing democratic deficit. I believe it would be very foolish for national parliaments and EU citizens to ratify a Constitution that represents a flawed and unsatisfactory model of democratic political decision-making. If the Constitution is ratified, we are unlikely to see the EU's democratic deficit being tackled in any significant way for the foreseeable future.  I have tried to highlight in my analysis the extent to which I believe the institutional arrangements proposed by the Constitution serve the interests of Member States rather than those of European citizens. If we do not ratify the treaty, we are told it will provoke a "constitutional crisis". I would like to propose here today that it is only in such circumstances of crisis that Member States are likely to even consider bringing about the kind of democratic reforms that they have been resisting to date.

For that reason I would urge you not to support this flawed Constitution, but to vote No to it as part of a necessary strategy of promoting the interests of European citizens by bringing about a radical and long overdue democratization of European Union.

No items found.