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Van Rompuy: Much ado about what?

Published on February 8, 2010 by: in: Politics

Yesterday’s appointment of the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy was truly disappointing. Worse than that – it is a genuine manifestation of “Euro-bureaucracy” in its worst form. Another backstage compromise, another decision that has nothing to do with courage and ambitious projects. Could anyone please remind me the aim of the 2002 European campaign which eventually led to the signing of the Lisbon Treaty? Was it to enhance the technical role of the European Council presidency which leaned toward backstage negotiations between the capitals of the member states? Was it simply to replace the one rotating position, held by heads of governments of the member states one by one, with one incumbent, and apparently not one only? Why create yet another office in the EU which will not have any actual prerogatives of power? Instead of taking a step towards transparency in the decision-making process in Brussels and instead of inspiring the public opinion in the Western Europe, already extremely bored with the EU, through the mechanisms enhancing actual citizen influence on the EU, new institutional levels emerge. Not only do they not add any value, they complicate the unclear EU structures even more. There was so much ado: so much clamour, so many protests, lost referendum, and appeals by the pro-European leaders, the outcome turned out to be pathetically poor. People! This was a classical case of a game not worth a candle, unless a small aromatic one. What amuses me are all the Euro-sceptics, who were announcing a downpour and there was barely a drizzle.

I have nothing against Mr. van Rampuy or Ms. Ashton. They surely are competent people, familiar with the Brussels’ labyrinths, but they are not leaders who could be respected by people like
Hu Jintao, Ignacio Lula da Silva, Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Robert Mugabe, Omar al-Bashir and Than Shwe. It was speculated that the signing of the Lisbon Treaty would lead to the EU becoming a global player. The new personnel will not make it happen.

If Europe is to succeed, the rules governing its institutions should resemble those of the nation states, but in a way that does not annul the existence of the real nation states since, justly, there is no consent of public opinion and political elites for that. What should be understood by that? Let us stick to the actual competences delegated by the nation states to the EU institutions and not enhance them further but adjust the logic and the system of relations between the European institutions to a typically domestic system. That would mean that the European Parliament would be elected directly on the basis of Pan-European electoral law. Each member state should constitute one electoral district and elect the number of EP members according to the allocation specified by the current regulations. In order to put up a candidate list it would be necessary to collect a certain number of signatures (for example in 2/3 constituencies or countries, which would encourage transnational co-operation and strengthen Pan-European political parties like: Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), European People’s Party (EPP), Party of European Socialists (PES), European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) etc. The European Parliament’s powers would be parallel to the state parliaments’ powers, that is the exclusive legislative power with respect to delegated competences in treaties and European Council agreements.

The European Commission would act as an executive of the EU responsible for proposing legislation and it would be subject to a vote of approval by the European Parliament which would have powers of general supervision over the EC. A motion of censure (a constructive motion of censure only) on the Commission could be submitted at any time.

The political composition of the Commission should correspond to the composition of the Parliament ion terms of political groups, without automatic placement of representatives of all the Pro-European groups. This might introduce the notion of a majority in the European Commission and opposition in the European Parliament. European election would determine the real direction of the EU government. This would end the stagnation and compromises of the Christian democracy – socialists kind of coalitions. An authentic leader should become the Commission President, preferably the leader of one of the Pan-European parties which constitute majority. The principle of representation of every state in the Commission would not have to be obeyed. However in order to maintain the support of a majority comprised of a few political groups in the PE the Commission President would have to gain support from their allies, overcoming the political as well as the national divisions. This would end the unnatural proliferation of commissioner portfolios by adjusting their number to the number of member states. Additionally, to prevent the representatives of small countries like Luxembourg, Malta or Cyprus from being constantly omitted they could be present in every second EC.

The European Council and The Council of Europe – the summit meetings of representatives of member states on different levels could still exist, but they would not have a large influence in governing EU law. This would be the responsibility of the European Parliament and high ranking politicians of each member state government. The Council would have the right of a legislative initiative and a general decision making power, defining a framework for the EU, especially what falls under delegated competences. The Council could additionally block the decisions of European Parliament with qualified majority, as it is the case today with reference to decisions of the Council.

A motion of censure for the member states could also be retained in cases of the most sensitive issues, nevertheless the two latter powers could include the provision that they would expire in, for example, 20 years, which would make the decision irrevocable.

The work of the Council should be headed by the EU President elected in general Pan-European elections. Let us imagine general elections in the EU as one electoral district and runoff election in case none of the candidate received more than 50% votes. Due to protests of the small member states it is possible to imagine copying the American model with its indirect election through the Electoral College in which every state would have a certain number of electors, proportional to the size of population. Many smaller member states could turn out to be of key importance for the result, similarly to New Hampshire. Pan-European parties could also run primary elections to explore which of the candidates have potentially the best prospects of victory in various political realities of member states.

That is how the EU could be changed into a strictly democratic structure, where people’s influence on decisions is a matter of: a) electing a strong European Parliament, b) appointing the European Commission personnel based on the majority in EP, c) electing a President of the EU and d) democratic elections of each government which representatives form the Council (this already takes place today). Additionally the citizen’s legislative initiative could be facilitated by reducing the number of signatures required, to 250 thousand for example.
Such a EU would have a chance to attract the attention, to inspire emotions and engagement of simple people. And this is what is lacking and this lack is still the greatest danger for the survival of the European Union.

Obviously I am not disillusioned there are chances of implementing these changes. Considering the pains we had to go through to allow Herman van Rompuy to take an office of a little real importance one can only be a pessimist. If this kind of reform will not take place in the next 20-25 years I am afraid the EU will turn out to be an interim solution, lasting for a short period of time in the history of Europe.

Translation: Agata Szustakiewicz

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About Piotr Beniuszys

Piotr Beniuszys holds Master’s degree in sociology and political science; his views are to the right in economic issues, to the left in ethical and moral issues – i.e. liberal in both cases; the final chairman of Unia Wolności in Gdańsk, a former member of Democratic Party – demokraci.pl.

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