Wednesday, 6 June 2007

European level democracy

We, the citizens of the European Union, should learn to appreciate that there are questions that are best solved on a European level, and that there are directly elected representatives in the European Parliament who debate and vote on issues of common concern.

Before we ignore or criticise them, we should perhaps look at what they say and do. (Their multi-lingual news services are excellent, their reports and decisions can be accessed, and with the help of interpreters we can follow their plenary sessions live on the web.)

Today, the European Parliament debated the Union’s constitutional process based on a report by the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. The rapporteurs were Enrique BarĂ³n Crespo and Elmar Brok, who represent the two largest political groups in the European Parliament.

What do they propose that the European Parliament votes on tomorrow?

That the European Parliament
1. Reaffirms its endorsement of the content of the Constitutional Treaty, the aim of which is, as a decisive step, to formally give the European Union its inherent political dimension, and strengthens the efficiency of its action, enhances democratic control over its decision-making procedures, improves transparency and strengthens the rights of European Union citizens while representing a compromise, and which meets the needs of the European Union in its current stage;
2. Emphasises that two-thirds of the Member States have already ratified the Constitutional Treaty and that four others have clearly expressed their commitment to the provisions it contains, as demonstrated by the recent meeting held in Madrid at the initiative of the governments of Spain and Luxembourg;
3. Notes the concerns expressed by the people of France and of the Netherlands and the debate which has taken place in both of those countries;
4. Notes that concerns have been raised in some other Member States too, but that the governments concerned have expressed their support for finding a satisfactory solution that preserves the key reforms contained in the Constitutional Treaty;
5. Reminds the political responsibility of those Member States who have signed but not ratified the Constitutional Treaty;
6. Reaffirms its commitment to achieving a settlement of the ongoing constitutional process of the European Union that is based on the content of the Constitutional Treaty, possibly under a different presentation, but takes into account the difficulties that have arisen in some Member States;
7. Supports, in light of this, the efforts of the German Presidency to obtain from the European Council of June 2007 a commitment to calling an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), and the definition of a roadmap containing a procedure, a clear mandate and the objective of reaching an agreement before the end of this year;
8. Recalls the need to guarantee the decision-making capacity of the European Union, the effectiveness of its policies, and their full democratic legitimacy, towards which the Constitutional Treaty makes undeniable progress in terms of scrutiny, legislative and budgetary procedures, as well as the need to strengthen the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the role of the European Union in the world in order to allow it to influence the definition and the implementation of the responses to the pressing challenges which humanity is facing;
9. Insists on the preservation of all basic principles as contained in Part I of the Constitutional Treaty, including the double nature of the European Union as a union of States and of citizens, the primacy of the European law, the new typology of acts and procedures, the hierarchy of norms, and the legal personality of the European Union and stresses that the Constitutional Treaty also conveys other important improvements in matters such as the consolidation of the existing treaties and the merging of pillars, the express recognition of the values on which the European Union is based and of the legally binding force of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as in enhancing the participation of citizens in the political life of the European Union, clarification of the respective competencies of the European Union and of the Member States, respect for the principle of subsidiarity and the role of national parliaments;
10. Stresses that any proposal for modification of the Constitutional Treaty needs to secure the same level of support as was obtained at an earlier date by the provision it seeks to replace;
11. States that it will reject any outcome of the negotiations which, if compared with the Constitutional Treaty, would lead to a diminution of the protection of the rights of citizens (insists, in particular, on maintaining the Charter of Fundamental Rights, especially its legally binding force) as well as to less democracy, transparency and efficiency in the functioning of the Union;
12. Recognises, in this context, the need to take into account major issues that have been raised during the reflection period, and to clarify others that have already been addressed in the Constitutional Treaty, such as:
– sustainable development, in particular the struggle against climate change,
– European solidarity in the field of energy,
– a coherent migration policy,
– the European Social Model in the context of demographic change and globalisation,
– terrorism,
– the dialogue between civilisations,
– effective common mechanisms for the coordination of economic policies in the euro-zone, while safeguarding the role of the European Central Bank in monetary policy in accordance with the Treaties,
– the Union's criteria and procedures for enlargement;
13. Believes that, in view of the success of the Convention method in preparing the draft Treaty, it is necessary to retain, in any solution to the constitutional process, the basic principles of parliamentary participation, association of civil society and full transparency;
14. Recalls that Parliament, as the only institution of the European Union directly elected by the citizens, must be fully involved in the IGC at all levels, and to a greater extent than during the 2003-2004 IGC;
15. Calls, furthermore, for the setting up, in parallel with the active participation of the representatives of the European Parliament in the IGC, of an interinstitutional conference inspired by the model followed during the elaboration of the Treaty of Maastricht, in order to keep the European Parliament informed and bring an important contribution to building a cross-party and transnational consensus in the IGC;
16. Reiterates its commitment to the Convention mechanism should the Heads of State or Government decide to embark on a substantial revision of the existing texts;
17. Calls on the Commission to fully play its role in the upcoming negotiations and to prepare proposals for modernising the Constitutional Treaty with respect to the topics set out in paragraph 12;
18. Emphasises the importance of dialogue between national parliaments and their respective governments through the IGC and expresses its willingness to maintain close contact with the national parliaments during the forthcoming negotiation phase, as well as with the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee, with the European Social Partners, with religious communities and with civil society;
19. Calls for the conclusion of the ratification process of the new Treaty by the end of 2008, in order to allow the next Parliament, which will be elected in 2009, to start its mandate under the provisions of the new Treaty;
20. Demands that all Member States coordinate their ratification procedures, in order to allow for the ratification process to be completed simultaneously;
21. Emphasises that everything possible must be done to avoid the creation of a two-tier Europe;
22. Intends to deliver an opinion on the convening of the IGC in accordance with Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union, in light of the criteria set out in this resolution;
23. Instructs its President to forward this Resolution to the members of the European Council, the Council, the Commission, the national parliaments of the Member States, the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee.

Although the citizens of Europe have elected some flag-waving nationalists, most of who belong to an odd collection of splinter groups, there seems to be a broad consensus on a European project at the service of its citizens.

Therefore, the EP is expected to vote for institutional reform which safeguards the main achievements of the Constitutional Treaty, and for a new treaty which guarantees the rights of Europe’s citizens.

In comparison, demands for changes to the substance of the Constitutional Treaty floated by the British, Polish and Czech governments look less convincing from an all-EU perspective with its citizens at the centre.

Ralf Grahn