Sunday 6 July 2008

To Peter Davidson on the European Union

Peter Davidson wrote a thoughtful comment on the post ‘Government and consent’. It would have stayed ‘hidden’ there if I had responded in the comments section, but after a while I thought that I could draw attention to it by making my answer a separate post and request the readers to reflect on Davidson’s thoughts.


Peter Davidson,

You offer such a rich source of reflections that it is hard to know where to begin. But I will try to comment on at least a few of them:

1) Actually, just a little while before reading your comment, I was contemplating on the vogue among European politicians to decry a European super-state, when our common interests seem to call for at least a European super-power. And a super-power without effective institutions does not work. In other words, they would have to be state-like (effective and democratic).

In my view, the brevity of the US Constitution is an ideal; actually it would be even shorter without some redundant stuff on slave trade and slave population.

But I imagine that the Federal Republic of Europe would be a parliamentary democracy, more in line with European traditions, not a presidential one. (Poland and the Czech Republic as well as ‘cohabitation’ offer some examples of why hydras with one head might be preferred.)

In today’s terms the Lisbon Treaty version of the Treaty on European Union, less the provisions on the common foreign and security policy (including the common security and defence policy), might be a suitable temporary basic law for the citizens of the European Union, provided that the member states pledged to institute a real parliamentary democracy and to eliminate the paralysing unanimity principle.

2) I agree that the EU seems to develop mainly through humiliating experiences. In essence, I support the modest Lisbon Treaty amendments as a step in the right direction, but I see the paternalistic European project heading for failure without the support of the citizens.

No amount of citizens’ forums and public relations exercises is going to bridge the gap between the EU leaders and the union’s citizens. Only real political rights will do.

Enhanced intergovernmental cooperation based on the Treaty of Nice offers fairly slim opportunities substantively, and it would only increase the legitimacy gap.

3) I am not on a sure footing with regard to the regions you mention. With common European rules covering cross-border trade and human contacts and a united Europe facing the world, I imagine that secession by regions would not be a catastrophe.

There is, however, one important aspect that would have to be rectified. Nowadays, the smallest EU member states are overrepresented. It would not be fair to aggravate this lack of balance further.

In my view, the future EU should be closer to the principle of one man, one vote (with the second chamber of the European Parliament the notable exception).

4) Instead of the Lisbon Treaty withering away, I would say that its modest reforms are welcome, but that I hope for the reform to succeed only with the add-ons of democratic reform and a scrapping of the liberum veto.

5) Without the CFSP and the CSDP the Lisbon Treaty is not structurally that far from the ‘brief statement’ you call for.

6) I think that there are some genuinely European politicians among the European level parties, and I imagine that at least you and I are among the citizens who try to discuss in the terms of common interests.

Appeal is another matter, but we shall see. Although many Europeans seem to long for national level politics to save them from both globalisation and the EU, I think that great enough numbers would be mature enough to embrace European level democracy if offered and explained to them.

Ralf Grahn


  1. Concerning the dismantling of larger countries through the emerging of new regional states, I feel quite worried about the reactionary pseudo-nationalist attitude so rampant in these entities. Is European development to be fuelled by emerging secessionist regions longing for the trappings of XIX century statehood?

  2. Igor Guerra,

    You have pointed out a potential problem. The present nation states are perhaps more of historic accidents than most people care to admit, but having contributed towards easing tensions and enhancing cooperation between these nation states, the European Union would be ill served by new polities (members) bent on repeating the historical mistakes of emphasising their characteritics against others in the traditions of nationalism and populism.

  3. there is an interesting point in Davidson's comment that I want to reflect upon, when he talks about the fact that we need a super-power...

    That is the fact. I think many unionists want this in some corner of their minds, but I think there is a kind of fear in admitting it publicly. At least this is my case.

    The idea of an Europe as a super-power comparable to the present USA and the future China makes me feeling a little strange.
    I was grown up (I am 29) by the idea that Europe IS Peace, but honestly I am a strong advocate of a EU Common Army...

    In my opinion EU lacks four essential things, three of them are matter of power, one is a matter of democracy:
    1. a common foreign policy and army,
    2. two levels of courts and police: the federal level, for people committing crimes in more than one EU country I mean particularly cross-border organised crime, and the country level, for people committing crimes only in one country,
    3. the possibility of financing itself autonomously by getting its own taxes
    4. the full power of making European laws to the European Parliament.

    I think these four points are the real meat of the problem, and I think referenda would be better understood if asked on some simple but vital points like these (maybe formulated a little better then my rough way), instead of on complex and hard to understand "operative" documents.

  4. Giacomo,

    One thing we could perhaps call power in the world.

    The EU, as I see it, is potentially the most benign world power if it adheres to its own principles of democracy, rule of law, peace etc.

    But it needs effective decision-making and the whole panoply of foreign policy instruments (including armed forces) if it wants to influence the rest of the world, as well as defend the interests of its citizens from a position of equality.

    I agree with you that the European Union would have to be organised along federal lines, based on its citizens, with powers to change its basic law (subject to ratification by a qualified majority of states).

    The examples you mention are important, although parliamentary scrutiny of the government would have to be effective in the fields of foreign and security policy as well as police cooperation, where action is the central issue and law-making is rare.


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