Sunday 10 August 2008

Human Rights: UK exceptionalism

The Joint Committee on Human Rights of the House of Lords and the House of Commons has published a report called ’A Bill of Rights for the UK? Twenty-ninth Report of Session 2007–08’ (HL Paper 165-I, HC 150-I; published 10 August 2008):

The report outlines a future UK Bill of Rights.


Browsing the report, you would have to be a genius to detect that the United Kingdom is a member state of the European Union, or that its government has politically signed up to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of 7 December 2000, or that the United Kingdom has ratified the Treaty of Lisbon, or taken the trouble to opt out of the Charter, as adapted on 12 December 2007.

I have no desire to deprive UK residents of modern human rights protection, but even by British standards the presentation seems to reach new heights of tunnel vision.

Ralf Grahn

Saturday 9 August 2008

Elected EU President 2009?

With the Lisbon Treaty in the doldrums, the next five years for the European Union look set to begin under the auspices of the unreformed Nice Treaty. The European elections in June 2009 will take place without the timid Lisbon Treaty reforms, although few have spoken out against a ‘more democratic’ EU.

Can anything be done to enhance the democratic legitimacy of the European Union, even marginally?

Since the Maastricht Treaty every person holding the nationality of a member state is an EU citizen, according to Article 17(1) of the Treaty Establishing the European Community (TEC).

The European Parliament is elected by direct universal suffrage, as provided for in Article 190(1) TEC.

These provisions offer an objective base for some citizens’ influence in EU governance, although the European Union falls far short of a functioning democracy.


The limited powers of the European Parliament and the slow emergence of a ‘European consciousness’ have resulted in the low intensity of European election campaigns and low participation. The electoral campaigns have been fought primarily on national issues, not pan-European ones.

Article 191 TEC offers a germ ‘to forming a European awareness and to expressing the political will of the citizens of the Union’ in the form of political parties at European level.

In practice, the European level parties are still in their infancy. Funding for European parties (and foundations) has recently been provided, but they still resemble loose coalitions of national parties more than effective shapers of pan-European programmes.

There are, however, some promising signs. In the 2004 elections the European Green Party campaigned on a common programme, and the Party of European Socialists has conducted a long public web based consultation for its 2009 election manifesto.

The European elections 2009 offer the European parties an opportunity to inform the public about the political choices facing the European Union, but their success is still dependent on the contributions of the national parties, which – in general – have done little to enhance the knowledge of the public or the participation of their activists at the European level.


In addition to programmes, politics is about personalities, and democracy is about the citizens’ power to elect the office holders and to set the course for government.

The real President, since the Rome Treaties, is the President of the (EEC/EC) Commission, and the Commission still forms the executive in its areas of competence, as far as the European Union can be said to have an operative government (although the superimposed European Council has increasingly morphed into a ‘transitional government’ with a distinctly intergovernmental flavour).

Neither is democratically accountable in a satisfactory way.


The President of the Commission and the Commission are appointed by the Council by a qualified majority, but the preceding nomination of Commission President and the list of the Commission as a block are subject to votes of approval by the European Parliament, pursuant to Article 214 TEC.

Even without the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament has the possibility to make the European election results count, when it approves or rejects the person nominated by the heads of state or government.

Gianni Bonvicini, in his article ‘Elezione “diretta” del Presidente della Commissione europea?’, notes that the conservative European People’s Party has nominated Manuel Barroso for a second term. Bonvicini suggests that the Socialists field Pascal Lamy or Giuliano Amato, and that the European liberals put forward their own candidate.

In Bonvicini’s view this would lead to two positive outcomes. It would give weight to the Commission President and it would give a minimum of power and credibility to the European level parties.



In my view, it would enhance the credibility of the European election campaign if the European Council states well in advance that it intends to be bound by the election result, by nominating the candidate of the largest group as President of the European Commission.

This could be one small but important result of the French Council Presidency, at the December 2008 European Council.

Ralf Grahn

Friday 8 August 2008

EU Lisbon Treaty ratifications for purists

The media and this blog have usually concentrated on the parliamentary ratification stage of the EU Treaty of Lisbon. This is natural, because we live in parliamentary democracies. Approval by parliament is seen as politically decisive, which it normally is. Currently 24 member states’ parliaments out of a total of 27 have already given their approval.

One country, Ireland, has rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum, and in two member states, the Czech Republic and Sweden, the parliamentary process has hardly begun.

This blog has employed expressions like parliamentary approval or ratification, the parliamentary ratification stage and other words to that effect to remind readers of the difference between the main political decision and final ratification.


As with other international treaties, the Lisbon Treaty needs the additional signature of the president or royal assent in most member states to comply with their internal procedures (constitutional requirements). In parliamentary democracies functioning normally, this stage is ordinarily a formality.

There may, however, exist ‘benign’ reasons for delaying the signature.

Administrative delays are normal. In principle, there is no hurry before the end of 2008.

In Germany the president awaits the outcome of the judicial challenges filed with the Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht).

In Finland – although I have seen no official confirmation of the reasons – the president may be waiting (within a three month time limit) for the autonomous Åland Islands to approve or reject the Lisbon Treaty concerning their own territory.

The vagaries of politics being what they are, other reasons may enter into play. For instance, seen from the outside the Polish president Lech Kaczynski seems to be engaged in populist politicking and a power struggle with Poland’s government and parliament. Perhaps one of the Polish readers of this blog could present an expert comment on the constitutional matters and the political questions involved.


Externally, states finalize their approval by notification of their intent to be bound by a treaty. According to Article 54 of the consolidated Lisbon Treaty version of the Treaty on European Union provides that ‘The instruments of ratification shall be deposited with the Government of the Italian Republic’.

The EU Council web site tells us that thirteen ratifications have been deposited:

The group of finalized ratifications includes the following member states: Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.


Eleven member states have parliamentary approval, but their ratification instruments have still to be deposited. They are: Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain,

Source: Wikipeadia: Treaty of Lisbon (8 August 2008)


By the way, there is a misconception in the Wikipedia article about the Åland Islands (Finland). Currently there is no Åland Islands MEP.

With a population of 28,000 Åland has lobbied for a member of the European Parliament since the beginning of Finnish EU membership, but the chances to succeed are slim, given almost 408,000 inhabitants for each of the 13 future Finnish mandates (presently 14).

Åland has a guaranteed member in the Finnish parliament, which is close to proportional representation given the size of the Finnish population (5.3 million) and 200 MPs.

If the regional parliament of the Åland Islands rejects the Lisbon Treaty, the legal situation would become unclear, leaving part of Finland’s territory outside the geographical scope of the amending treaty and the relations between Åland and the EU to be determined.


The UK territory Gibraltar (28,750) has about the same population size as Åland, but I could find no information on its government’s London web site about the approval of the Lisbon Treaty:

Another 8 km2 to watch, for purists.

Ralf Grahn