Sunday 26 February 2012

Euro crises exposed and added to EU lack of legitimacy and democracy

The discussion began in the entries Transparency during the eurozone crises and Euro crises: European Council eviscerated? and Eurozone governance: Fundamental flaws but better presentation. This is the fourth instalment based on my speech at the 22 February 2012 Attac seminar about the implications of the new fiscal discipline in the EU. This text contains some modifications, updates and documentary references, which complement the oral presentation.


The preceding discussion about openness (transparency) brings us to the the need for democracy.

Let me start with the good news.

In addition to EU citizenship and the principle of equality of citizens (Article 9 TEU), Article 10(1) of the Treaty on European Union tells us:

The functioning of the Union shall be founded on representative democracy.

Even the second paragraph – Article 10(2) – looks promising:

Citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament.

However, the European Union is essentially ”owned” by the member states, represented in the two most important institutions, the European Council and the Council, by their governments. The member states hold the treaty making powers (and fairly little radical change can be accomplished without bumping into the walls of the absurdly detailed treaties).

New competences (powers) require treaty change, almost a mission impossible with unanimous decisions and national ratifications by every member.

The member states control expenditure through the long term budget (officially the multiannual financial framework MFF), so the European Parliament is allowed to play along with regard to the annual budget within the framework.

The member states limit the EU's opportunities to tax and to borrow for its policies.

Most importantly, the citizens are not able to vote in, or out, those who govern the union.

In short, the European Union could not become a member of the EU, because it is not a functioning democracy, although it has democratic elements or ornaments.

A democratic union

In my view, it would be better for the security and prosperity European citizens in a globalising world to have a fully democratic union, with accountable government, robust structures and needed powers, starting with foreign and security policy and a common defence, plus a real federal budget.

It is not for the Basic Law to prescribe the contents of the policies to shape, but to offer the ground rules for democratic government and to guarantee fundamental rights.

The arrangement with multiple unanimity rules, 27 national governments dealing with each other in diplomatic mode and as many national parliaments more or less diligently scrutinising what they are up to, was artificial.

The repeated financial, economic and sovereign debt crises since 2008 have exposed fundamental flaws.

The informal coteries and intergovernmental agreements have worsened the situation.

The current system is neither legitimate nor effective.

In interdependent 21st century Europe the question should be the sovereignty of the people, not the sovereignty of states.

Ralf Grahn
speaker on EU affairs, especially digital policy and law

P.S. 1: For better or for worse, between the global issues and the national level, the European Union institutions and the eurozone coteries shape our future. At the same time we see an emerging European online public sphere. More than 900 euroblogs are aggregated by multilingual Is your blog already listed among them? Are you following the debates which matter for your future?

P.S. 2: Referring the anti-piracy treaty #ACTA to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) marks a lull in the proceedings, but not an end to the political battle. A few moments ago, the online petition launched by @Avaaz for the European Parliament (and the national parliaments) to reject ACTA had already been signed by 2,436,282 netizens, but more are welcome until the official burial.


  1. Hi Ralf,

    Good post. I would say the Council is not undemocratic by definition, but its dealings need to be made wholly transparent and open. Currently things are hidden behind the usual diplomatic 'secret défense', wholly illegitimate in domestic EU affairs.

    In another sense the Council is the *only* democratic institution of the EU because it is the only one whose representatives ordinary European citizens can recognize. Europeans citizens have never heard of their MEPs, but there is a visceral connection between them and their national government (for or against). MEPs and the Commission have near-zero legitimacy in this sense.

    More generally, European governance is undemocratic in that it attempts to bind successor majorities with constitutional-type rules: the ECB's mandate, the famously 'stupid' Stability & Growth Pact, the six pack (with the undemocratic monstrosity that is "reverse QMV" against deficits) and the new fiscal compact treaty.

    There needs to be a very high threshold for constitutional-type binding of future majorities (such as supermajorities in parliament, referenda..), with strong engagement and approval from public opinion. Vague approval may sometimes exist, engagement never.

  2. @CJWilly

    You bring up many interesting points of view, well worth further discussion.

    My own view is that we need European level democracy for European level decisions.

    Trying to remote control the EU from 27 or more national capitals (and national parliaments) just is not going to work satisfactorily.

  3. I agree. But does one go about this? The treaties cannot be changed without unanimous approval and the Council does not look set to change its way. Perhaps journalists and hacktivists need to be nosier in making Council activities transparent?

  4. @CJWilly

    Both citizens and leaders have to realise two things:
    1) the need for Europe in a globalising world, and
    2) that "we can't go on like this".

    Since we see little of that maturity, raising consciousness is a necessity. We need Enlightenment philosophers for our times.

    Even then, not all the current (and future) EU governments and and populations can be expected to reach maturity in the short run.

    Thus, a new democratic union would have to begin between the willing populations.

  5. So far the "coalition of the (un)willing" has been limited to the eurozone/six-pack/fiskalkompakt, if anything even more horrifically undemocratic than existing structures. I'm not convinced we really "need more Europe" either, at least, not to the extent that we need to completely hand over national democracy to the EU's armies of bureaucrats, diplomats, lawyers and lobbyists (the EU "diplo-bureaucratic machine"). First European democracy, then more powers, we're currently doing the opposite, unfortunately.

  6. @CJWilly

    The new informal coteries have further distanced the EU from its founding values, especially democracy.

    We the People of Europe are necessary foundation for the needed deep integration.


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