On Thursday November 22, the European Parliament voted in favor of a resolution that aims at improving the democratic status of the European Union. The resolution concerned the elections to the European Parliament in 2014 (see full text) and includes several statements which will resonate well with people such as myself who believe in real progress, greater liberty, ever-more inclusive democracy and autonomy.
A very important amendment to the original text came from the Greens/EFA group. It was introduced thanks to the laudable and laborious efforts of MEP Rui Tavares, who has long now engaged in a ceaseless struggle for a Democratic Pact for Europe, in an attempt to democratize the existing institutional order of the EU by circumventing the time-consuming process of modifying the Treaties. In short he wishes to introduce democracy in the EU by means of political custom, which is perfectly legitimate in a legal sense, and under the prevailing conditions, quite desirable in political terms.
The amendment in question writes as follows (amendment to the original text is in bold letters):
1. [The European Parliament] Urges the European political families to nominate candidates for the Presidency of the Commission and expects those candidates to play a leading role in the parliamentary electoral campaign, in particular by personally presenting their programme in all Member States of the Union; stresses the importance of reinforcing the political legitimacy of both Parliament and the Commission by connecting their respective elections more directly to the choice of the voters;
The ramifications of this statement are quite far-reaching in setting the foundations for the development of European democracy and for the transformation of the Commission into a proper democratic executive rather than the detached technocracy it now is. At first this article demands from the prospective president of the Commission to campaign all across the continent, to stand up to the challenge of debating with the citizens of each country the very policies that will influence their lives.
The most apparent benefits of these “primaries” are two: (1) the Commission will be more pressured to adopt policies that cater to the needs and demands of citizens Europe-wide, (2) citizens will understand that they can now have a greater say over the policies that affect them and will become more involved in the process. In this respect democratic inclusiveness and scrutiny will both be improved, relative to the existing order of things.
How much better would it be to have a Commission President going from Athens, to Dublin, to Lisbon etc. to actually tell the people about her intentions and vision, rather than sending decisions from an ivory tower in Brussels, or leaving the fate of millions of peoples to inter-governmental bargaining, in effect, between Paris and Berlin?
I submit to you that it would improve the quality of the decisions that are made at the EU level, always in a relative sense. Legislation would become more citizen-oriented, whereas currently EU directives are in many cases effectively detached from any actual concern for the citizen, as they are the products of arid accounting calculations and legalistic bungling, outside any genuine democratic control.
For instance, the invidious effects of inane austerity policies, the inflationary depression they have bestowed on us, are in part caused by the lack of a vital link between the Commission and the 500 million European citizens. With this resolution such a bond is gradually being created and will provide the impetus for a profound democratization of the system; of what constitutional lawyer and fellow blogger Manuel Müller trenchantly referred to as:
[...] a far-reaching parliamentarization of the European political system: reducing the influence of the European Council and abolishing national veto rights (also in constitutional, i.e. treaty questions), while boosting the power of the European Parliament [read his full article here—and make sure you follow his blog]
Having stated the above, I need to stress that it would be a sign of puerile naivety to assume that a Parliament resolution of this sort is enough to transform the EU into a genuine democracy and to remedy all of its malignancies. As important as this text is, it must be seen as a minor though certainly bold step towards a much more ambitious objective. Eventually we will require direct elections for a European government within the context of a truly democratic, bottom-up federation that will differ fundamentally from the existing quasi-confederal entity.
To improve the overall system we need much more than the resolutions of the Parliament. Thoroughgoing reforms in many of the EU’s existing flaws need to be implemented, to reduce the overall complexity of the system, to predicate the entire EU architecture on the citizens and not to have them as a mere “pillar” of it; and to proceed with an overall reformation of the present economic model along the lines of a much more efficient, savings-driven, decentralized and sustainable model away from the hypertrophic, inflationary corporate- and crony- capitalism that brought us into this mire of economic depression.
The European Parliament’s resolution is a decisive step on the long path that leads to a genuine European democracy. The inflexibility imposed on us by the Treaties notwithstanding, this resolution effectively opens a broad sluice gate for the introduction of a number of other complementary proposals that will aim at making the institutional order of the EU more inclusive and decipherable.
As important as this resolution is, it certainly is not perfect, while it might well be the case that some of the results it will yield will appear quite inadequate when juxtaposed to the lofty ideals we ought to uphold. Nevertheless it is crystal clear that with this decision in place, European citizens may well have a greater part of their lives in their hands.
We still have not achieved autonomy, properly understood, in fact we are quite far away from it, yet we are marching towards that direction, despite all the hurdles we have been faced with; obstacles that are usually placed in our way by our selves, our own narrow-mindeness in clinging on to presumptuous, superstitious notions that have long now been rendered obsolete by the sociopolitical progress of our civilization.
Finally I must state my view that democracy proper is not a system that can be concocted by technocrats under some laboratory conditions, or by armchair theorists aloof from the fray. Democracy is a system in the making; it is constant differentiation, self-reflection, evolution and reform of the society of individuals from their selves.
Democracy is creation and we individual citizens must never neglect the plain fact that we are—and should always be—the creators. Let us make use of this European Parliament resolution towards that end.