Friday

30th Sep 2022

Opinion

Cameron's logic calls for eurozone democracy

Those who thought that a ‘no’ vote in the Scottish referendum on independence would end discussions on the United Kingdom’s institutional architecture were sadly wrong. What’s more, the outcome may indirectly influence the EU and the eurozone’s functioning.

Seeking to win over undecided voters, UK politicians promised to give Scotland more decision-making powers of its own.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

That promise created a backlash in England, where the West Lothian question was brought up again: Scottish MPs in Westminster have a right to vote on matters like healthcare that apply in England, but not in Scotland. Conversely, English MPs have no say on Scottish healthcare decisions.

British Prime Minister David Cameron responded to the discontent by promising "English votes for English laws", meaning that only English MPs would be able to vote on matters that apply solely in England.

The situation is remarkably similar in the European Parliament.

When the Parliament passes rules that apply exclusively to the eurozone, such as sanction mechanisms and fiscal obligations, all members of the European Parliament have an equal say.

Votes from Danish and British MEPs count just as much as those from eurozone MEPs. As in England, this leads to occasional outcries about the lack of democracy.

The EU’s version of the West Lothian question can be resolved. The simplest solution would be to create a committee in the European Parliament that is composed solely of eurozone MEPs.

That eurozone committee would then decide on matters that solely concern the eurozone. In many ways, this kind of eurozone level democracy would be fairer than the existing arrangements.

Yet the EU would not be the EU if the situation were that straightforward.

Current treaty rules require the European Parliament as a whole to vote on binding EU rules, including those that apply solely to the eurozone. In addition, many non-eurozone member states have an obligation to join the common currency at a later stage. These countries should also have a say on eurozone rules.

In the present situation, eurozone democracy would therefore be limited to non-binding matters, such as economic coordination under the European Semester and scrutiny of eurozone institutions (think Eurogroup and ECB). This greatly reduces the scope of eurozone level democracy.

Pragmatism in the European Parliament

Nonetheless, the matter ought to be seriously considered. As the European elections have shown, there is considerable discontent about the EU. If the EU’s West Lothian question lingers unresolved, eurosceptics like the French Front National will benefit.

It is all too easy for them to criticise the democratic nature of the eurozone when British MEPs retain full say on the common currency.

A eurozone committee would, of course, challenge the way the European Parliament works. MEPs like to consider themselves as defenders of the EU’s common interests, rather than merely representatives of their own constituencies.

A eurozone committee would emphasize the national roots of MEPs, and risks creating a divide between the eurozone’s ins and outs as a consequence.

The European Parliament should, however, not fool itself: the EU already operates at multiple speeds. MEPs ought to reflect on how they can adapt to that reality, instead of defending a unitary European project that no longer exists.

Importantly, any eurozone level democracy should be as open as possible to the non-eurozone, while at the same time being as differentiated as required.

This compromise could be achieved by organising it within the European Parliament. The same might not be true for other designs, such as a eurozone assembly of national parliaments.

The transnational dimension of European integration furthermore risks being ignored in such alternative designs. To prevent these dangers from occurring, MEPs will have to be pragmatic in reassessing their functioning.

The writer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

How US tech giants play EU states off against each other

Some have tried to justify Big Tech's meagre tax payments in EU states with heavier tax burdens by emphasising the fact that these companies create jobs and invest in next-generation technologies. However, their market dominance comes at a steep cost.

Can King Charles III reset the broken Brexit relationship?

The Queen's funeral was an impressive demonstration of solidarity from the EU towards a country that left the Union in 2020, and with whom the EU's relations have never recovered. Can the new King Charles III build bridges to Brussels?

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

News in Brief

  1. EU ministers adopt measures to tackle soaring energy bills
  2. EU takes Malta to court over golden passports
  3. EU to ban Russian products worth €7bn a year more
  4. Denmark: CIA did not warn of Nord Stream attack
  5. Drone sightings in the North Sea 'occurred over months'
  6. Gazprom threatens to cut gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine
  7. New compromise over EU energy emergency measures
  8. 15 states push for EU-wide gas price cap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. EU agrees windfall energy firm tax — but split on gas-price cap
  2. Ukrainian chess prodigy: 'we are not going to resign...anywhere'
  3. Going Down Under — EU needs to finish trade deal with Australia
  4. MEPs worry Russian disinfo weakens support for Ukraine
  5. Everything you need to know about the EU gas price cap plan
  6. Why northeast Italy traded in League for Brothers of Italy
  7. How US tech giants play EU states off against each other
  8. Deregulation of new GMO crops: science or business?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us