9th Aug 2022


An alternative EU

The EU leader’s decision to "put the constitution on ice" is not what Europe needs.

We need a debate from scratch where the ideas and concrete contents of the proposal can be discussed and evaluated and put against other alternatives.

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One way would be to let representatives of the different positions in the respective countries formulate some questions that are put to a survey among people from all countries, facilitated by the internet and supported by local institutions and meetings.

These would be real advisory "referendums" that could lay the foundation for a reworking and true modernisation of the EU’s structure and functions. And this process should be joined by all member and candidate states.

Awaiting that, and to counter the idea that no alternatives are possible, let me give an example of how the EU could be reorganised in a way that takes away the democratic deficiency, but keeps the essential competences.

The element of forced consensus

To reach the goal of unquestionable democratic accountability, some fundamental changes in perspectives have to be made.

First, it must be recognised that a structured exchange of freely invented ideas without force can replace the idea that every country must have the same view, the same laws and rules, and make the same experiments.

Second, it should be the recognition that there are many ways ahead, also ways that move powers in the opposite direction of what was usually considered the only way to create 'a closer union' between the peoples.

Co-operation can be stimulated without the element of forced consensus.

This can be achieved through an institutionalised free exchange as a part of an effective and democratic EU a la carte. Such a change of focus can be made without losing the momentum of contacts, information, and competence that have been built up over the years. The existing institutions can be used in a new framework.

The parliament evaluates

The key factor in such a model is the role of the European Parliament. The power of the parliament would be greatly enhanced compared to the other EU institutions, and at the same time it would be a service for the national parliaments.

From the point of view of the national parliaments, there would be an opportunity to disseminate good ideas all over Europe and at the same time an obligation to discuss certain proposals from other countries.

The European Parliament would receive proposals from the national parliaments, from the Council of Ministers and from groups and individuals within the parliament itself. The proposals would be evaluated through voting and the acknowledged ones would be put before all national parliaments for approval or rejection.

Representatives of an acknowledged proposal would be allowed to take part in the discussions on it in the national parliaments. This would create a visibility to the public and build a natural atmosphere of international co-operation.

The commission investigates and administrates

The European Commission could still be a useful investigative and administrative resource.

It would prepare the approved proposals in various ways, such as finding out the current situation in different countries, investigating the consequences for various aspects etc. The commission could also still administer common projects in education and science, keep an eye on transnational companies etc, to the extent that some or all countries call for.

The ministers would do in Brussels what they do at home - shape proposals for the parliament, in this case the European Parliament, if they want an act of legislation tested by all nations.

A number of governments can of course decide to put a common proposal before their own parliaments without consulting the European Parliament.

The European Council as a separate forum for the prime ministers is questionable from this perspective. As was recognised at earlier stages in the EU, this body should not formally make policies. The prime ministers will join the Council of Ministers and work through that body.

The collected legislation loses constitutional support

All the controversial politics that is debated in societies should be excluded from a treaty for democratic European co-operation.

These matters will be left to decisions within the national parliaments, where international representatives can take part in the debate, according to this proposal. The European debate would gain from the natural exchange between countries that this idea brings.

Only the actual decision procedures should be in the treaty, possibly together with some very basic human rights that are agreed upon by all, in that way keeping the pressure on joining countries in this field.

The legislation will rest with different countries, and the common agreements between countries. Today’s mass of EU directives and regulations will initially live on in their implemented versions in the countries but can be changed by any national parliament that wants to try another policy.

Power of citizens and media

If we want a vital democratic co-operation in Europe in the future, there are some other crucial factors that have to be dealt with. Referendums, citizens’ surveys and initiatives should be developed further.

Representatives of civil society interest groups should have say in future politics – a transparent informational power based on the power of ideas, and built on a process for evaluating their popular support.

A broadened political debate within European media should be provided for, where more voices from more countries will be heard.

And the European co-operation should be open to the rest of the world, and actively work to bridge information - and poverty gaps in the world.

Expanding the community will be much easier when the element of forced harmonisation is eliminated or significantly weakened.

A success for this model can be stimulation for development of the UN and can be an inclusive part of future world governance.

The author works for TEAM and the EU-Critical Network in Stockholm. He writes here in a personal capacity


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

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