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How should the EU be governed? Eur Council vs Eur Commission

 
 
nimh
 
Reply Wed 28 May, 2003 07:25 pm
Focus of attention right now is the European Convention. It's already clear the Convention will not tackle one rather eye-catching dilemma in EU governance though, not with any decisiveness in any case: the dilemma of the "two heads".

For there are two centres of EU government, if I understand it all correctly: the European Commission and the European Council. The European Council consists of the government leaders of the different countries. They get together for serious negotiations, at those summits that protestors will rally to, for example. They are accountable only to their own respective national parliaments. The European Commission, meanwhile, headed by Romano Prodi at the moment, consists of a Commissioner from each country, which function as a kind of ministers, disposing over their own ministry apparatuses and significant budgets to spend in various subsidy lines. They owe their accountability to the European Parliament.

As a two-headed creature it's an unwieldy system of government, with sometimes confusing delineations of authority. Aid, funding and support to the Balkan states, for example, falls under the authority of the Commission, and thus the approval of the European Parliament. But sending peace troops to the region remains the prerogative of the Council. Environmental policy is the domain of the Commission; but agricultural reform, with its own serious environmental consequences, that of the Council. So something should change, perhaps.

But to which should preference go? Two fundamental principles appear to clash here: democratic accountability vs states' rights, say (for want of a better term - there is one, but I can't think of it). The European Council can be said to symbolise the prerogative of the nation-state: the EU as a co-operation of national governments, rather than a political union. Each country delegates a leader to a common council. The European Commission can in turn be said to symbolise the ambition towards a democratic federation: the Commission as a government, accountable to a Parliament democratically elected in Europe-wide direct elections.

Of course the opposition is riddled with contradictions. It is in the Council, symbol of national rights, that the big countries actually usually get the best opportunities to strongarm their way through, forcing issues when negotiations approach deadlock. Whereas it is the Commission, symbol of institutionalised European democracy, that is usually said to be most removed from the citizens day-to-day life, with the elections to "its" Parliament drawing only minimal turnouts every five years.

If the big question of the moment concerning EU politics is the lack of accountability - the distance between EU governance and the individual citizens' concerns and interests, which of the two offers the better solution in the long run?

The Council represents the voice of those functioning at "our", national, level - my PM, your PM. But they basically have a carte blanche once negotiations start - there is no parliament to scrutinize and amend the end proposals piece by piece. The only actual check is for a national parliament to throw out the entire deal and thus send the EU into imminent crisis - something that rarely happens. And even those PMs have often been only indirectly elected, appointed only after a government is formed on the basis of election outcomes. Democracy here is as far away as at the UN.

The Commission offers a much better deal in that respect, seemingly, accountable as it is to the Parliament, which can amend, reject and adopt as it may. But Parliament's rights are still relatively limited, and another problem is that its make-up is based (roughly) on population ratio. If you're from Belgium, say, there will only be a small number of MPs from your country among many hundreds of parliamentarians, and the voice of Belgian interest thus could easily be drowned out in the whole. Not to mention the lack of legitimacy of this Parliament caused by those low turnouts.

What do you think? Any comments or opinions - or factual corrections to the above (cause I may well have messed up on something or other)?

Interesting angle for Americans: there is a vague parallel to be made to US discussions on, for example, the future of the Senate and the Electoral College, here, I think ...
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 May, 2003 10:34 pm
This is going to be a royal battle between Germany and France. It's gonna be fun to watch. c.i.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 May, 2003 10:34 pm
Even Italy and Spain may get into the fray. c.i.
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au1929
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 May, 2003 08:54 am
I would question the longevity of the EU. Will it be able to survive or will it in the long run succumb to nationalism
and age old disputes. Despite the good intentions there is still no love lost between many of the member states.
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oldandknew
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 May, 2003 11:19 am
There are going to be a great many diverse, industrial, financial and politically vested interests in the New Improved Euro Monolith.
That will lead to a plethora of temper tantrums, stamping of feet, wringing of hands, gnashing of teeth and a multitude of wailing.
Heaven preserve us.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 May, 2003 12:06 pm
oak, You're very conservative in your prognostications of how this "new" EU is going to react to federalizing the whole of all its members. I'm just gonna sit back and enjoy the battle-royal while all the members dook it out! Germany and France think their positions are more important than all the others; that's the dynamite that's bound to explode first. c.i.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 May, 2003 12:10 pm
While not exactly addressing the question posed the following article illustrates some of the dispute:

Giscard attacked over EU 'core values'
By George Parker in Brussels

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, president of the European Convention, on Wednesday presented his preamble to Europe's draft constitution emphasising the continent's "cultural, religious and humanist inheritance" but failing to mention God and Christianity.

The exclusion of God in the preamble will anger many Catholic countries, Christian Democrat politicians and the Vatican. It comes amid increasing criticism of Mr Giscard d'Estaing's draft constitution.

The former French president hoped that the preamble, intended to be an introduction to the EU constitution, would set out Europe's core values and be taught in schools to inspire generations of children.

But the end result, to be presented to EU leaders on June 20, is much longer than comparable texts. Its six paragraphs dwarf the single paragraph preambles to constitutions in countries such as the US, France and Germany.

"The European draft is long-winded, awkwardly phrased, vague on critical points and airily idealistic," said Andrew Moravcsik, professor of government at Harvard University.

The full draft of the constitution, presented in stages this week, has drawn fire from many quarters over its contents.

Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, criticised the draft for failing to propose greater co-ordination in foreign policy or the economy. And he encouraged the 105 members of the Convention to propose amendments to the text when they debate it today and tomorrow. "I have to honestly admit that the draft text is a disappointment," Mr Prodi said. "It is in some respects a step backwards. Despite all the hard work we have put into this, the text that is now before us simply lacks vision and ambition."

Some members of the convention have criticised the draft text for failing to protect the interests of Europe's smaller countries.

Elmar Brok, a leading German Christian Democrat MEP, said the text was "biased in favour of the large countries" such as Britain and France.

On the faith issue, Mr Giscard d'Estaing accepted arguments that explicit references to Christianity would be insensitive to Europe's other religious groups.

Instead there is a reference to the EU's debt to the "civilisations of Greece and Rome" and later "by the philosophical currents of the Enlightenment".

The EU's common values are defined as "equality of persons, freedom and respect for reason" and that it has a mission to protect "the weakest and most deprived".

Britain's insistence that the word "federal" be removed from the main body of the constitution led Mr Giscard d'Estaing to insert a balancing clause in the preamble: the EU would be "united in an ever closer fashion".

The fact that nobody is entirely satisfied has prompted aides to Mr Giscard d'Estaing to hope that compromises can be found and that the whole convention can unite around a single text.

Original Financial Times Story
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oldandknew
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 May, 2003 12:44 pm
And can you imagine the arguments these peole will have when a big meeting goes into overtime and they have to decide what to have for dinner. McDon, Pizza Hut are non runners, the Brits won't be allowed down that road. The French and the Germans will be at each others throat, so no Boulibaise or German beer. The Benelux countries will in a massive quandry and probabaly settle for a toasted Gouda cheese pizza. The Spanish will have Morrocan food and the Italians will go home and watch soccer whilst eating tons of pasta and drinking a lot of Chianti. After which they'll all fall asleep and elect a new Italian Government.

CI --- yes the french and the germans, tweedledee and tweedledum. By the time they've all finished creating chaos out of 1950s logic and built a plywood castle on a bed of quicksand, I'll be pushing up daisies and counting perenial sheep.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 May, 2003 12:47 pm
As Nimh will surely recall, this came up in another thread in which i had posted at my usual tedious length on the compromises at the American constitutional convention. Nimh responded by pointing up the similarity between the controversies dividing members in Philadelphia nearly 220 years ago, and those faced by Europe today.

On that basis, i would recommend something like the compromise reached by our convention. A house based upon population with the sole power to initiate money bills mollified Virgina, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania (the "Big" states), and a senate based upon equality of representation among the member states, with the sole power to advise with the executive and to consent (or not to) in matters of sovereignty reassured New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticutt and Rhode Island (the "Small" states). Such a system, or something like it, might work to reconcile the demands and fears of European states.

The most difficult portion of our convention, as reported in the written accounts which survive (very few, it was decided to keep the deliberations secret), was the form of and method of choosing the executive. The provision in the Virginia Plan for a plural executive was laid aside, and, i believe, rightfully so. But providing a single executive for the European Union is laden with problems of sovereignty, jealousy and suspicion which did not enter into the deliberations in Philadelphia. But the objections to the likely weakness, even paralysis of a plural executive made then do apply to the European situation. This is a tough one, Boss.
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 May, 2003 03:21 pm
Well, I truely think, the commission and parliament should be strenghtened.

This strengthening needs to be done especially for the European Parliament, since itis "handicapped": it is a Parliament that cannot initiate legislation.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 May, 2003 06:25 pm
Walter, How are they going to "initiate legislation" if they can't agree on anything? c.i.
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nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 May, 2003 05:55 pm
cicerone imposter wrote:
Walter, How are they going to "initiate legislation" if they can't agree on anything? c.i.


c.i., my man, sometimes you should really read up a little before you post - no offence. The EU has adopted loads and loads and loads of legislation - in fact, if anything they get flak because of the immense bureaucracy all their regulations, measures and conventions involve. The current new member states have been working for years just to work all the EU legislation into their lawbooks - a prerequisite for their acceptance.
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nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 May, 2003 06:00 pm
Walter Hinteler wrote:
Well, I truely think, the commission and parliament should be strenghtened.

This strengthening needs to be done especially for the European Parliament, since itis "handicapped": it is a Parliament that cannot initiate legislation.


Walter, I share your opinion. If the EU is to increase its already far-reaching governing powers, its 'government' branch should be parallelled with an equally strengthened parliamentary branch.

And somehow I expect more from the combination of a strong and strictly organised/formalised Commission and Parliament than from the ad-hoc negotiations and compromises of the government leaders in the Council - both in terms of democratic accountability and of governmental efficiency. On neither of these terms the Commission scores well at the moment, for sure, but at least the institutions are there for a potential in the matter to be realised. Not so with a continued emphasis on intergovernmental wheeling and dealing. (I'm being un-nuanced now).
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nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 May, 2003 06:15 pm
Setanta wrote:
This is a tough one, Boss.


It sure is, Setanta. I agree with you that most probably, somehow a mix of systems will have to be institutionalised to offer a long-term solution that doesnt estrange either the big or the small states.

Until now, the de facto absorption, by the EU, of much of the legislative, regulatory and funding business determining our day-to-day life has been sold to the member states with such bottom-line guarantees for the main, contentious issues as as a veto right for every member state. Its not often used, I think, but serves to ensure a consensus is always painstakingly sought. But like the current rotating presidency of the Council, such things are increasingly difficult to uphold, considering the vast new number of member states. Take them away, however, and you risk evoking those fears about 'the big countries dictating matters' - the fear that absolute consensus will no longer be wrought at all costs (as it shouldn't be, to my mind).

In the end, I'd think, new forms and institutions will have to be defined. The European Parliament symbolises the potential of a democratic Union and thus has my sympathy, but doesnt easily serve to soothe fears in small countries that their interests will be outvoted in any case - cause they will. A solution like installing, in addition to the EP, a 'Senate'-like set-up might not even be such a bad idea, no ...
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nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 May, 2003 06:30 pm
fishin' wrote:
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, president of the European Convention, on Wednesday presented his preamble to Europe's draft constitution emphasising the continent's "cultural, religious and humanist inheritance" but failing to mention God and Christianity.

The exclusion of God in the preamble will anger many Catholic countries, Christian Democrat politicians and the Vatican.


Read about that today, too. In fact, only the Vatican, and within the EU, the Poles and the German Christian-Democrats are likely to really get worked up about the "Christian" issue. Even arch-conservative Spanish Foreign Minister Ana de Palacio has argued that Europe is not "a Christian club".

In the end, such things are just the manifold dreary details that stir up a lot of dust but are ultimately agreed on or resigned to with some teethgrinding, after which the next step is prepared.

Thats how its always gone thus far, isnt it? These phrases from the article you quoted, fishin', caught my eye:

Quote:
"The European draft is long-winded, awkwardly phrased, vague on critical points and airily idealistic," said Andrew Moravcsik, professor of government at Harvard University. [..]

The fact that nobody is entirely satisfied has prompted aides to Mr Giscard d'Estaing to hope that compromises can be found and that the whole convention can unite around a single text.


The wrangling, protesting, insisting we now see on the Convention has been seen at every single major step towards integration thus far, all the way since the pioneering days middle of the last century. Germany wants a little more of this, France a little more of that and Britain a little less of either; the big states want more of such and the small states more of so; the new member states want it all and the old ones want to keep it all; et cetera etc. Every newly established compromise was one of partial satisfaction at best and grumbling resignation at worst for all parties concerned, this has not been an integration showered with celebrations; but still, there has been no turning back - every new step, however tortuously achieved, was duly integrated into the daily business of the Commissioners' apparatuses and the Council's procedures. At worst the one or other state (Britain) has opted out of one or the other part of the deal, while the rest of the Union pushed on.

That's why I don't really get the apparent sureness of some Americans and Brits on A2K that 'it will blow up anytime now' - is there any sign of it blowing up? The one thing the Europeans cant agree on is foreign policy, obviously, but otherwise, what is the basis of this certainty that very soon, its all going to fall apart? Has there been even one big summit where the member states have actually taken a step back?

For sure, the details the actual disagreements that are fought out with great public show focus on, more often than not include a great deal of cliche-reinforcing nationalist folklore: this country wants its fishing practices guaranteed, that country is concerned about its artisan cheese-making, the third about its specific abortion or drugs legislation. But the more these fights focus on the more colourful trivia, the more a sign it is also of the major bulk of portentous things having been quietly negotiated through and worked into those wordy compromises. The more 'colourful' the issue of contention, the more you know its mostly political fireworks to sell the eventual deal to the voters at home.
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nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 May, 2003 09:11 pm
Again on a point related to the "long-winded, awkwardly phrased, vague" compromises the EU is notorious for, I think georgeob hit on something on another thread where I outlined this question.

Queried about the need for the EU to choose for either one of these lines of institutionalised governance, he pointed out that the secret of the success, thus far, of the unprecedented integration of European countries in a Union without serious destablisation might be exactly in those deliberate ambiguities of compromise. Or, to just use his words:

georgeob1 wrote:
I find it remarkable that the EU has accomplished so much standardization of public policy without having to face directly the inevitable question of federalism -- is the EU to be a sovereign union of states or an association of sovereign states? After about four unsatisfactory years under the Articles of Confederation the fledgling United States undertook to write a constitution. After about eight years of wrangling they ended up with a result that few foresaw - a sovereign union. Even then a bloody civil war was required fifty years later to finally resolve the issue.

Perhaps it is the very complexity of the overlapping authorities of the Commission, the Heads of States, and the EU and national legislatures, plus the wiggle room left to states in conforming to EU norms that has enabled it to work.


He also pointed out that he believed the choice would have to be made some day - but come that day, the possible conflict about it will be buffered by everything that has been put in place, under the protection of that degree of ambiguity, already.
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 May, 2003 11:42 pm
Well said, nimh!
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 May, 2003 11:57 pm
It seems to me that it's either or both ambiguity and compromise. c.i.
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Sofia
 
  1  
Reply Sat 31 May, 2003 02:41 pm
I think the soveriegn union is the only workable formation. I sincerely doubt the ability of a bunch of soveriegn nations to make much progress. I'll link the article I shared on another thread, re: recent EU fireworks for those who haven't seen it.

George's statement reminds me of the times the US suffered while putting together our government. We were very new, not established and desperate to save ourselves from outside intervention. Necessity was the mother of our invention, and our relative newness made the concessions much easier. (And they STILL weren't all that easy, as george states.)

Europe is old as the hills and set in their ways. The road to a new form of govt is an incredibly uphill battle for them. If our motivation was survival; what is Europe's motivation? Are they desperate enough to give up power to possibly gain it back down the road?

EU article.

Does reformation require a bit of desperation?
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Sat 31 May, 2003 03:20 pm
Most of the EU countries that accepted the Euro as their national currency gave up more than their own currency. In many respects, they're helpless to control international trade and inflatioin in their own countries. That's alot of sacrifice for what in return? c.i.
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