Paper No. 44
Nigel Farage MEP
To the European Union, which prides itself in addressing the concerns of the "peoples of Europe", the discovery that more people in Britain voted on the popular TV show "Big Brother" than bothered to turn out for the European elections came as something as a shock. When this low turn–out was reflected throughout the member states of the European Union, it precipitated something close to panic in the corridors of power throughout Brussels and its satellites. The ungrateful people, it appeared, were loving the wrong Big Brother.
For those used to the indifference of the European Union to the democratic process – where unelected technocrats have routinely ridden rough–shod over the wishes of the people – such concern for the failure of the democratic process might seem, on the face of it, something of a paradox. After all, since they had cared so little for democratic assent up to now, why should they now have been so bothered by such an apparently minor setback?
The answer, of course, is that the process of integrating member states to create a People’s Republic of Europe is entering a critical phase. Up to the present the process of building this new nation state has been confined to dull, boring, and largely invisible technical measures – mostly associated with the creation of a customs union and the single market. But with the development of the common foreign and defence policies and the introduction of the euro – where everyone in the Eurozone uses for their currency pieces of paper emblazoned with the "ring of stars" – integration is becoming much more visible. The masses are beginning to notice what is happening.
With that comes the possibility of popular resistance. To forestall that, the Union needs to be able to claim that it has a democratic mandate – hence the concern at the almost universal lack of interest in the European elections. Even more, its politicians want it to be "loved". After all, "Mother Europe" is building a new future for us and they want this to be recognised. Serious academics have written earnestly about the lack of "affective bonds", one complaining that "the Union has not so far been able to offer its citizens any kind of mobilising proof of love"1.
In another almost comic parody of the reality, EU politicians diagnose the lack of interest in the European agenda as arising from a lack of action by "Europe" rather than from too much. Therefore, their answer to what they call the "democratic deficit" has not been to slacken the pace of integration.
Taking its cue from the politicians, the European Union’s Commission grandly announced that "In order to act effectively and provide leadership, we must sustain the pace of change to the very fabric of the European Union itself. It will need further integration…"2. This came from a Commission that had only just been re–appointed after the scandals of the late 1990s, during which the then Commissioner Edith Cresson had formed an interesting and financially rewarding relationship with her dentist – at the European taxpayers’ expense. In other words, a Commission, which lacked popularity and, more importantly, credibility, needed to do something to assure public support. In the manner of a magician pulling something from his capacious hat, the Commission lighted on what it felt would be the ultimate crowd–pleaser – reform. Further integration had to be "backed by a systematic policy .of reform"3.
From the start of the new Commission’s tenure in 1999, "reform" became the new mantra. Nevertheless, we had to wait until 26 July 2001 for a "white paper" to find out what this "reform" involved. By that time, however, the European Union was having to come to terms with more than just the low turn–out at Euro–elections. There had been the Irish "no" vote on the Nice Treaty, Denmark had rejected the euro and the Swiss had voted against joining the EU; there had been the riots at Gothenburg, where the peace–loving Swedes had managed to shoot a protester dead. The sense of panic intensified and a feeling of crisis gripped the Community elite. For them, it was a "crisis of democracy".
Despite being greeted with near universal indifference reminiscent of the wild enthusiasm for the Euro–elections, this White Paper is one of the most important initiatives to come out of Brussels in recent times. For all the acres (should it be hectares, or perhaps litres?) of newsprint expended on the Nice Treaty, the White Paper on Governance is much more important. It is much more significant than the Laeken Declaration and the constitutional convention – which is proving to be a smokescreen, diverting attention away from the Commission’s agenda. In terms of its long–term threat to democracy in the UK, it is also potentially more damaging than the government’s proposals for the reform of the House of Lords. Contrary to the overt claims of the Commission, the White Paper has very little to do with reform – as one would expect. It is, in reality, the Commission’s master plan for the completion of European integration, the building of its new People’s Republic. Desperately wanting to be loved, the Commission has set out its strategy to overcome the "democratic deficit". It is going to capture the hearts and minds of "European citizens", whether they like it or not. You will love the right Big Brother.
The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to bring to the attention of a wider audience the importance of this grandiose master plan and to identify and analyse the strategies planned by the Commission. I take a look at how it affects the uniquely useless institution to which I was elected – the European Parliament – and then offer a view as to the implications of the White Paper for what is left of our democracy.
The White Paper
If the genesis of the White Paper was the realisation that the process of political integration had outstripped even the pretence of democratic legitimacy and had left the "peoples of Europe" behind, the driving force propelling the Commission is a fear that these peoples will no longer blindly accept the steady march towards European integration and might rebel against the "project" if not engaged more fully.
EU Commissioner Chris Patten has been amongst those warning of a perilous future. "Only if people accept the legitimacy of the changing political order will they willingly accept the obligations imposed by it. If they do not feel adequately involved and consulted, they will eventually question their political obligation", he told an audience in a recent speech4. Quoting Edmund Burke, he added: "People crushed by law have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will become enemies to laws".
Work which eventually led to the White Paper had actually begun in December 1995 when the Commission started formally exploring the "democratic deficit" problem. To help it in its evaluation, the Commission did what it so often does when confronted with a problem – it turned to academia for help, relying on its well–staffed cadre of scholars funded through various Community programmes. In this case, it enlisted Frank Pfetsch, a Jean Monnet professor at the Institut fur Politische at Heidelberg University. He was one of the many European academics who had been conveying the widespread opinion that the European Union lacked "democratic legitimation"5 and he told the Commission that democracy – of a kind – was indeed essential for the success of the single European state. Only this would confer legitimacy on its new government.
There was, however, a massive problem. Citizens of the member states saw democracy in terms of national issues, and voted accordingly. A "European" democracy could only be achieved with emergence of a European citizen – a European "demos" that would think and act, in political terms, on a European level.
The solution to this problem was offered by another tame academic, one Professor Massimo La Torre, at the law department of the European University Institute, Florence – the Commission’s own university. If a European "demos" was lacking, then one had to be created. This, of course, was not a new message and the process of "demos" manufacture – not least by the use of "cultural action", so admirably recounted by Dr Cris Shore6 – had, virtually since the inception of the "project", been a central part of Community thinking.
La Torre took the strategy further. Democracy, as a political institution, he told the Commission, needed a European "civil society". By "interacting with constitutional rules and institutions", this civil society would then become "a people". Giving the European Union "a deeper dimension of democracy", therefore, was a matter of establishing, by law, a genuine European citizenship – "freed of any ties to the prior possession of a particular nationality"7. In other words, in order to create democracy at a European level, the existing, nationally focused civil societies would have to be detached from their national base, unified and then Europeanised.
Thus, developing a European "civil society" became part of the Commission’s core strategy. In the White Paper, it was translated as "generating a sense of belonging to Europe", in order to create a "trans–national space". From the lips of Commission President Romano Prodi came: "…forging a unity at grass roots level…" and "promoting a sense of shared interests, values and aspirations among citizens through activities in their home town, region or country", building "a Union of hearts and minds, of people with a shared sense of common destiny and of European citizenship"8.
Even then, despite the uplifting rhetoric, something of the sense of crisis did break through into the White Paper. "Democratic institutions and the representatives of the people, at both national and European level, can and must try to connect with the peoples of Europe"9, the Commission implored in its introduction. The Commission noted that, despite its achievements, many "Europeans" felt alienated from the Union’s work and pronounced that connecting Europe with its citizens was the starting condition for more effective and relevant policies. To establish those connections, one of its key ideas was to improve communication between the EU institutions and its "citizens". This, in the leaden language of the Commission, was a "pre–condition for generating a sense of belonging to Europe", the objective being to create its "trans–national space", where a common European rather than national identities prevailed10.
As to the substance of the White Paper, there were to be three key "reforms" devoted to this cause: more involvement (of the citizen) and more openness; better policies, regulation and delivery; and the unlikely subject of "global governance".
Before dwelling on these specific reforms, it is pertinent to note that, on 4 September 2001, Prodi went to the European Parliament in Strasbourg to "sell" his White Paper to the MEPs. To a nearly empty chamber, he declared that he wanted to devise "an exemplary new relationship" between Europe’s citizens and its institutions. In a crucial section of his speech he then told MEPs that the Commission would embark on improving relationships between citizens, organised civil society, central and local government and the European institutions. "We have the chance to breathe new life into the European Project. The chance to make Europe a model of mature and genuine democracy", he concluded.
Prodi was back in Strasbourg on 2 October, returning to his dominant theme: the "civil society": "…our relationship with civil society tends to be unclear and untransparent", he said. "We need to bring some order to it". His recipe came over loud and clear: he was to organise this "civil society", to forge "unity at grass roots level". He wanted the Commission and other EU institutions to promote a sense of shared interests, values and aspirations among citizens through activities in their home town, region or country, thus building Europe "as close as possible to the citizen", "a Union of hearts and minds, of people with a shared sense of common destiny and of European citizenship". Only then would full political integration be accepted.
The White Paper’s three "heads" of reform: more involvement (of the citizen) and more openness; better policies, regulation and delivery; and "global governance" translated effectively into four action areas. Greater involvement of the citizen was to be achieved primarily by using organised civil society and also by the creation and use of networks. Better policy, regulation and delivery were to be achieved by resort to framework directives and regulations rather than directives for detailed legislation, plus the use of regulatory agencies and enforcement networks. Global governance was to be employed to reinforce the European identity.
The organisation of civil society
It was not only the academics who pointed Prodi towards "organised civil society". Experts in the Commission’s own "think–tank", the Forward Studies Unit" had told him the same. In particular, two key experts, Notis Lebessis 11 and John Peterson 12, had written that "democratic governance" rested on "guaranteeing the participation of stakeholders" – the civil society. For the Commission to bring Europe closer to the people, public awareness of the major themes of European policy had to be increased. The "organised civil society" was the key, as it would contribute to the development of those themes.
This was endorsed by Jacques Delors, former President of the Commission, according to whom civil society organisations facilitated what he called "participatory democracy" 13. By being involved, "organised civil society" would participate in governance and thus help create a citizens’ Europe.
"Organised civil society" is all–embracing. It includes trades unions and employers organisations (so–called "social partners"), trade associations, professional organisations, and non–governmental organisations (NGOs) which bring people together in a common cause, such as environmental organisations, human rights organisations, consumer associations, charitable organisations, educational and training organisations, etc., etc., etc..
Other major components of the civil society are the so–called CBOs (community–based organisations). These are set up within society at grassroots level which pursue "member–oriented objectives". They are taken to include youth organisations, family associations and "all organisations through which citizens participate in local and municipal life". Even churches and religious communities from whom a "particular contribution" is expected, 14 are included. Although not strictly part of the "civil society", local and regional governments also form part of this matrix. All of these organisations are to be recruited in the push towards the completion of political integration.
The plan is for every possible opportunity to be taken to promote "Europe" via these organisations, all of which are to be encouraged to acquire a "European dimension". The mechanisms are tried and tested: they can affiliate with Europe–wide umbrella organisations, or participate in activities organised or funded by the European Union. From chess competitions between European towns to Mothers’ Union knitting circles in village halls, everything is to be enlisted in the greater cause of European integration. No doubt, even allotment societies will be encouraged to "dig for Europe", as long as they do not exceed production quotas.
Networks, organised on a Europe–wide basis, were the second element of the Commission’s implementation plan, involving both civil society and the regulators. Again, it was an academic who showed the way, this time Professor Beate Kohler–Koch of the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research. Regarded as one of the leading scholars of the European Union in Germany, she saw "network governance" as a way of "widening the unitary political space", thus creating a "trans–national political space" 15. According to the Commission, "the 1–2 million Europeans directly involved in trans–European networks related to European policies have both the motivation and the required mastery of European affairs to facilitate the emergence of an organised European civil society" 16. So successful had they been that their use was to be extended.
A classic example is the Natura 2000 network, an EU network of conservation sites or, in Commission–speak a "coherent ecological network of protected areas across the EU". As part of the EU’s nature conservation policy, its overt aim is to protect endangered species but the real agenda is elsewhere. By co–opting NGOs in managing sites, and seeding activities with funding through its LIFE Nature fund and regional development grants, and by also insisting on cross–border partnerships, it recruits an important and influential part of "organised civil society", while introducing a European dimension to "feel–good" projects which have general public support.
Networks, however, pervade all strata of member states, not only the "civil society" but also the administrations. Already, senior civil servants from all the member states are trained in "the management of European integration" by their own civil service colleges. Such courses are provided for civil servants who wish to be promoted to the higher administrative grades. The colleges in turn are all affiliated to the European Union’s own civil service college, the European Institute for Public Administration at Maastricht, which sets the syllabuses and trains the lecturers, thus forming a Europe–wide network of senior civil servants.
A similar "network" is being planned via the European Police College where senior police officers will be trained in the "European Approach" to policing – presumably increasing their knowledge of tear gas launchers and water cannon. In academia much of the considerable research funding available for EU–approved projects can be obtained only when researchers ally themselves to institutes in other member states, thus forming the desired "networks" with a European identity.
By this means the networks, in the words of the Commission, become "multipliers". The whole network concept aims to have a knock–on effect involving many more citizens on a European level, thus turning them into what is quaintly called "European Actors". Networks, thus, are to be another key tool in building the new "European society" with its collective identity at a European level.
Regulation and enforcement
In enlisting the regulatory mechanism to further the creation of the European "demos", the Commission is displaying considerable imagination but also reverting to type. Regulation has always been the primary mechanism of European integration, embodied in what is known as the "Monnet method", named after the founding figure of the EU, Jean Monnet.
His method embodies what former Commission President Jacques Delors called engrenage or "spill over". This involves progressive economic integration through the making of Community–wide law, which in turn needs even more law to make it work, thus creating an ever–increasing "supranational regulatory capacity". As the body of law eventually displaces national law, full political integration is the inevitable outcome 17.
At the heart of this "method" is the acquis communautaire, the inviolable body of law created by the Community. Whatever the subject, be it environment, transport harmonisation, health and safety or even nature conservation, the real aim of the acquis is to weld together the disparate member states in a framework of common laws, until they become inseparable. However, in the White Paper, the Commission announced a highly significant and important development in the use of the acquis. Its intention is to promote greater use of regulations, framework directives and co–regulatory mechanisms, together with more effective enforcement of Community law.
Until recently, the bulk of Community legislation was enacted by the "Directive" route which, in theory, leaves member state legislatures freedom of choice as to how results are to be achieved. In the UK this invariably means that primary or secondary legislation must be adopted, by which means the law acquires a British identity, with its EU origins often obscured. The significance of using Regulations rather than Directives can be gleaned, in part, from a Foreign and Commonwealth Office document, written in 1971 while Britain was still negotiating to join the (then) "Common Market"18. The writers state that "In the case of action by way of Regulation there is, once the Regulation has been made, no room for Parliamentary action (other than, possibly, to supplement the Regulation or mere debate). Generally speaking Parliament must take the Regulation as it stands, and while with Regulations made by the Council, a United Kingdom Minister (who is subject of course to Parliamentary pressure) will take part in the proceedings leading up to adoption of this Regulation, this is not the case with Regulations made by the Commission".
In other words, the Regulation takes direct effect, not requiring any transposition into British law. Not only does this have the merit of creating one unified, standardised law, directly imposed from Brussels without the reliance on member state governments to put them into effect, it also strikes at Prodi’s concern that "Europe’s citizens" are "confused about the blurred roles of the institutions and the Member States". Prodi has criticised member states which are quick to take the "credit" for Community initiatives, leaving the EU to take the blame for the more unpopular or apparently ludicrous measures 19. With legislation coming direct from Brussels, Community in action will become much more visible.
But there is more to this mechanism. In 1971, the FCO writer referred to the previously observed fact that: "Regulations made by the Commission are… essentially of an implementing rather than policy–making nature". Thirty years later, this is all to change. The Commission is to rely on a variation of the Directive, a development known as the "Framework Directives" which confer upon it wide–ranging legislative powers in the manner of a British enabling Act, allowing it to make thousands of new Regulations in areas previously reserved for directives. As the distinction between policy and implementation steadily blurs, the Commission is using what appear to be technical changes to assume a greater role in policy–making.
In addition, the Commission proposes to create more regulatory agencies, to administer its regulations. Within the Community, twelve "independent" agencies have already been created, most of which have either an information gathering task, such as the European Environment Agency, or "they assist the Commission by implementing particular EU programmes and policies" 20, such as the European Training Foundation in Turin. Three, however, are "regulatory agencies", charged with enforcing particular aspects of Community law. These are: the Office of Harmonisation in the Internal Market; the Community Plant Variety Office; and the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicines.
The particular advantage of this type of agency, according to a German political scientist, is that "…it takes issues defined as technical ones out of the difficult process of consensus formation in the Council of Ministers" 21. In other words, in their day–to–day activities, they by–pass what remains of the democratic process. But the key attribute, in the context of increasing the visibility of "Europe", is that the enforcement of the law assumes a specific European identity. As a welcome by–product, they also create a mechanism for charging fees from those they regulate, thereby avoiding the need to increase the EU budget.
That the agency process is essentially anti–democratic is more than adequately demonstrated by the treatment of the proposed European Aviation Safety Agency, one of the three agencies in the process of formation 22. Coincidentally, the proposal for its establishment came before the European Parliament on 3 September 2001, a day before Prodi spoke to the White Paper on Governance. My colleague Jeffrey Titford, leader of the UK Independence Party, spoke on the issue in the debate. What particularly struck both of us was that aviation safety is already regulated through an independent inter–governmental agency – the Joint Aviation Authority (JAA) – so the issue was not about bringing the aviation industry into the regulatory fold. The true agenda was revealed by a Commission statement that it intended to create the Agency "through the gradual integration of national systems". This was the "Community method" writ large, and the clearest possible demonstration of where the Commission was headed.
Additionally, the measure demonstrated the Commission’s absolute contempt for democracy allied to national interests. Before it had launched its agency initiative, changes to the functioning of the JAA had been proposed. But the Commission had pulled out of discussions because the changes, to quote from the rapporteur’s report: "would have involved lengthy ratification procedures in the national parliaments of the states concerned..., which would not necessarily have been successful". In his speech, Jeffrey Titford remarked: "How awkward and inconvenient democracy is. Rather like the Irish population when they run a referendum, you can never rely on it to behave. Much easier, therefore, to create another European institution and get rid of the whole messy business".
The other strand of the Commission’s implementation plan is more effective enforcement which, despite the relationship with regulation, is actually part of the "network" strategy. The outward justification for improving enforcement is to deal with the many complaints (particularly in the UK) about other member states not enforcing key legal provisions – the acquis – a situation which does not suit the Commission. The acquis is not simply a collection of laws; it is a living, breathing instrument of political integration. If it is to have the effect of melding the disparate societies of the member states into a European "demos", it must be enforced.
Thus, while some gullible eurosceptics applaud the Commission’s declared intent to improve enforcement – thus levelling the mythical playing field – the true agenda is, as always, furthering European integration, with the chosen mechanism being the "enforcement network". This was partly revealed on 4 September 2001, the same day that Prodi first addressed the European Parliament on the White Paper, when an amendment to the competition law was put before the European Parliament.
Currently, with this legislation, enforcement is the monopoly of the Commission, so only the Commission can take action against transgressors. Over the years, and increasingly so, however, it has found that its resources are too limited for it to be able to handle all the cases which have come to its attention. Therefore, through its amendment, it announced its intention to "devolve" some of its enforcement powers to member states, an action which was greeted with approval by many MEPs as "decentralisation" and the application of "subsidiarity". However, in "devolving" its powers, the Commission has no intention of loosening the reins. On the contrary, it is planning to create a "network" of enforcement officials within the member states, which will enforce competition law. At the centre of that "network" will be the Commission, to which the various member state enforcement agencies will be directly responsible. The Commission will issue "guidelines" on how the law should be enforced – guidelines which have mandatory effect – while reserving the power to step in if it believes that its network "partners" are not acting in accordance with its directions. Through this the "network" philosophy is being extended into the enforcement arena once again bringing a highly visible "European dimension" to a previously obscure activity. And for good measure, what is offered under the guise of "devolution", therefore, is in fact a highly centralising measure. More effective enforcement means the assumption by the Commission of more direct control.
A model for this weapon already exists in the form of DG SANCO’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) based in Dublin, which has executive powers to inspect and report on member state enforcement systems. Enforcement officials from member state are required to submit themselves and their systems to examination and any areas which inspectors consider to be deficient must be remedied, on pain of infringement action being taken by the Commission. Increasingly, the FVO is taking a direct role in instructing member state officials in the conduct of their duties, a process which will increase with the establishment of the European Food Safety Agency – progressively sidelining the member state control systems. It is no accident that the proposed revisions to the food safety laws have been promulgated in the form of a Regulation – where previously Directives have been considered necessary. This is evidence of the Commission’s determination to take direct control of the legislative process.
What we are, seeing overall, is a move by the Commission to take over the member state civil services from the inside – the ultimate in integration. These officials may still be employed by member states – and paid by them – and will retain an outward identity of their member states but organised as "networks" they will work solely for the Commission to which they will be directly responsible. These many thousands of civil servants, themselves, will form the nucleus of the European "demos", owing their allegiance to their masters in Brussels rather than to the member state governments and the taxpayers who pay their wages.
As the fourth main part of the implementation plan, the commitment to "global governance" looks as the weapon with which to further political integration. Ostensibly, the White Paper presents this part of its strategy as "looking "beyond Europe", applying "the principles of good governance to its global responsibilities". Only in the explanatory booklet accompanying the White Paper 23, where the Commission writes in glowing terms about "stakeholders", "partnerships", "transparency", does the real agenda emerge, and then only in one short sentence: "Successful international action reinforces European identity and the importance of shared values within the Union".
This agenda was elaborated elsewhere by the Commission 24, where it became evident that the major reason for wanting a strong international presence is because it helps define the "European identity". In that context "global governance" is – whatever its other functions may be – primarily a building block in the creation of a European society, helping to achieve the goal of political integration.
The role of the European Parliament
If, as Jeffrey Titford implied during the debate on the European Aviation Agency, there is a fundamental aversion in the EU to that "messy business" of democracy, in theory, nowhere would that be more evident than in the attitude of the Commission towards the "democratic" European Parliament. Yet, in the White Paper, the profoundly undemocratic Commission openly advocates that the European Parliament "should enhance its control on the execution of EU policies and the implementation of the budget".
Ostensibly the Commission should be opposed to any such extension of power. Nevertheless, there is no paradox. With its directly elected members, the European Parliament is an essential fig–leaf which in intended to lend credibility to the claim that the EU is democratic. Furthermore – and essentially – the Parliament is a building block in the creation of a European society.
This is aided by the fact that the institution is a strongly integrationalist body. Not for nothing is the Parliament described as "virtually the major contractor for the construction of Europe" 25. As such, it shares the aims of the Commission, as expressed by Christopher Beazley in the 2 October debate on the White Paper when he told Prodi from the floor of the House:
"…the European Parliament and the Commission should be partners in the construction of Europe, not rivals. If we remember the days of Jacques Delors, your predecessor, he had a clear programme, a vision: the 1992 single market. He set out a time frame and turned that vision into reality. We must do the same with enlargement and constitutional reform, widening and deepening… the public at large needs to be able to see in practice that we have a vision of a fully complete, united Europe and that you, Parliament and the Council are working together to achieve this".
Mr Beazley is a member of the Conservative Party, which professes to Euroscepticism and rejoices in the slogan "In Europe but not ruled by Europe". But, as I have seen during the many hours spent in the "hemicycles" of both Strasbourg and Brussels, Mr Beazley’s view is typical of the general sentiment expressed by MEPs of all main parties and national groups – with a few honourable exceptions. Such areas of friction as do exist arise mainly in the form of complaints that the Commission is not pushing forward with the agenda fast enough.
The main preoccupation of the Parliament, however, is with itself, its own powers and status – to say nothing of salaries, privileges and expenses. Since the parliament is the weakest member of the troika of institutions which control the legislative agenda and the Council offers the greatest competition in terms of democratic legitimacy – dubious though that may be – it often sees the Commission as an ally against the Council and to a lesser extent against national parliaments. Thus, the Parliament has a vested interest in creating a European demos to provide legitimacy to the European state.
The support for the Commission agenda can clearly be seen from the debate on the White Paper. A key speaker was IÒigo MÈndez de Vigo, an MEP and holder of the Jean Monnet chair in European Institutions at the Law Faculty of Madrid’s Complutense University. Representing the Group of the European People’s Party (EPP) – to which the Conservative Group is affiliated – he began by telling Prodi that his group had "always tenaciously supported the European Commission having a monopoly on the exercise of legislative initiative" and, having discussed the role of "civil society", concluded "Of course, this Parliament is also going to cooperate in this task of contributing ideas". Johannes Swoboda, an Austrian MEP speaking for the Socialist group, told Prodi that: "Agenda setting, defining political priorities year on year, is not just the job of the Council and the Commission, it is also the job of the European Parliament", and then offered "to hold a dialogue with you over the coming months so that we can bring about a joint result". Italian MEP Gianfranco Dell’Alba, from the "Independent" group, told Prodi he wanted "a strong, authoritative Commission", complaining of the White Paper that "…this text does not go far enough".
What is so revealing is Méndez de Vigo’s blithe "Of course…". He did not need even to hesitate before committing the whole Parliament (or, at least, the vast majority) to assisting the Commission. This is not a parliament which believes its duty is to keep the executive to account or ensure that it does not overstep the mark. Thus, presented with the Aviation Safety Agency proposal, it happily voted for it, by a very large majority, British Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat MEPs all willingly contributing to this process of integration.
The European Parliament is, thus, an ally of the Commission. Their interests coincide and the alliance was sealed by the co–decision procedure, first introduced to facilitate the development of the Single Market and further extended by subsequent treaties. The Commission has, effectively, been able to enlist the support of the parliament vis–à–vis its relations with the Council.
Outwardly a mechanism for increasing the powers of the Parliament, co–decision means that proposals for directives and regulations in increasing areas of legislative activity are now submitted jointly by the Commission to the Parliament and the Council and must be approved by both institutions. Should there be disagreement, the Commission is able, through the conciliation procedure, to "hold the ring", using the Parliament as a counterweight to offset any blockages in the Council. According to a former deputy director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, Frank Vibert, the effect of this is to give the Commission the potential to use the Parliament as an instrument to assert its own independent policy–making role 26.
Despite this, the Commission has been fretting about the delays which this process introduces into its legislative programme and enjoins the Council and the Parliament in the White Paper to "speed up the legislative process". It wants proposals agreed in one rather than two readings, reducing the time needed to adopt legislation by six to nine months – so further reducing the time afforded to what passes for scrutiny. Furthermore, in a move which echoes the increasing reliance of the UK government on statutory instruments, it wants Parliament to focus on "primary legislation", thus "departing from the present emphasis on detailed accounting".
The Parliament – presumably with the time liberated – "should become more active in stimulating a public debate on the future of Europe and its policies". That fate, incidentally, is also advocated for national parliaments. "The Commission would welcome public debates, jointly organised by the European and national Parliaments, on the Union’s policies", it proclaims.
"The Council and European Parliament can focus on political direction and content, leaving implementation to the executive", says the White Paper– a task which will be achieved through its framework Directives and Regulations. The job of the parliaments, individually and collectively, is to act as a forum and to mediate the "organised civil society", communicating the wishes of what is to become "European society" to the Commission and then transmitting back the actions taken. This is the Commission’s idea of participatory democracy, a structure which will relegate national legislatures and the European Parliament to the role they prefer – the talking shop – leaving the Commission to get on with running its new Peoples’s Republic.
The death of democracy?
Aside from the convoluted stratagems of the Commission, there is a more direct means of "participatory democracy" – the referendum. I raised this point in the European Parliament in the debate on the White Paper 27 when I observed that the only way to achieve real participation in the European project was through consent – not the consent of the European Parliament but of the ordinary voters in Europe. "Let us have more referendums in all Member States", I said. "That is the only way to achieve democratic legitimacy". The way to address the democratic deficit was to give people a chance to express their opinions through this means.
This led to an extraordinary intervention by Christopher Beazley, who declared that I obviously did not believe in parliamentary democracy. "He wants a referendum every five minutes", he proclaimed, then adding: "It is absurd that in my own country (that)… we will be asked in a referendum to decide whether or not to join the single currency. Can you imagine our financial and economic future being discussed in public houses up and down the country? This is a job that elected politicians should do". The disdain for referendums was also shared by Labour MEP, Barbara O’Toole: Mr Farage "obviously has learned nothing about public policy if he thinks that we can run the whole of Europe on a series of referendums", she declared. Beazley and O’Toole are not alone. In an equally extraordinary paper by Peter Ludlow, founding director of the Centre for European Policy Studies 28, he writes of the Danish "no" response to the euro that "…referenda on EU matters are inherently risky and therefore ill–advised…". In referendums there is a risk that the voters might say no.
It is easy, therefore, to see why the Commission is so enthusiastic about the "civil society". As long as the "organised" component can be seduced and bribed, it can be controlled and focused on how, and at what speed the "construction of Europe" is to be completed. By this means, "organised civil society" is to be "Europeanised". Already, national trade and professional associations are finding that they have no status when they seek to lobby or even communicate with the Commission on proposed legislation. Only when they organise themselves at a "European level" are they then given access. Furthermore, European organisations can be in receipt of substantial largesse, which is denied to national groups. That much also applies to political parties: proposals are well–advanced for creating European political parties which will then receive EU funding. The integration of academia is even more advanced, with some £1.5 billion of funding accessible only through "framework programmes" which require participation in trans–national partnerships – or networks – before funds are released.
Consultation and debate
The term "debate" in the EU vocabulary itself means something very special. In ordinary English, the term implies that the participants are open to argument. The idea encompasses an exchange of ideas with at least the possibility that one side or the other might change their views. But "Europe" – or, to be more specific, European integration – is not open to debate, not in any ordinary sense of the word. Integration is a done deal. When in December 2000, the Nice European Council called for a public debate across the EU about the future of Europe, "participants" to an FCO website debate were asked for views and opinions on four things: "a more precise delimitation of powers between the EU and Member States to clarify who is responsible for doing what in the EU, and whether action should be taken at European or national level"; "whether or not to include the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU Treaties"; "a simplification of the Treaties to make them more understandable"; and "increasing the role of national MPs in the EU’s decision–making processes". We were not invited to discuss whether the UK should be a member of the EU nor whether the primary objective of the EU should be political integration. In the EU lexicon, the word "debate" can only mean discussion about how European integration is to be completed, the ultimate objective being political union.
The secondary function of "debate" is the process of "improving the level of public awareness of the major themes of European policy".
We, the Untertanen
The final words in this section must go to Erik Erikson, contributor to the Oslo University Advanced Research for the Europeanisation of the Nation State (ARENA) project 29. Of the White Paper proposals, he asked: "Will they enable citizens to participate in the decisions that affect them at European level? Are they really contributing to democratic governance?". His answers are a chilling indictment of the Commission: "The citizens lack the instruments of power to force decision–makers to look after their interests", he writes.
"The inhabitants are merely the subjects (or subordinates – Untertanen) of power, not themselves the holders of power – they are not empowered to authorise and instruct the rulers. The ultimate instruments of control do not rest with the people but with the decision makers". In other words, whatever the White Paper does propose, it is not democracy – nor does it propose real participation. The European peoples are merely the props to clothe the set, while our rulers play out their fantasies of a united Europe.
The end game
In its White Paper, it is patently clear that the ultimate objective of the Commission is a charade – a form of representation which pretends to be democracy but which is not. Democracy that is entrenched in the nation state is incompatible with the "construction of Europe". Democracy, as we know it, therefore, has to be dispensed with and to be reinvented on a European level, in a carefully controlled manner, which will give the "right" answer to the integration question. That is what the White Paper is all about – the Commission’s master plan for forcing through the last stages of political integration, in accordance with the Monnet method.
What it has perhaps forgotten is that the origins of the EU – the European Coal and Steel Community – were intentionally undemocratic. The whole purpose of that Community, and the EU that followed it, was to take power out of the hands of democratically elected leaders and vest it in the hands of unelected officials who could not be swayed by national interests, and thereby prevent of repetition of the great wars which had plagued the Continent. Thus, as its original purpose was to prevent another Continental war, this meant of necessity that the mechanisms for disregarding the intentions of nation states were an integral element of the original design.
But what these "New Methodists" fail to realise is that many of the nation states which had so readily gone to war with each other had, post Second World War, become mature democracies and, in any event, the geopolitical situation had changed beyond recognition even before the European Communities were created. The mantle of "superpower" had gone to the USA and the Soviet Union, rendering the squabbles of the former great European powers irrelevant.
History has passed the Commission by and, locked into an intrinsically anti–democratic structure, it has realised that in order to survive, it must have something, which it can pass off as a democratic mandate. Unfortunately, perhaps for the Commission and certainly for the rest of us, democracy cannot be a bolted–on "extra" to something which is essentially undemocratic. Thus Commission’s plans, for all their ingenuity, are redolent of previous failed experiments, not least in the USSR where there was an attempt to superimpose a Soviet identity on the constituent republics through a dictatorial system of government. The tragedy for the UK and Europe as a whole, therefore, is that the Commission has no alternative but to continue trying to implement a similar strategy, which is also doomed to failure.
The other tragedy is that the true meaning of the White Paper has gone unnoticed. Instead of informed analysis, we have seen a concerted series of personal attacks against Prodi, on largely trivial issues 30. These attacks are misdirected. Romano Prodi is faithfully projecting the Commission agenda and in so doing is simply the messenger. Whether it is Prodi who delivers it, or his successor, the message from the Commission will always be the same: integration, integration, integration. To achieve that, real democracy is to be abolished.
The Commission is now set on the path of retraining the voters of Europe to accept a sham democracy in which Europe will be loved, in order that what passes for a democratic mandate can be claimed. Undeterred by the experience of the twentieth century, another grand political experiment is being put into place. It, too, is likely to end in a disaster.
1 Kravaritou, Yota: Affective Bonds, Labour Law and Social Europe. In: Manifesto for a Social Europe, ed. Ulrich M¸ckenberger. European Trade Union Institute, Brussels, 2001
2 COM(2000)154 final. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Strategic Objectives 2000–2005. "Shaping the New Europe" Brussels, 9 February 2000.
4 The Chatham Lecture, Trinity College Oxford, "Sovereignty and Democracy in the European Union". 26 October 2000.
5 The Politics of Culture and Identity in Europe. In: Cerutti, Fulvio and Rudolph, Benno (eds.): What is Europe’s Soul? 2 volume London: Routledge (in print)
6 European Union and the Politics of Culture. Bruges Group Occasional Paper 43, 2001
7 European Commission Forward Studies Unit. "Reflections on European Identity". Ed: Thomas Jansen. Working Paper, 1999. Available on: http://europa.eu.int/comm/cdp/ working–paper/european_identity_en.pdf
8 Press Conference. European Commission. Brussels. 26 July 2001.
9 this author’s italics.
10 Notwithstanding that it is the political elites of Europe rather than the "citizens" who seem to have given powers to the Union.
11 Notis Lebessis taught economics at the "Universite de Paris XIII". He joined the Commission in 1981. After eight years in social affairs, dealing with flanking measures for industrial restructurations and social dialogue with ECSC industries, he joined the Forward Studies Unit in 1989, working particularly on issues related to questions of demography, immigration and regional cooperation. Since 1996 he led the research and actions of the Forward Studies Unit on governance.
12 Senior lecturer at the School of Law, University of Westminster.
13 First convention of civil society organised at European level. European Economic and Social Committee (ESC), 15–19 October 1999.
14 White Paper on European Governance Work Area No 2 – Handling the Process of Producing and Implementing Community Rules. Report of Working Group "Consultation and Participation of Civil Society" (Group 2a). June 2001.
15/a> ARENA (Advanced Research on the Europeanisation of the Nation State) Working Papers WP 99/27: www.sv.uio.no/arena/publications/wp99_27.htm – Oslo University.
16 White Paper on Governance. Work Area No 4. Coherence and Cooperation in a Networked Europe. This and other working group reports can be obtained on the internet via: www.europa.eu.int/comm/governance/index_en.htm.
17 For a more detailed explanation see: Grant, Charles: Delors – Inside the house that Jacques built, Nicholas Brearley Publishing, 1994, p.61 et seq.
18 FCO 30/1048. Public Records Office.
19 A point made in the White Paper (p.7): "Where the Union does act effectively, it rarely gets proper credit for its actions. People do not see that improvements in their rights and quality of life actually come from European rather than national decisions".
20 White Paper, p.24
21 Jachtenfuch, M: "Democracy and Governance in the European Union", European Integration Papers (EioP) Vol 1 (1997) No2. The full paper can be found on the internet: http://eiop.or.at/eiop/texte/1997–002a.htm
22 The other two are the European Food Authority and a Maritime Safety Agency. For the moment, only the Aviation Safety Agency will have clearly defined regulatory powers. A Transport Agency is also being considered.
23 European Commission: European Governance – A White Paper. Luxembourg Office for Official Publication of the European Communities, 2001.
24 White Paper on Governance, Working Group No 5. "An EU Contribution to Better Governance beyond Our Borders". May 2001.
25 Moussis, Nicholas: Guide to European Policies. (7th edition). European Study Service, Rixensart, Belgium, 2001
26 In: Europe’s Constitutional Future, Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 1990
27 Verbatim record: www.europarl.eu.int
28 A view from Brussels – a commentary on the EU: 2004 and beyond. CEPS, 2001.
29 Published by European University Institute: www.iue.it/RSC/Governance/Eriksen.pdf
30 not least in a recent article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 29 October 2001, the substance of which was repeated in a number of British newspapers.