July 1998





The decisions taken on May 2nd by the European Council in Brussels put an end to the uncertainty and speculation surrounding the start of monetary union and the identity of the countries which are to enter it in the first wave. Inevitably,politicians and commentators have now started to project their attention beyond the launch of the single currency,to the reform of the institutions which, without interfering with the autonomy of the Central Bank, must provide the political framework for monetary union. It is an issue which can no longer be shelved, especially in view of the forthcoming negotiations on the enlargement of the Union. Many governments are well aware that, unless this enlargement is seen as an opportunity to implement a radical reform of the Union, it will constitute a threat to its very survival. A reform is needed which will allow the efficient formation of consensus and rapid decision-making, even when the number of member states of the Union has risen to twenty or more, and especially in view of the dramatic economic, social and cultural differences between the candidate countries and the present member states.

This is the point where doubts and contradictions start to emerge. The national governments are under the illusion that they can confer on the Union the capacity to act, while still holding on to their sovereignty: this is tantamount to squaring a circle. At the root of Europe’s weakness lies the intergovernmental method: this method gives each member government of the Union the power to block any decision (on the most important issues) which it deems contrary to its own interests, and of course, since all important decisions are bound to conflict with someone’s interests, the whole decision-making mechanism seizes up. The Union, quite simply, does not make decisions, or at least when it does, these decisions reflect a compromise reached at the lowest level of consensus and are, as a result, often contradictory and ineffective.

The intergovernmental method is not only ineffective – it is also essentially undemocratic. Defenders of national sovereignty will deny this, insisting that the European Union is democratic precisely because the governments of its member states are each elected by the parliaments or by the citizens of their respective countries. But this is a specious argument. Only when the decision-makers are collectively answerable to a single electoral body (which, by a majority, chooses a single political orientation, and which has the capacity to consign the decision-makers to the opposition at subsequent elections) can democracy be considered to be upheld. It is certainly not upheld when the decisions taken reflect compromises reached among political representatives, who are all answerable to different electorates, and who together constitute a body which is answerable to no one.

It is absurd, therefore, that it should still be considered possible to solve the problems of the decision-making capacity and the democratic legitimacy of the Union’s institutions through a strengthening of the intergovernmental method. Indeed, the paucity of concrete proposals for realising a strengthening of the intergovernmental method can be seen as a measure of its irrationality. One of these proposals, the most important, aims to introduce a reweighting of the votes cast by each of the governments in the Council on issues which are not subject to unanimity, but decided by majority voting. In view of the prospect of enlargement of the Union, which will lead to an increase in the number of smaller member states, the purpose of this proposal is to give the bigger states more weight than the smaller ones. And yet, the governments which advanced this proposal are not at all inclined to relinquish their power of veto, which can be exercised in relation to the most important issues, nor to grant the European Parliament any real weight in the decision-making process. What these governments have in mind is a directorate, i.e. an institutional system which allows the will of the bigger states to prevail over that of the smaller ones: a solution which, as well as being undemocratic and destined to be ineffective, is also hegemonic and, of course, bound to prove totally unacceptable to the smaller states.

In truth, rather than being something which should be strengthened, the intergovernmental method should, quite simply, be eliminated altogether. There is no longer any room for escamotages. There are, in order to further the process of integration, no longer any intermediate objectives that can be pursued without the states having to renounce their sovereignty. The time has come to implement a radical solution, i.e., to give the Union a federal constitution. It is time to take away from the Council of Ministers the joint exercising of legislative and executive powers, which has become symbolic of the Union’s authoritarian character. This body must be transformed into a Chamber of States, whose decisions are taken by majority voting, and the fullness of legislative power must be transferred to the European Parliament (which will exercise it on an equal footing with the Chamber of States). The Commission will thus become the government of the Union, answerable to the Parliament, the collective presidency of the Union will pass to the European Council, and the Court of Justice will become a proper constitutional court, with the capacity to determine, and settle differences over, the relative competences of the various organs of the federation, and of its various levels of government.

It is high time that political debate in Europe found its way out of the fog of institutional expedients which conceal the true intent of governments – which is to ensure that nothing changes – and started to tackle the real problem on whose solution the future of the European people depends.




Under the auspices of the Luciano Bolis European Foundation
Initiative in support of the Framework for Action for a European Federal Union
promoted by the Union of European Federalists

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