The EU must be democratised!

Diether Dehm

, Articles

I am happy to write an article for DiEM25, the Democracy in Europe Movement. I see in DiEM25 a broad political movement embracing different but non-competing currents which in the current situation has as its goal the comprehensive democratisation of the European Union.

We must set out on this path to such a fundamental democratic renewal today! But we should have no illusions about the difficulties of the tasks ahead and the resistance we are likely to meet. Realism and perseverance are therefore vital, as well as the will to strive for broad alliances between many different democratic forces.

To achieve success we will also have to draw on experiences from European history. We should recall the responses to fascism which the various nations found and enshrined in their constitutions after liberation. This applies in particular to a number of the current Member States of the EU. By consciously tapping into this, DiEM25 can find a real anchor point in European history and develop and assert a broad democratic perspective for the European Union.

Democracy in the European Union and in the relationship between Member States and the EU

The democratisation of the European Union must take place on both its organisational levels: firstly within the EU and its organs and institutions itself, and secondly in the democratic participation of the national parliaments and the citizens of the Member States through democratic referendums.

Within the EU the European Parliament (EP) in particular must be given real parliamentary rights. There is in future no place for a legislative process governed by the Council representing national governments in which the European Parliament merely participates. Above all the EP must finally have the inherent and defining right of parliaments to introduce draft legislation. There must finally be an end to the completely undemocratic monopoly enjoyed by the European Commission.

There is also a need to subject the policy of the European Central Bank (ECB), which is of crucial importance to the Member States and the people of the whole of the EU, to democratic parliamentary oversight. This applies even more so to institutions such as the Troika which have no democratic legitimacy.

Decentralisation, subsidiarity and proportionality

The EU is based on the principle that the sovereign rights of Member States may only be devolved according to the principle of conferral. Furthermore, in the use of EU competences, the organs of the EU are required to observe the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. In reality this is far from the case. The rules of EU law set out in Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union and in the corresponding protocol on subsidiarity have proved to be completely inadequate. In order to ensure the democratic legitimacy of EU policy there is therefore a need to strengthen the possibilities of the national parliaments of Member States to influence policy.

In our efforts to bring about the widest possible democratisation of the EU we should bear in mind, however, that we are currently on the back foot. I refer here firstly to TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which is set to make inroads into democratically hard won successes in the areas of labour and health protection, the environment and consumer safety and to adjust downwards to the level of the other party to the agreement. The second concern is the principle of “better regulation” which the EU is currently seeking to bring about. Here democratic legislation and lawmaking as a whole is to be restructured through market-compliant regulation in the interest of big business, in part through outsourcing to players who have no democratic legitimation. It is also planned at the same time to subject legislation to a greater extent to impact assessments, the purpose of which is to serve not democratic legitimation or social utility but rather the commercial (cost/benefit) interests of business.

Making the EU more democratic currently means above all blocking further attacks on the remnants of democracy in the European Union in the form of the current TTIP and “better regulation” initiatives!

Socialisation and social cohesion as elements of democratisation

Democratisation should be understood as more than a question of curbing illegitimate positions of political power in the nation states and in the EU. It is in particular the power of big business and its influence on political decision-makers that is increasingly emasculating real democracy. After the liberation from fascism the following constitutional principle was written into Article 15 of the German Basic Law: “Land, natural resources and means of production may for the purpose of socialisation be transferred to public ownership or other forms of public enterprise by a law that determines the nature and extent of compensation.” If democracy and democratisation are to become more than merely a matter of form, there is a need for similar economic curbs as a bulwark against power without democratic legitimacy. It should be noted that Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states: “The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership”.

At the same time it is important not to underestimate the difficulties of turning dissatisfaction with the decisions of big business and their effects on people in the various branches of society into social movements calling for a democratisation of the economy which demand and achieve the socialisation of means of production.

In this context it is also worth noting Article 14 paragraph 2 of the Basic Law which states: “Property entails obligations. Its use shall also serve the public good.” A similar provision in EU primary law and an obligation on the part of the European Union with respect to socialisation in line with Article 20 of the Basic Law would represent important steps towards the democratisation of the EU in advance of socialisation measures.

Democratisation and peace

After the liberation from fascism, various Member States of the EU adopted constitutions which enshrined not only the principles of democracy, the rule of law and the social state but also the obligation to pursue a peaceful foreign policy and a foreign policy that is capable of ensuring peace. Article 26 of the German Basic Law states: “Acts tending to and undertaken with intent to disturb the peaceful relations between nations, especially to prepare for a war of aggression, shall be unconstitutional. They shall be made a criminal offence”.

The EU Treaties, in comparison, contain no such statements regarding a clear orientation to peace. In fact the reverse is true. The German Bundeswehr is currently involved in the civil war in Syria. In support of this cause the French Government and the German Federal Government – wrongly – invoke Article 42 paragraph 7 of the Treaty on European Union: “If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.” This shows that as well as the need to democratise the EU, there is also a need to rescind the provisions of the Common Security and Defence Policy.

If the European Union is to have a future, there is a need for radical reform. This means resisting threatened undemocratic treaty changes, taking steps to make the EU profoundly more democratic and reinforcing the rule of law and the social state. Above all, however, what we need is a peaceful EU, not an EU which through involvement in aggressive actions has an immeasurable impact on refugee numbers and the social consequences of refugee movements.

 

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