13. Feb. 2014

Vortrag Europahaus

More democracy in Europe:
The European Constitution Issue

17 recollections, theses, questions, proposals, outlook for reform

Not a new issue: the concrete utopia of the European pioneers of 1943-48; such as the Belgian anti-fascist resistance in its 1942 newspaper: «After the war we have to do at the European level what the Swiss cantons did in 1848!» -- Constitution [in this context] always stands for national and/or European constitutional referendums: i.e. treaties or agreements between states can be made without asking the citizens; but constitutions, on the other hand, can only be made with the citizens.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, founded in May 1949, should have become the constitutive assembly of this federalistically and democratically constituted Europe; historic failure of Dec. 1951; 1. European Consultative assembly president Paul Henri Spaak resigns in protest. (Denis de Rougemont, 1950, in his pamphlet in front of the Europahaus in Strasbourg: «Don’t defend [make-believe national sovereignty] what you don’t even possess».

French Foreign Minister/Director duo Schumann & Monnet anticipated the failure of a constituted political Europe and in an attempt to save the idea of the unification of Europe launched an inter-state agreement for shared management of the steel industry by those countries which were prepared to delegate and share sovereignty. -- Agreement instead of a constitution; governments instead of citizens; economic integration instead of political-democratic integration. -- The political shape of the ECSC became the structure of the 6-member EEC (1957) and remains to this day the basic model of the 28-member EU polity [Commission with sole legislative initiative; Council of Ministers and/or European Council as (co)-legislator; EU Court in Luxembourg; European Parliament, directly elected since 1979, but still having too few powers.

1990/91 the reasons why the originally (beginning of the 1950s) intended form of the EU - federally constituted - had been impossible were removed/overcome: no longer [East-West] division, Europe in charge of its own destiny, socially and economically highly integrated. But at the Maastricht summit in 1991/2, the majority of the 12 heads of state weren’t interested in this possibility. They created what Monnet and Schumann would never have been able to envisage a common currency, but with no common democracy and no common economic, financial and socio-political foundation. They were still thinking too nationalistically, it was quite comfortable to be in government in the absence of a European democracy - and there was no sign of any relevant pressure [for democracy] from the citizens.

Although in the plebiscite of September 1992 - the first time any citizens had been asked for their views on European integration - the French voters only very narrowly accepted the Maastricht Treaty (50.5 % Yes), and although the then EEC President Jacques Delors drew the correct inference in an article in Liberation the following day, saying: «So far we have integrated states; now we have to bring people together», no relevant reforms were undertaken. On the contrary.

At the end of 1999/2000 [2001?] it almost came to it. After Foreign Minister Fischer’s plea for a European constitution and the self-critical Laeken Declaration inspired by the Liberal Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, the European Council permitted a second convention; but in neither was there majorities in favor of a genuine European constitutive process. The attempt ended in the confusion of a so-called >Constitutional Treaty, which failed in 2005 as a result of the No votes in The Netherlands and France. Out of it came another classic treaty - the Lisbon Treaty. -- The Lisbon Treaty ushered in some political upgrading of the national parliaments (subsidiarity), of the EU Parliament (the electoral body of the Commission, the EP has been since 2009 a part of the regular legislative process in a further 40 areas and of equal status with the Council of Ministers in decisions on the EU budget), and of the citizens (ECI). However: a real foundation in a constitution carried by the citizens continues to be missing.

The extent to which the primacy of politics in the EU is being eroded and the balance of power shifted from politics to economics was revealed after 2008 in the banking and finance crisis. Without the community-oriented economic and financial foundation, the Euro became a divisive force in the EU. The absence of this foundation has led more and more people to see the EU as a problem - rather than the solution to a problem. The interests of millions of manual and white-collar workers went to the dogs. It was almost impossible to get anyone within the EU structures to listen to them - or to consider alternative policies.

The consequences: nationalists have never before been as strong in the EU as they are now. For the first time in its history, the EP faces having more than a third of its MSPs opposed to European integration.

The dilemma: in order to overcome the various economic crises, the EU [or: EP?] needs more powers; but it will not get these so long as they do not come with a democratic ‘compensation’, i.e. more powers in certain areas can only be gained by a simultaneous democratization of the EU. -- The supposed alternatives: more power to the heads of government (Merkel) or more power to the Commission over key parliamentary sovereign rights (budget) do not have majority support in the EU - and pose a fundamental challenge to the project of European integration. More power to the EP [alone] is also not accepted as a way of resolving the problems - and certainly not the promotion of national parliaments to become EU legislators. -- The time for a restructuring is here. The need for it also - for Europeans and democrats and for those who understand that freedom means people having the right, the possibility and the ability to determine for themselves, as a community i.e. together, the most important elements of their daily lives.

Today, it is not only that Europe needs more genuine European democracy; democracy also need the EU - the transnational level - if it is also/once more to honor its fundamental promises in the coming years. -- Otherwise it will continue to be like the rudder of a ship that doesn’t reach into the water any longer - and thus abandons the ship to other forces than those who imagine they are at the steering wheel.

But one lesson from the past is urgent: one can only institute and constitute more democracy for the citizens if it is done with them. To make this possible, one has to also show, for example, that a common European constitution could create the basis for a Europe-wide unemployment insurance and for a genuinely federal European bicameral parliament (the Senate would be elected by the national parliaments), with constitutional amendments correcting the decisions of the EU Court in Luxembourg which favor capital and discriminate against the workers.

If citizens had not become involved in large numbers across Europe, politics today would still be a men-only preserve, with security policy governed by generals and officers, energy policy dominated by the nuclear power multinationals, and development cooperation - if at all - also dominated by the multinationals. -- Economic Europe has always exploited people and the people have never been able to make Europe their own concern; especially not transnationally i.e. European, and in terms of a radically democratic reform. Should we be surprised that Europe today is in such a bad state? -- The creation of a strong transnational citizens movement for a democratic Europe and for a pan-European democracy is more urgent than ever. We have to support any and every effort and initiative that goes in this direction.

European integration is a never-ending process. Today, it is 'merely' facing its biggest crisis - the old problem of its central structure. It can adopt new forms. It is clear to most that the slow - or rapid - implosion of the current EU would bring with it immediately a new form of an even stronger 'core Europe' - not a particularly pleasant prospect for Switzerland, for its neighbors and major partners would be in that new EU - and would be even less tolerant of Switzerland’s special ways of doing things than the current EU.

On its own, without a transnational community, no nation-state - neither a big one like Germany or France, nor a small one like Switzerland - can defend or save democracy and the freedom defined above (and, in the case of Switzerland, its industrial base). -- On its own, Switzerland would move towards becoming a big ‘Monaco’, based on finance. Are we aware that even today 'Switzerland' is seen by many as the cipher for a state that no longer wants to be involved in helping to shape its outside environment? -- That’s why social democracy in Switzerland has a critical task: to campaign for and support the continuing process of European integration and to repeatedly demand, consider and help to shape the democratization of Europe. We have to be a voice that supports a reform agenda for Europe, with our own transnational approach to reform.

Today, the European community is more integrated and existentially even more co-dependent than the Swiss one of 1857/48. Would we accept a federation ruled by the leader of the Zurich government in consultation with his colleagues in Berne? Would we accept that federal law was decided, not by the federal parliament, but by an assembly of the cantonal governments? Would we, as cantonal parliamentarians from Glarus or Thurgau, accept thousands of inter-cantonal government agreements which would determine the conditions for daily life for Switzerland, and thus to a large extent also for Glarus and Thurgau, in the place of federal laws? This, leaving aside the fact that most of the conditions would be primarily shaped by Berlin, Washington and Beijing.

Let us not forget what makes for success in ice hockey or billiards: you have to play the puck or the ball against the boards or the cushions. That means that in terms of European politics we in Switzerland can only be successful if we present ourselves, speak and act as reformers of Europe and do not play imprudently into the hands of the EU sceptics. The more successful we are in this - together with other European democrats - the more will we be able to democratize Europe, restore democracy and be able to convince majorities in Switzerland of this.

The Swiss Confederation must make available resources that can be used for the multi-faceted work in and for Europe and the transnationalisation of democracy, for relevant educational and informational work, and for inputs into European affairs. Only if more people have a better understanding of some of the basics in relation to democracy and Europe and are able to have relevant experience of engaging in Europe will the national-conservative hegemony in Switzerland be overcome.

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