Democratising Europe according to Paul Magnette: ‘Putting back elected representatives at the heart of the government’

3 July 2017
Alternatives économiques Paris

After being on the front row in the debate over the free trade agreement with Canada (CETA), Wallonia's Prime minister responds to proposals made by Thomas Piketty and other academics to create a new European treaty to govern the Eurozone more democratically.

Last March, Stéphanie Hennette, Thomas Piketty, Guillaume Sacriste and Antoine Vauchez published Pour un traité de démocratisation de l’Europe ("For a European treaty for the democratisation of Europe") *for Le Seuil publishing house. The book proposed that Eurozone member states agree to a treaty in addition to the current European treaties on the model of what was done in 2012 with the Pact for stability, coordination and governance within the economic and monetary union. This new treaty (baptised T-dem by the authors) would aim to democratise the operation of the Eurozone, which is currently very opaque, in particular by giving it a parliament principally composed by MPs from national parliaments. Paul Magnette, the Prime minister of the Belgian region of Wallonia, who made a name for himself during the debate over CETA, the free trade agreement with Canada, responds in ten points to the proposal:

  1. The diagnosis made by the authors of the T-DEM is clear and sound. The divorce between the European Union and its citizens originates in the seizure, in the full sense of the term, of decision-making powers by a handful of national and European governments and officials. Repositioning the elected representatives, from the national, regional and European level, at the heart of the governance process is the only consistent answer to that issue. Whereas the Treaty on European Union (TUE) itself states in its Article 15 that the European Council ‘shall not exercise legislative functions’, the genesis of the TSCG or fiscal compact is a blatant violation of the letter and the spirit of the EU’s ‘constitution’, a ‘legal coup’ even, which demands a genuine democratic remedy.

  2. From a formal perspective, in a Union where socio-economic competences are widely shared between the European and national (if not, subnational) levels, democratic responsibilities should also be shared between these various power levels. European representatives lack the presence in national public spaces to legitimately claim exclusive representation of the citizenry. It is thus essential to associate national representatives in the setting of the Union’s priorities, following a logic of ‘transnational socialization’ of European issues.

  3. The adoption of a ‘reform treaty’ currently represents the only possible path, as a comprehensive overhaul of the treaties seems unrealistic in the short or medium term, and given the limits that the scenario of a federalist leap highlighted in the 2003-2004 constitutional Convention As a consequence, drawing inspiration from the TSCG method, while altering its terms, looks like the best tactical approach. From this perspective, the provisions on the entry into force and consolidation of the T-DEM (Articles 20 to 22) are particularly well thought out.

  4. The objective of such a radical reform is to strengthen the socio-economic cohesion of the Euro Area, through partial debt mutualization and by providing the zone with the budgetary, fiscal and social foundations it lacks. This objective, which, as shown by T-DEM’s recitals, are perfectly in line with the fundamental principles of European integration, is likely to be endorsed by federalists. It should lay the basis for a new European social contract, and lead the member states that do not share such endeavours to renegotiate their relationship with the EU. The current Treaty structure, which enables some member states to remain outside the Euro Area, while benefiting from all the other advantages of Union membership, is not sustainable in the long term, as it only can exacerbate the asymmetries and tensions between a deeply integrated Euro Area and the rest of the EU. From this perspective, Brexit serves as an opportunity for a fundamental rethink.

  5. An Assembly composed of national and European representatives would serve as a necessary democratic counterweight to the European Council and its underlying network of bureaucracies and diplomatic services. This innovation would moreover be likely to build bridges between the supporters of a Union that’s more deeply rooted within its socio-political territories and federalists championing the idea of European economic and fiscal government.

  6. The composition of such an Assembly must rely on the principle of parliamentary representation. The Council of Ministers may well represent the member states in the same way the German Bundesrat does for the Länder but it does not sufficiently reflect the diversity of European public opinion. The weights to assign to the different European parliaments is a delicate issue considering the substantial differences of size among the member states (Art. 4 T-DEM). The national delegations of federal states could include both national and regional representatives, without altering the democratic logic of the envisaged model. As for the European Parliament, if, as we assume below, the respective role and prerogative of both Assemblies are better defined, it should not necessarily be represented in the new Assembly.

  7. The creation of such an Assembly is fully justified by the deep inadequacy of the role entrusted to national parliaments by the Treaties and the relevant Protocol. Following a defensive logic, national parliaments could be given, in the framework of the EMU, control powers equivalent to those they enjoy under the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (Art. 69 TFEU) or in the field of judicial cooperation in civil matters (Art. 81 TFEU). Since the coordination of budgetary, economic and social policies affects essential competences of member states and their regions (the same way mixed commercial agreements do), national and regional parliaments should at the very least be granted an effective power to monitor/control compliance with the subsidiarity and proportionality principles (as some parliaments indeed already do), and perhaps even to reject legislative acts that intrude upon sensitive national issues, such as social protection or the organisation of public services.

  8. Beyond this ‘negative’ power, the Assembly must also be able to act positively and contribute to the decision-making process in the socio-economic field. I am, however, of the opinion that the legislative function ought to be more neatly distinguished from that of political control, in order to avoid adding further complexities to the European institutional system, and avoid pointless competition between the European Parliament and the new Assembly. It is already partly the case with the T-DEM which endows its Assembly with a controlling power over the alert mechanism, draft budgetary plans, Commission recommendations, structural efforts and coordination of national policies (Art. 8 T-DEM), dialogue with the ECB (Art. 9 T-DEM), and the appointment of the ECB, Euro Group and ESM presidents (Art. 17 T-DEM). The tools for political control the Assembly is granted (Art. 11 T-DEM) also follow that logic.

  9. The main difficulty lies in the exercise of the legislative function. To effectively carry out its legislative mission, the new Assembly must be associated in the definition of the agenda of the European Council and the Eurogroup, as foreseen by Art. 7 T-DEM, it must vote on and supervise the application of the financial aid programs/bailouts, as provided by Art. 9 T-DEM, and it is essential that the composition of the Council of Ministers reflects the items placed on its agenda (Art. 6 T-DEM), so that the voices of the Ministers for Social Affairs and Employment are not systematically marginalized by those of the Finance Ministers. In contrast, the respective powers of the European Parliament and the new Assembly under Articles 12 to 14 should be better delineated. Within a Union endowed with true budgetary, economic and fiscal powers, it is obvious that the budget and economic and fiscal legislative acts are voted on by the European Parliament. Otherwise, and as long as some EU member states remain outside the Euro Area, there is a high risk that contradictions emerge between the budgets and legislation of the Euro Area on the one hand, and those of the rest of the Union on the other. It would therefore be more logical that the European Parliament votes on the budget and the common fiscal bases, whereas the new Assembly would focus on the democratisation of socio-economic policies falling under the shared competences of the Union (social policy, employment, …). If the new Assembly’s raison d’être is to overcome power seizure by the European Council, it is by reference to the role of the latter, and not that of the Eurogroup, that the functions of the Assembly ought to be defined. At the earlier stages, its role should consist in defining the legislative agenda, and at the latter, in controlling the European Commission in its role as guardian of the treaties. The Assembly would meet four times a year and have the Commission submit for debate its legislative proposals, its draft Broad Economic Policy Guidelines (Art. 121 TFEU), and the acts it takes in the framework of the excessive deficit procedure (Art. 126 TFEU), employment policies coordination (Art. 148 TFEU), and any other relevant field of shared competence (social policy, healthcare, industry, cohesion, …). The Assembly could also be endowed with an indirect power of legislative initiative in all these fields, similar to that the European Parliament already enjoys.

  10. Other initiatives for further democratizing the Union should not be neglected. The introduction of a real European Social Dialogue is still necessary, as political democracy remains intrinsically linked to social democracy in a majority of member states. The Citizen’s Initiative (art. 11 TEU) has a great potential for mobilizing civil society and acting as a counter-power to the Commission’s action and failures to act, and the Assembly could certainly give it more resonance, through its legislative initiative power. It moreover remains desirable, in view of furthering ‘transnational socialization’ of European issues, to strengthen the Commission’s political awareness and clout. The new Assembly could also be given a role, complementary to that of the European Parliament, in the appointment and eventual dismissal of the European Commission, as it exists in some federal systems (hearings, inquiries, impeachment, …).

Translated from the French by Social Europe

This article is published in association with Alternatives économiques.

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