Campaign briefing: Democracy and the European constitution

The draft European constitution proposed by the European constitutional convention and currently under discussion in the IGC marks the next stage in the development of the European Union. Each successive step since the Treaty of Rome has extended the powers of the European Union and improved their democratic functioning. The European constitution will take this a stage further.

The Laeken Declaration of December 2001 that launched the constitution-drafting process observed that “citizens are calling for a clear, open, effective, democratically controlled Community approach, developing a Europe which points the way ahead for the world. An approach that provides concrete results in terms of more jobs, better quality of life, less crime, decent education and better health care. There can be no doubt that this will require Europe to undergo renewal and reform.”

The aim of the campaign is to show that the draft European constitution will, if implemented, increase the rights of citizens and the powers of elected parliamentarians within the EU.

Why democracy matters in the EU

The origin of the European Union is the recognition that there are issues too big for an individual country to solve on its own. European integration is necessary to enable effective solutions to be applied to common problems. Much of the debate about the development of the EU has been around the need to make sure that European decision-making is democratic.

Democracy is the idea that decisions are based on the will of the majority; various institutional and electoral mechanisms are used to identify that majority will. However, if those decisions cannot be implemented because the institutions to implement them are not adequate, those decisions are rendered meaningless. The will of the majority must not only be identified but also capable of being expressed, otherwise democracy is left hollow.

For this reason, the very fact that the European Union is providing the means for the member states to work together to deal with things that they could not do alone is in itself a democratic advance.

However, there are two further considerations that the European Union must observe.

First, if national decision-making can no longer be effective on an issue and the power to deal with an issue has been transferred to the European Union, then the European decision-making must be just as democratic as the national decision-making it has replaced. In fact, many people argue that it should be more democratic, in order to compensate for the fact that it is further from the citizen. Federalists are especially vigilant in ensuring that the Europeanisation of a policy area is not used as a means of removing democracy from the way it is implemented.

Secondly, the protection of human rights under the rule of law must be observed as rigorously in the European Union as it is within the member states. Federalists are insistent that human rights do not become less important as the political institutions become more distant.

Read the whole article at democracybriefing

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