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Post How "Unelected" is the EU?
Created by John Eipper on 05/19/16 4:23 AM

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How "Unelected" is the EU? (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece, 05/19/16 4:23 am)

John Heelan wrote on 18 May: "My beef with the EU is its unelected nature." Fair enough. But I would like to point out two aspects that counter John's argument to some extent.

a) The elected European Parliament has increasing powers within the EU's central institutional structures. For example, it overthrew the intergovernmentally appointed Jacques Santer Commission in 1999.

b) For the first time before the most recent Euro-Parliament elections, the trans-EU parties had Commission presidency candidates. The current president of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, was the candidate of the party that got the most seats in the European Parliament, the center-right Popular Party. The German Chancellor Angela Merkell toyed with the idea of intergovernmentally choosing another president, in order for him or her to be less independent from the member-states' governments. An outcry within Germany against such a manifestly antidemocratic choice resulted in her accepting Juncker as the new Commission president, an important step in the democratization of the EU.

JE comments: Great to hear from Harry Papasotiriou. What's the latest in Athens, Harry?

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  • How "Unelected" is the EU? (John Heelan, UK 05/20/16 3:50 AM)
    Harry Papasotiriou (19 May) rebutted my complaint about the "unelected" nature of the EU, reminding us that "the elected European Parliament has increasing powers within the EU's central institutional structures."

    Yet it still cannot initiate, change or revoke legislation; neither can it decide taxes in the same way that other legislative assemblies can, because that is the remit of the unelected EU Commission. I note that the vast majority of UK Commissioners appointed come from the equally unelected House of Lords. Further, the unelected European Central Bank has the powers to regulate the economies of member states within the Eurozone and even demand a sight of and comment on economic plans of those member states outside the Eurozone, such as the UK.

    Just to review the democratic (sic) status of EU institutions:

    --The European Parliament (elected)

    --The European Council (Heads of State elected by their own member states)

    --The Council of the European Union (with 10 sub-councils attended by ministers of government, either elected by their own member state or appointed by its Head of State);

    --The European Commission (completely unelected)

    --The Court of Justice of the European Union (appointed and whose decisions can change the Constitutions of member states)

    --The European Central Bank (completely unelected but can control economies of member states)

    --The Court of Auditors (appointed)

    Thus by far, decisions affecting the EU are promoted by the unelected EU Commission, to be agreed with the appointed councils of Ministers and voted on by the European Parliament that cannot change, revoke or amend those proposals.

    I suspect the US would not accept being controlled in a similar way, yet POTUS (and Wall Street) is pushing the UK to accept such unelected governance.

    JE comments:  Commissioners, Justices, Ministers, MEPs--and the list goes one.  One thing can be said for the EU:  it has created a massive bureaucracy in record time.  Bureaucracies have a way of doing that.

    Most of us non-Europeans would flunk a quiz on EU Civics.  Do I understand correctly from John Heelan that the European Parliament does not, strictly speaking, legislate?  What, then, is it supposed to do?

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    • How "Democratic" is the EU? (Angel Vinas, Belgium 05/20/16 9:09 AM)
      I don´t want to intervene in the Brexit discussion.

      However, I must raise my voice to clarify somewhat the vexed subject of democratic control in the EU.

      1. The EU is an experiment about shared sovereignty. This appears with absolute clarity in an area very much discussed in the runup to the UK referendum: trade policy and customs. In this area and in some others, the Member States have totally transferred their national sovereignties to the Union.

      2. In other policy areas, the decision-making process applies as outlined in the Treaty. The Commission drafts bills and submits them to the Council. The Council usually modifies them. They are them submitted to Parliament which has the last word.

      3. People usually forget that the deliberations in the Council are handled first by civil servants, as in any other national bureaucracy before the drafted bills arrive at the Minister level. Ministers may approve them or not. The areas where unanimity must be applied are carefully defined in the Treaty. In other cases member states which do not agree must form a blocking minority for the draft to be further discussed. This is the equivalent of a single minister in a national government being overrun or not by the PM if several colleagues join him.  This is what is called the Community method.

      4. However, all along there has been another decision-making process. It is called the intergovernmental method. Here consensus or unanimity must prevail. Dealing with the economic crisis, refugees, foreign policy issues are all matters discussed and decided intergovernmentally.

      5. In this method no member state can be overrun if it doesn´t accept it. Greece? The Greek Government wouldn´t need to accept the Troika demands (where the IMF also plays a role) but then the alternative in practice would be to leave the euro, not the EU.

      ECB? It was copied on the Bundesbank.

      Court of Justice? In many EU members the Supreme Court judges are appointed by the Government according to national laws. In the EU every Government appoints a judge.

      European Council? Every MS has a representative. It takes its decisions by consensus.

      Court of Auditors? Each MS has an auditor. I´m not familiar with it but I don´t think its findings are legally binding. This is the case certainly in some MS.

      Can the EU be made more democratic? The answer is yes. Several ideas are being discussed. Parliament has gained in saliency over time. After the Brexit referendum the German and French Governments are likely to submit a joint paper with proposals.

      The further sharing of sovereignty is obviously difficult, particularly in a time of increasing nationalism. The EU is not a State and won´t become a super State. This was never the aim.

      I hope this clarification might be useful.

      JE comments: Very useful.  Any hint on what the German and French proposals might be?  Presumably, the result of the Brexit vote will carry more weight than anything else.

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      • Make EU More Democratic? German and French Proposals (Angel Vinas, Belgium 05/21/16 4:10 AM)
        I´m not privy to the discussions between the German and French Governments. François Hollande has publicly stated that the joint paper will be published anyway, independently of the future status of the UK. The idea, according to media reports, is to submit it to the European Council meeting which will take place after the June 23rd referendum. We´ll see.

        The basic idea seems to favour further improvement of the economic governance of the euro area. If this is the case, it won´t necessarily affect the UK, should it remain in the Union.

        Sarkozy has launched the idea that the EU needs further momentum, and that a new Rome Treaty should be considered so that those countries willing to push the process of integration would take the lead.

        The bomb for the future development of the EU doesn´t lie, in my view, with the UK. It does lie with what the EU may do, or not do, with Poland. The launching of the procedure foreseen for cases of violations of the democratic system seems a very distinct possibility. The recommendations must be approved unanimously. Hungary has already stated that it will oppose them. If so, the conflict would then be served.

        On a related note, I´m sorry to disagree with John Heelan (20 May) in a point of fact. The European Parliament is, within the Community method, the decisive body to approve EU legislation. It has increased its powers continuously, and they are now enshrined in the co-legislative procedure.

        JE comments:  Poland is moving ever more towards authoritarian government, but is there any real chance that it would be "disciplined" or ejected from the Union?  In any case, isn't Hungary even more authoritarian at present?

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      • Is EU a "State"? A "Superstate"? (John Heelan, UK 05/21/16 4:29 AM)
        My thanks to Ángel Viñas (20 May) for his clarifications. However, some people doubt the claim that "The EU is not a State and won´t become a super State. This was never the aim." Did not the Treaty of Lisbon (the EU Constitution in disguise) create the EU as a legal entity, enabling it to act as a state--federal or otherwise?

        The father of the EU, Jean Monnet, is alleged to have written, "Europe's nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation."

        Does not the Preamble to the Treaty of Rome state, "Solemn Declaration on European Union of June 1983, the then ten heads of state and government (including the UK) agreed: ... on the basis of an awareness of a common destiny and the wish to affirm the European identity, confirm their commitment to progress towards an ever closer union among the peoples and Member States of the European Community," and added, "closer union among Member States, as well as the peoples of Europe."


        The EU now has its own diplomatic corps (called something else) headed by the unelected (in both the EU and the UK) Baroness Ashton as the EU's foreign policy chief.

        As to the EU's eventually becoming a superstate, the "duck test" states, "If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck."

        JE comments:  One other "duck" property would be indivisibility.  No one to my knowledge is questioning an EU Member State's right to secede.  This was the sticking point in the United States, in 1860-'61.

        Would the EU go to war to keep a MS from leaving?

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        • A European "Superstate"? A Jean Monnet Quote (Angel Vinas, Belgium 05/22/16 3:48 PM)
          Many thanks to John Heelan for his post of 21 May. I would be interested in knowing the origin of that alleged Monnet quotation, which seems bogus to me.

          I cannot predict how Europe would look like say a hundred years from now. Who can? But if history serves as guide, I don´t believe that national states are going to disappear fairly soon. To that extent the widely circulated idea of a European superstate is simply what we call in Spanish "camelo."

          The secession of any EU member state was included in the failed European Constitution and was incorporated into the Lisbon Treaty.

          I was a member of the diplomatic corps of the EU and can tell you that it doesn´t look very much like a national one. Furthermore, member states routinely post many of their diplomats to it. The possibility for the EU to carry out an autonomous foreign policy is simply not on the table.

          Nobody has defined what "an ever closer union" is. Some people think that a hard nucleus (Hartkern) should be built among those who are willing to forge ahead. The idea goes back twenty years ago. On of his proponents was (who would say?) Minister Schäuble.

          JE comments:  I found the Monnet quote at the link below.  It does have a sinister ring to it.  Presumably the original was in French--perhaps something was lost, er, in the translation?


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          • Is the Jean Monnet Quote Apocryphal? (Angel Vinas, Belgium 05/23/16 6:47 AM)

            With my very sincere apologies to John Eipper, I still think that the alleged Jean Monnet quote may be bogus. The reference in azquotes doesn't give any source for it. I´ve looked at French Web pages and found a selection of quotes from Monnet´s memoirs here:


            As you´ll see the theme of these quotes is strictly contradictory to the one in azquotes. One cannot trust everything that is available on the Internet.

            JE comments:  I also heard back from John Heelan, who writes:

            "The following quote is often attributed to Jean Monnet; in fact it is a paraphrase of a characterization of Monnet's intentions by British Conservative Adrian Hilton:

            "'Europe's nations should be guided towards a super state without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.'"

            [JE]:  The above contains a footnote that links to the page below.  Of note is the following comment:  "The fact is that Monnet would have had no argument with the sentiments expressed in the quote."  It's time for me to eat some crow:  the azquotes page I cited yesterday was wrong.  It didn't quote Monnet; it quoted from what his "sentiments" should have been.  This is a bizarre approach to history, and opens up a whole new avenue of the notable and quotable.  "Things Lincoln [Churchill, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde...] should have said."

            Adrian Hilton:  that's a WAISly name in at least two ways.


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            • Jean Monnet, Again (John Heelan, UK 05/24/16 3:34 AM)
              A further comment on Jean Monnet. Here's a quote from 3 April 1952: "The fusion of economic functions would compel nations to fuse their sovereignty into that of a single European State."

              The quote I cited on May 21st is often misascribed to Jean Monnet. In fact, as I pointed out yesterday, it is a paraphrase of a characterization of Monnet's intentions by British Conservative Adrian Hilton:

              "Europe's nations should be guided towards a super state without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation."

              Monnet is reported to have expressed somewhat similar sentiments, but without the notion of intentional deception, saying "Via money, Europe could become political in five years," and "the current communities should be completed by a Finance Common Market which would lead us to European economic unity. Only then would ... the mutual commitments make it fairly easy to produce the political union which is the goal."

              See Adrian Hilton, The Principality and Power of Europe, 1997.

              In 1960 the Lord Chancellor advised Edward Heath that entering the EEC "is the first step on the road which leads ... to the fully federal state." But Heath told us, "there are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe, we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears I need hardly say are completely unjustified."

              Yet when asked later (1990) if he wanted "a United States of Europe," he replied, "Of course, yes."

              JE comments:  I never realized that Mr Heath lived so long.  He died in 2005, at the age of 89.

              It is worth of note that monetary union is cited above as the linchpin of a European "superstate."  Is this primarily a British belief?

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              • Monetary Union and the European "Superstate" (Angel Vinas, Belgium 05/24/16 10:48 AM)
                The EU motto could be paraphrased by another expression put forward by a Frenchman: "L´Europe se fera par la monnaie ou ne se fera pas."

                However, all this was said when the EU had reached its geographical limits under Cold War conditions. As soon as enlargement towards the Central and Eastern European countries was completed, the idea floundered although it has never been repudiated.

                The issue is which kind of Europe?

                After the British referendum, some more clarity will be achieved.

                The fact that Europe isn´t on the way to become a "super-state" is shown in its inability to cope with the accumulation of crises plaguing the member states and the EU machinery. Nationalism and xenophobia aren´t rampant. They´re being exhibited shamelessly.

                Under these conditions, for some it wouldn´t be a drama if the UK were to exit. The challenge then would be to build a more integrated but smaller Europe. This isn´t an easy task either. However, with a half-divided UK within the Union, other people think that the identity problem of the EU would not disappear.

                Obviously no sensible politician in office would express this sentiment aloud but it´s there in the background.

                A German axiom might come to people´s mind: Besser ein Ende mit Schrecken als ein Schrecken ohne Ende. Let´s wait and see. None of us can predetermine the future.

                JE comments:  In a sense the Ende mit Schrecken would be a "yes" on Brexit.  This would bring clarity and (to use an overused word), "closure."  Should the UK vote to stay, how would the uncertainty be any less, say, a year from now?  Three years?  Schrecken ohne Ende.

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              • Monetary Union, Ordoliberalism, and a European "Superstate" (John Heelan, UK 05/25/16 4:35 AM)
                JE commented on 24 May: "It is worthy of note that monetary union is cited above as the linchpin of a European 'superstate.' Is this primarily a British belief?"

                The following article in Foreign Policy magazine suggest not.


                JE comments: The FP piece raises a central paradox of the EU: if Eurozone governance isn't working, why assume that what is needed is more of it?

                Another sticking point is the incompatibility of economic worldviews in Berlin and Paris.  Germany embraces ordoliberalism (the belief that state institutions can ensure the "freest" possible markets), while France is Keynesian.

                On German ordoliberalism (and other forms of liberalism compared), see this excellent 2011 post from Alain de Benoist:


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    • European Parliament...and Eating Well (Timothy Brown, USA 05/20/16 12:44 PM)
      Why is the European Parliament in Strasbourg?

      Once, while I was State's Deputy for Pol-Econ Affairs, I met the AmCon Gen in Strasbourg and asked him the same question. Surprised by my naivete, he responded, "Why, because it's about as far from Brussels as they could stick them and still be in Francophonie, and it has nine starred Michelin restaurants!"

      Six years or so later, now ConGen myself, albeit in Martinique, at a ConGen conference in Paris, when I told this to another AmConGen to Strasbourg, he answered. "Not today! Now we have ten!"

      JE comments: I'm missing something: aren't there myriad places in the Francophone world even farther from Brussels? How about Toulouse, or St Pierre et Miquelon? I do understand the restaurant part, though.

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    • What is the European Parliament Supposed to Do? (John Heelan, UK 05/20/16 3:14 PM)
      JE asked on 20 May: "Do I understand correctly from John Heelan that the European Parliament does not, strictly speaking, legislate? What, then, is it supposed to do?"

      Cynics would reply: Rubber stamp EU laws, regulations and directives proposed by the unelected EU institutions.

      JE comments: Don't forget dining in Michelin starred restaurants! (See Tim Brown, earlier today.)

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