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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The pretence of transnational politics and why national parliaments still rule

The home of European Democracy?
The most resolute defenders of the European parliament often argue that it is the home of ‘transnational democracy’ where MEPs look after the interests of European citizens. However, in Monday's debate on the EU budget deal – struck by national leaders – reactions of the leaders of the Parliament’s four largest political groups which we cited on our blog showed just how far from reality this assertion is.

The leaders of the EPP, Socialists and Democrats, Liberals and Greens all attacked the compromise, and demanded renegotiation. They all claimed to speak on behalf of their factions but in reality these tend to be hugely fragmented along national lines, a handful of ‘true believers’ aside. For example, the views of Dutch, Swedish, Danish, British and German MEPs – whose national leaders backed cutting the budget – were barely reflected. Moreover, in the UK and Holland in particular, the need for restraint in the EU budget was an issue of cross party consensus, and not of ideological contention.

Consequently we were treated to the bizarre spectacle of Labour MEPs sitting behind S&D group chairman Hannes Swoboda as he lambasted the budget cut which Labour leader Ed Miliband had demanded. The same applies to Moderaterna MEPs listening to EPP group chairman Joseph Daul and VVD and Lib Dem MEPs listening to the BBC-favourite Guy Verhofstadt ("he's always available"). Meanwhile, Martin Callanan of the ECR group, composed mainly of MEPs from the Conservative party and Poland’s Law and Justice party, broadly welcomed the deal.

However, in a inverse version of the above phenomenon, a debate in the Polish parliament yesterday morning, the Law and Justice representative argued that the budget deal was bad for Poland, in particular the failure to obtain more funds for rural subsidies and to obtain parity in direct payments with the EU15 countries, citing the speech by Jospeh Daul in support of his argument – the same Daul accused by Callanan of “throwing a teenage tantrum”. Meanwhile, referring to the fiscal treaty, the same Law and Justice MP claimed it would "murder solidarity in Europe", a view ostensibly more suited to the socialist and far left than conservative groups.

Particularly when it comes down to the core issues in a democracy  - such as taxation and spending - it's still all about national politics, and securing the best possible deal for domestic constituents and trying to inflict damage on their domestic political opponents. A genuinely transnational politics in the EU is nowhere near to becoming a reality.

10 comments:

Bernardo Rosa said...

You seem to be stretching your argument to fit your preferred conclusion… Of course there are discrepancies between national and European views. This can be down to several reasons: domestic political calculations (as you mentioned) is one reason but it’s not that far-fetched to think that some MEPs may actually think differently from their leaders at home... Also, the fact that most people don’t follow EU politics makes it easier for politicians to play these games. Finally, one can often find this sort of incoherences at national level, between local politics and national politics (and there are local politics that act predominantly with national politics in mind) and no one thinks one is less democratic or legitimate than the other…
Your conclusion that it’s all about the national political game comes across as slightly cynical and I think it’s a clumsy generalisation of the approach chosen by a type of MEP (often those who are sent to Brussels to ‘expiate some sin’ or to prepare for something ‘bigger’ back home, with little inclination or appetite for European affairs).

SaltireSyd said...

This is exactly the reason why MEP's need to be reminded that they are the servants of our NATIONAL parliaments and the eu must not be looked upon as a single entity which it is not and never will be.

Rik said...

@SaltyreSyd
MEPs are not servants of national parliaments, they are directly chosen.

There the problem starts although there is legally a legitimation in practice it is simply not there. A (huge) majority of the people did not vote; they are not really taking serious; and people donot really feel represented (hardly anybody knows the parties, fractionleaders and in effect the EU party they effectively voted for, if they voted as most did not).
So from a legal point of view it might be ok and the set up gives democratic legitimacy from a practical pov it simply doesnot work. They simply donot have the platform and subsequently cannot get things done as without that the push in the back is simply not there (next to being great in picking the wrong battles).

Problem probably caused by the fact that nobody really asked the populations if they were in favour of this set up. They represent people that might not want to be represented and certainly not in this way.

The EP will never become a real parliament, with real powers, until the practical side of the legitimation is solved.

In relation with NPs and governments. Voters are not really buying anymore the excuse it comes from Brussels we cannot do anything about it. They simply let their frustration loose on the local governments. Furthermore the EU has come at a point that real powers should be transferred which is very likel totally unacceptable for many including many local politicians (national MPs as the equivalent of large size city-counselors is likely not an attractive prospect).

Combine this with putting mainly third or fourth class people in there. The EP clearly has a problem and it is not going to solve that easily.
Take that guy Schultz as an example. Looks like a German slightly alternative, into nature, know everything better lefty. Which makes him basically undigestible for at least 3/4 of the Europeans. The South and the right half of the North to begin with (and several others as well). You never build up Europe-wide-credibility with somebody like that at the helm. Verhofstadt (hope I got the name right) probably even worse. The 2 media wise most prominent members of the joint. It might be difficult to find proper candidated that appeal to many, but much worse than this is hardly immaginable.

Also the policies they try to profile theirselves with are often stupid beyond believe.

Anyway to get on the list MEPs need their local parties so at the end of the day they do better what they are inplicitly told.

Direct EU lists will not solve that. Next to the fact that it is unlikely to make the treatychange process, you need de facto crebility/legitimation not only de jure.

Denis Cooper said...

Clearly national parliaments do not still rule, although they could if they wished to.

The UK government negotiates and agrees another treaty to amend the EU treaties, and presents it to the UK Parliament for approval through a Bill to amend the European Communities Act 1972.

A small number of MPs then debate the details of the treaty, but they cannot change as much as a comma; it has to be approved and then finally ratified as it stands, or not at all.

The UK government uses its party whips to make sure that the Bill is passed; it will bribe and it will bully to get it through, fearful of being disgraced in the eyes of the other governments if it fails to get the treaty approved; if necessary it may even do what Major did with the Bill to approve the Maastricht Treaty, say that it will treat the vote as a confidence vote and in the event of defeat call a general election at a time when many of its party's MPs would lose their seats.

Over the following years it gradually emerges that the new treaty has some very undesirable consequences, especially when certain of its provisions are given unexpected interpretations by the ECJ in its pursuit of "ever closer union".

Normally if Parliament found that one of its Acts was having undesirable consequences then it could just pass another Bill to sort out the problems, but that is not so easy for an Act to approve a treaty; it would first need a new treaty to be agreed with all the other governments, and then a Bill to approve that new treaty.

And because of the treachery of the MPs we elected in 1970, and then in subsequent general elections, the MPs we elected forty years later in 2010 must constantly consider whether they can do this or that without infinging one or another of an ever-expanding mass of "treaty obligations".

Parliament is still sovereign, and not only could it entirely repeal its 1972 Act it could also repeal that Act in part, to the extent necessary to reject or disapply specified EU laws; but we have yet to elect MPs with the patriotism and the belief in our national democracy and the guts to do that.

It is something of a mystery that at each general election we are confronted with main party candidates who claim that they want to govern the country but who really prefer to have the country increasingly governed by the EU, and it is another mystery that we keep falling for this and elect them.

christina speight said...

It cannot possibly ever represent the views of European citizens since in most countries the "lists; [that undemocratic system) are selected by party bosses and consequently the peoples see this and reject their claims to represent them in any way at all.

The whole - ket alone the catastrophic Euro-zone is a vast conspiracy by entrenched politicians to fix things their way.

Let's get Britain out of it pronto.

jon livesey said...

Conspiracy theories are fun, but I prefer to try to figure out the reasons for people's actions based on just self interest.

The basic fact here is that the Eu is a unique structure. It is an association of sovereign states, but those states are committed to a complex system of transfer payments and cross-subsidies.

One country making payments to another on a bilateral basis is quite common, and pretty easy to understand. There is a donor country and a recipient, and they have a relationship.

The EU is different, because the EU itself is the third player. In the EU the recipient countries can use the EU to extract money from the donor countries. Now the donor countries are not so much donating aid as being taxed.

So the recipient countries have a clear financial interest in the EU system working "well", which means them getting their payments, so they are more or less obliged to express enthusiasm for the whole EU enterprise.

But as sovereign states they also have national interests, some of which are impacted by EU inefficiency, corruption, over-regulation, austerity and on and on.

So even the recipient countries have mixed feelings about the EU, enthusiasm in the European Parliament, and less enthusiasm at home.

Meanwhile the donor countries are simpler to understand. They pay enough that their taxpayers and national MPs are getting tired of the whole thing. But elections for MEPs are still dominated by candidates and voters who never saw a utopian scheme they didn't like, and who project a thin layer of EU-enthusiasm which is unrepresentative of the population as a whole.

So, no mystery. What you see in the EU is exactly what you would expect to see, given its bizarre structure.

Jesper said...

The set-up has been the cause of some strange things.

From what I can see we have two competing principles in the EU:

Subsidiarity vs internal market. In an ideal word they'd be complementary but it seems that in the real world they are adversarial.

If a national parliament claims that something is for them to decide based on the subsidiarity principle then there'll always be someone claiming that it should be decided on EU level as it would 'improve the working of the internal market'.

Companies can and do adapt products and services to local taste, they'd rather not do it as it costs them money to do it.
Companies can and do adapt products and services to comply with local regulations, they'd rather not do it as it costs them money to do it.

If the internal market argument always wins then there'll be no subsidiarity, all regulations (including taxation) will be standardised across the internal market.

If subsidiarity always wins then there'll be a cost. At the moment I'm willing to accept that cost, the internal market works well enough.

SaltireSyd said...

@Rik The only legitimate parliament for me is the UK and Scottish parliaments the eu parliament is a completely useless talking shop.
I have NEVER voted in an eu election and I NEVER will.
The eu is NOT the organisation the UK joined (and which I voted against). We (the UK) joined an economic community to further the interests of the UK business community.
All we have achieved is to have grossly overpaid MEP's, a cost which would be better spent elsewhere

Freedom Lover said...

"A genuinely transnational politics in the EU is nowhere near to becoming a reality." Thank God for that!

Jesper said...

Some Swedish MEPs have tried to explain their concerns.

It seems like they feel the EP is being micro-managed on the MFF. They believe that the EP should decide how the money is to be spent. I'm not sure if that is possible with the current set-up. I believe it would take a major reform to change the institutional to make their dream possible.

The current set-up guarantees certain spending. Giving the EP discretionary power to control the spending would remove that guarantee - no country would know what its net would be. All countries would know how much they'd pay in, no country would have any guarantee whatsoever on how much the EP would allocate back.

Giving the EP full discretionary control over the MFF would in practice mean that the EP has both full independence and that same independence would mean that in practice it would be taxing countries.

Institutional mess. The choice seems to be to either remove the EP or give it more power. I'd say that removing the EP is the right thing to do.