The key problem facing European institutions is the Democratic Deficit, Disconnect and Disaffection with its citizens. Those words were addressed by the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, to Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Schulz, sitting on the platform with her. She was speaking at an Interactive Event that she called on Your Wish List for Europe, held in the European Parliament 4 March 2014.
For sixty years the European Parliament has never held an election according to the rules specified in the Treaties! Voters should be asking one question above all: when are governments going to follow the democratic rules of the treaties they signed?
The legal rules for elections are clear and simple. Anything that diverges from them is a fraud and a cheat. The rules were set more than half a century ago. The founding treaties (Paris 1951, Rome 1957) make it clear how the European Elections should be run in a fair and just manner.
Article 138 of the Economic Community treaty and article 108 of the Euratom treaty say the same thing. The same words exist in the present treaty of Lisbon. The words were also retrospectively added to the founding Treaty of Paris, 1951. That was to clarify what should have already have been clear to any true democrat in the Paris Treaty’s article 20. That says the Assembly should consist of the ‘representatives of the peoples of the member states of the Community’. (High Authority translation). Representatives of the peoples should of course always be elected on a basis of equality. Note that the main principle is Representation of the Peoples, not of the States or governments or governance systems.
That vital obligation of governments has never been carried out in all Europe’s history. Europeans are left with a distorted and biased system created by and for the governments, that is political party élites.
The Rome treaties say: ‘The Assembly shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States.’
Universal suffrage, that is a direct vote for members of the European Parliament, only took place in 1979.
The politicians did an extraordinary thing. It indicates their mentality of fraud. They cut the sentence with the requirement in TWO! They followed the first half but not the second.
The second part of the sentence — a uniform procedure for all of Member States — has NEVER yet been passed. We have today 28 national elections not one European one. Each State fixes its own elections! Some States block opposition parties and make its restrictions. Some States get the equivalent of ten or twelve votes per voter compared with other Europeans!
The 1979 direct NATIONAL elections arrived three decades late. Previously the MEPs had been nominated by the national parliaments. It had advantages and disadvantages. In practice this meant that governments could control who was supposed to speak out for European democracy. A strong autocrat like De Gaulle made sure that the prestige and effectiveness of the Assembly was reduced to a minimum. That way the Council of Ministers became the illegitimate single controller of the budget. And the European budget could be used to subsidize French farmers, industries and others – who then voted enthusiastically for de Gaulle’s rip-off of the other European taxpayers.
Voters wanting something like democracy had to wait some 30 years from the time of Europe’s first assembly in 1949. That happened only after maximum pressure on the political oligarchy. When in government, political parties wanted to retain the maximum unfair advantage. The mills of God grind slowly but they grind small. The anti-democrats will get their come-uppance.
First we should ask the question: What is the purpose of a Parliament in a supranational Community? The treaties say that before any legislation could be passed, Parliament has to give an Opinion (as do the Consultative Committees). An Opinion is an extensive criticism of the Proposal of the Commission. A key feature of the system is that only an independent and impartial body can introduce legislation. That avoids corruption by political interests.
The Commission makes the first step by suggesting an impartial draft law. To do this effectively, it enters into a permanent and close dialogue with all members of organized Civil Society. They have a debating chamber called the Consultative Committee (the Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions). This was specifically created to avoid the plague of shadowy lobbyists we have today. Lobbyists may outnumber all the bureaucrats. Once the law is drafted, the Parliament representing the people, the Consultative Committees (representing organized Civil Society) and the Council representing Member States are to give their own analysis of the measure and point out any shortcomings. Such a system is the most intelligent way to deal with unintended consequences of legislation by bureaucrats.
The Commission is required to be as independent, impartial and as well-informed as possible and act like a just judge. The treaties forbid acting for any interest, whether paid or not, including political activity. Scandalously government political parties thumb their nose at this. They see raw power and want to have it.
The European Commission is not a European government as it has only the option of making a proposal where the treaties give it the right. It has management of the consequences of such regulations, only where Member States (and civil society and affected individuals, according to the treaties) say it has.
It is essential that such a system exists in today’s world of increasing complexity. It also avoids the Commission membership becoming corrupt by rabble-rousers, political interests or hidden cartels. Its task is to expose to the full light of open debate any lobbyist bias towards big business, labour, consumer groups or industries or a region.
Under the centralizing fancies of General de Gaulle, it was unthinkable for his grandeur that the French government should be reduced to a mere commentator on a draft European law. How could Brussels bureaucrats meddle with French cheeses? He poured scorn on the whole idea of the supranational European Community. He ‘chloroformed’ the institutions. Then he started a major power grab, insisting that only the Council of Ministers could decide the legislation and the money questions. That’s not what the treaties say. It is arrogant to assume that politicians with their limited background can foresee all the problems of all the citizens. And be aware of the real needs of the future.
Thus the secretive Council of Ministers began to dominate often with the active collusion of the Gaullist and nationalist-dominated Commission. While the Commission still received such legal Opinions from the other institutions like the Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee, it promptly ignored them. The Council and the Commission (which served as its secretariat) may not even have bothered reading them. The Council of Ministers thus tried to convert the Communities to something like an uncontrolled and secret intergovernmental organ. What’s more, the European Communities produced plenty of taxpayers’ money to play with, including customs tariffs. Thus the vote-hungry national politicians could do secret budget deals with no controls. The result? Pouring European money into a vote-gathering machine that had no democratic power. It became an addiction. Voters had no control of the resultant meat mountains and wine lakes and massive corruption in southern Italy.
The Parliament had no moral authority. Why? Because the members were nominated by the governments. Just like the Consultative Committees today, (the EcoSoc and the Committee of Regions), they were not legitimately elected. Nor do they represent a European level. The Council in its power grab devalued the other institutions to the point in the 1960s that they looked like a useless appendix. The Community system thus experienced democracy theft. Governments blocked elections in the Parliament and in the Consultative Committees. And slowly the governmental parties tried to turn the Commission into their secretariat.
When in 1973 the British, Irish and Danes joined the Communities, the abuse was so flagrant and the system so undemocratic, the Labour Party boycotted the Parliament. That gave the right-wing parties a majority. Not that it mattered at all. No one cared what the Parliament said in its legislative Opinions. They just filled the waste bins at the Council.
Some Continental MEPs however were not only furious at this undemocratic stitch-up, they acted. They appealed to the institution created for this. Then the Council went too far. It passed legislation without even getting the proper Opinion. Some MEPs took the matter to the European Court. Schuman’s legal colleague, Pierre-Henri Teitgen, then an eminent professor of law, ably assisted them.
The upshot of all these scandals was that the governments were then forced to review the ‘chloroformed‘ question of direct elections. As anyone can see from the treaty article quoted above, the governments decided they would only fulfill the first part of the sentence and leave the other half. Curious affliction of partial blindness. That way they could retain the remaining undemocratic powers that General de Gaulle had foisted on the Communities.
De Gaulle had distorted the system but it takes a really honest Statesman to correct it. He made an undemocratic power grab. He is now dead but the levers of abuse and corruption remain.
Most are content with his unjust gains and ‘de-activated‘ institutions. Who will be the first to say: ‘Fellow Prime Ministers, the system is not fair. We and our political party machines are profiting illegally from this distortion. Let us correct it and give more power to the people and organized civil society as the Founding Fathers intended. All our States agreed to this at the beginning when we signed and ratified the treaties.’
So today the world’s largest economic and peace-enhancing union has a governance system unfit for such global responsibilities. It has been sold a Mickey-Mouse substitute. That is like a cheap and nasty child’s watch versus a precision-made Swiss one. Europeans have a fraudulent system that deliberately deactivates what is the best system of democracy yet conceived.
The first questions for voters to ask the political parties are: ‘When are we going to get a single electoral system? How do you plan to go about it? When are you going to reinstate democratic powers for organized civil society? ’ I would be interested to know if there is a single political party or government that raised the question. So far I have not found one.
David Heilbron Price