Friday, 20 November 2009

European Union Presidency

Somewhat predictably the EU has appointed as President and Foreign Secretary two people who have virtually no international profile and the emergence of the names in question is reminiscent of the way the British Conservative Party used to operate up until the late sixties. The names came forward as a result of back-room dealing and pressure from the leaders of France and Germany. The prospects of a large candidate taking the position, that is, someone with high-profile internationally, were stalled early.

It is worth asking the question as to why it is that the leaders of the EU operate in a fashion that ensures that these newly created jobs have to be given to be people with such little profile and selected in such a secretive way? The former question relates to the whole problem of the lack of democratic legitimacy of the EU. It originated as a trade bloc and despite the accusations (common under the last Conservative government here in the UK) of a "federalist" agenda it has shown little appetite for becoming a coherent political bloc. The selection of people to fill the roles in question who have such little general international standing is reflective of the fact that these posts are filled in a way that itself lacks democratic legitimacy.

The EU is run by the Council of Ministers: a Council that operates by appointments from each of its constituent members. Effectively the real decisions are all made by the leaders of the big countries with France and Germany the twin motors of the organisation for many years. The European Parliament, the only pan-European body that has democratic standing, has been consistently side-lined although it is responsible for generation of legislation that does pass into domestic law in the constituent member countries. A high-profile European Parliament whose proceedings were broadcast on national TV and radio stations would be quite a creature that would have a basis for generation of pan-European politicians. This would, naturally, as a result give this body pre-eminence over national parliaments and this is why it is resisted by national governments.

In lieu of such an expanded profile and role for the European Parliament it remains the case that key decisions concerning positions such as that of the new Presidency will be taken in secret. This is a serious violation of the need for publicity and ensures a continued "democratic deficit" in the EU. Even were the "right" candidates chosen it could only be due to accidental convergence of interests between member countries. Without reform of the kind indicated here the role of the EU will not merely fail to match the democratic credentials of its constituent members but it will remain virtually impossible for it, as as body, to act coherently or with a general agreed purpose. This is good news for states such as Russia who operate by dividing the EU states from each other but very bad news for any one concerned that political mechanisms that reflect publicity should be allowed to grow.

Finally, for some reflections on reasons why the choice of the President is bad for Belgium see Crooked Timber.

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