Democracy in Crisis: The White Paper on European Governance
Nigel Farage MEP
To the European Union, which prides itself in addressing the concerns of
the "peoples of Europe", the discovery that more people in Britain voted on
the popular TV show "Big Brother" than bothered to turn out for the European
elections came as something as a shock. When this low turn–out was reflected
throughout the member states of the European Union, it precipitated something
close to panic in the corridors of power throughout Brussels and its
satellites. The ungrateful people, it appeared, were loving the wrong Big
For those used to the indifference of the European Union to the democratic
process – where unelected technocrats have routinely ridden rough–shod over
the wishes of the people – such concern for the failure of the democratic
process might seem, on the face of it, something of a paradox. After all,
since they had cared so little for democratic assent up to now, why should
they now have been so bothered by such an apparently minor setback?
The answer, of course, is that the process of integrating
member states to create a People’s Republic of Europe is entering a critical
phase. Up to the present the process of building this new nation state has
been confined to dull, boring, and largely invisible technical measures –
mostly associated with the creation of a customs union and the single market.
But with the development of the common foreign and defence policies and the
introduction of the euro – where everyone in the Eurozone uses for their
currency pieces of paper emblazoned with the "ring of stars" – integration is
becoming much more visible. The masses are beginning to notice what is
With that comes the possibility of popular resistance. To forestall that,
the Union needs to be able to claim that it has a democratic mandate – hence
the concern at the almost universal lack of interest in the European
elections. Even more, its politicians want it to be "loved". After all,
"Mother Europe" is building a new future for us and they want this to be
recognised. Serious academics have written earnestly about the lack of
"affective bonds", one complaining that "the Union has not so far been able to
offer its citizens any kind of mobilising proof of love"1.
In another almost comic parody of the reality, EU politicians diagnose the
lack of interest in the European agenda as arising from a lack of action by
"Europe" rather than from too much. Therefore, their answer to what they call
the "democratic deficit" has not been to slacken the pace of integration.
Taking its cue from the politicians, the European Union’s Commission
grandly announced that "In order to act effectively and provide leadership, we
must sustain the pace of change to the very fabric of the European Union
itself. It will need further integration…"2. This came from a Commission that had only just
been re–appointed after the scandals of the late 1990s, during which the then
Commissioner Edith Cresson had formed an interesting and financially rewarding
relationship with her dentist – at the European taxpayers’ expense. In other
words, a Commission, which lacked popularity and, more importantly,
credibility, needed to do something to assure public support. In the manner of
a magician pulling something from his capacious hat, the Commission lighted on
what it felt would be the ultimate crowd–pleaser – reform. Further integration
had to be "backed by a systematic policy .of reform"3.
From the start of the new Commission’s tenure in 1999, "reform" became the
new mantra. Nevertheless, we had to wait until 26 July 2001 for a "white
paper" to find out what this "reform" involved. By that time, however, the
European Union was having to come to terms with more than just the low
turn–out at Euro–elections. There had been the Irish "no" vote on the Nice
Treaty, Denmark had rejected the euro and the Swiss had voted against joining
the EU; there had been the riots at Gothenburg, where the peace–loving Swedes
had managed to shoot a protester dead. The sense of panic intensified and a
feeling of crisis gripped the Community elite. For them, it was a "crisis of
Despite being greeted with near universal indifference reminiscent of the
wild enthusiasm for the Euro–elections, this White Paper is one of the most
important initiatives to come out of Brussels in recent times. For all the
acres (should it be hectares, or perhaps litres?) of newsprint expended on the
Nice Treaty, the White Paper on Governance is much more important. It
is much more significant than the Laeken Declaration and the constitutional
convention – which is proving to be a smokescreen, diverting attention away
from the Commission’s agenda. In terms of its long–term threat to democracy in
the UK, it is also potentially more damaging than the government’s proposals
for the reform of the House of Lords. Contrary to the overt claims of the
Commission, the White Paper has very little to do with reform – as one would
expect. It is, in reality, the Commission’s master plan for the completion of
European integration, the building of its new People’s Republic. Desperately
wanting to be loved, the Commission has set out its strategy to overcome the
"democratic deficit". It is going to capture the hearts and minds of "European
citizens", whether they like it or not. You will love the right Big
The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to bring to the attention of a
wider audience the importance of this grandiose master plan and to identify
and analyse the strategies planned by the Commission. I take a look at how it
affects the uniquely useless institution to which I was elected – the European
Parliament – and then offer a view as to the implications of the White Paper
for what is left of our democracy.
If the genesis of the White Paper was the realisation that
the process of political integration had outstripped even the pretence of
democratic legitimacy and had left the "peoples of Europe" behind, the driving
force propelling the Commission is a fear that these peoples will no longer
blindly accept the steady march towards European integration and might rebel
against the "project" if not engaged more fully.
EU Commissioner Chris Patten has been amongst those warning of a perilous
future. "Only if people accept the legitimacy of the changing political order
will they willingly accept the obligations imposed by it. If they do not feel
adequately involved and consulted, they will eventually question their
political obligation", he told an audience in a recent speech4. Quoting Edmund Burke, he added: "People crushed
by law have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will
become enemies to laws".
Work which eventually led to the White Paper had actually begun in December
1995 when the Commission started formally exploring the "democratic deficit"
problem. To help it in its evaluation, the Commission did what it so often
does when confronted with a problem – it turned to academia for help, relying
on its well–staffed cadre of scholars funded through various Community
programmes. In this case, it enlisted Frank Pfetsch, a Jean Monnet professor
at the Institut fur Politische at Heidelberg University. He was one of the
many European academics who had been conveying the widespread opinion that the
European Union lacked "democratic legitimation"5 and he told the Commission that democracy – of a
kind – was indeed essential for the success of the single European state. Only
this would confer legitimacy on its new government.
There was, however, a massive problem. Citizens of the member states saw
democracy in terms of national issues, and voted accordingly. A "European"
democracy could only be achieved with emergence of a European citizen – a
European "demos" that would think and act, in political terms, on a European
The solution to this problem was offered by another tame academic, one
Professor Massimo La Torre, at the law department of the European University
Institute, Florence – the Commission’s own university. If a European "demos"
was lacking, then one had to be created. This, of course, was not a new
message and the process of "demos" manufacture – not least by the use of
"cultural action", so admirably recounted by Dr Cris Shore6 – had, virtually
since the inception of the "project", been a central part of Community
La Torre took the strategy further. Democracy, as a political institution,
he told the Commission, needed a European "civil society". By "interacting
with constitutional rules and institutions", this civil society would then
become "a people". Giving the European Union "a deeper dimension of
democracy", therefore, was a matter of establishing, by law, a genuine
European citizenship – "freed of any ties to the prior possession of a
particular nationality"7. In other words,
in order to create democracy at a European level, the existing, nationally
focused civil societies would have to be detached from their national base,
unified and then Europeanised.
Thus, developing a European "civil society" became part of the Commission’s
core strategy. In the White Paper, it was translated as "generating a sense of
belonging to Europe", in order to create a "trans–national space". From the
lips of Commission President Romano Prodi came: "…forging a unity at grass
roots level…" and "promoting a sense of shared interests, values and
aspirations among citizens through activities in their home town, region or
country", building "a Union of hearts and minds, of people with a shared sense
of common destiny and of European citizenship"8.
Even then, despite the uplifting rhetoric, something of the sense of crisis
did break through into the White Paper. "Democratic institutions and the
representatives of the people, at both national and European level, can
and must try to connect with the peoples of Europe"9, the Commission
implored in its introduction. The Commission noted that, despite its
achievements, many "Europeans" felt alienated from the Union’s work and
pronounced that connecting Europe with its citizens was the starting condition
for more effective and relevant policies. To establish those connections, one
of its key ideas was to improve communication between the EU institutions and
its "citizens". This, in the leaden language of the Commission, was a
"pre–condition for generating a sense of belonging to Europe", the objective
being to create its "trans–national space", where a common European rather
than national identities prevailed10.
As to the substance of the White Paper, there were to be three key
"reforms" devoted to this cause: more involvement (of the citizen) and more
openness; better policies, regulation and delivery; and the unlikely subject
of "global governance".
Before dwelling on these specific reforms, it is pertinent to note that, on
4 September 2001, Prodi went to the European Parliament in Strasbourg to
"sell" his White Paper to the MEPs. To a nearly empty chamber, he declared
that he wanted to devise "an exemplary new relationship" between Europe’s
citizens and its institutions. In a crucial section of his speech he then told
MEPs that the Commission would embark on improving relationships between
citizens, organised civil society, central and local government and the
European institutions. "We have the chance to breathe new life into the
European Project. The chance to make Europe a model of mature and genuine
democracy", he concluded.
Prodi was back in Strasbourg on 2 October, returning to his dominant theme:
the "civil society": "…our relationship with civil society tends to be unclear
and untransparent", he said. "We need to bring some order to it". His recipe
came over loud and clear: he was to organise this "civil society", to forge
"unity at grass roots level". He wanted the Commission and other EU
institutions to promote a sense of shared interests, values and aspirations
among citizens through activities in their home town, region or country, thus
building Europe "as close as possible to the citizen", "a Union of hearts and
minds, of people with a shared sense of common destiny and of European
citizenship". Only then would full political integration be accepted.
The White Paper’s three "heads" of reform: more involvement (of the
citizen) and more openness; better policies, regulation and delivery; and
"global governance" translated effectively into four action areas. Greater
involvement of the citizen was to be achieved primarily by using organised
civil society and also by the creation and use of networks. Better policy,
regulation and delivery were to be achieved by resort to framework directives
and regulations rather than directives for detailed legislation, plus the use
of regulatory agencies and enforcement networks. Global governance was to be
employed to reinforce the European identity.
It was not only the academics who pointed Prodi towards "organised civil
society". Experts in the Commission’s own "think–tank", the Forward Studies
Unit" had told him the same. In particular, two key experts, Notis Lebessis
11 and John Peterson 12, had written that "democratic governance"
rested on "guaranteeing the participation of stakeholders" – the civil
society. For the Commission to bring Europe closer to the people, public
awareness of the major themes of European policy had to be increased. The
"organised civil society" was the key, as it would contribute to the
development of those themes.
This was endorsed by Jacques Delors, former President of the Commission,
according to whom civil society organisations facilitated what he called
"participatory democracy" 13. By being
involved, "organised civil society" would participate in governance and thus
help create a citizens’ Europe.
"Organised civil society" is all–embracing. It includes trades unions and
employers organisations (so–called "social partners"), trade associations,
professional organisations, and non–governmental organisations (NGOs) which
bring people together in a common cause, such as environmental organisations,
human rights organisations, consumer associations, charitable organisations,
educational and training organisations, etc., etc., etc..
Other major components of the civil society are the so–called CBOs
(community–based organisations). These are set up within society at grassroots
level which pursue "member–oriented objectives". They are taken to include
youth organisations, family associations and "all organisations through which
citizens participate in local and municipal life". Even churches and religious
communities from whom a "particular contribution" is expected, 14 are included. Although not strictly part of
the "civil society", local and regional governments also form part of this
matrix. All of these organisations are to be recruited in the push towards the
completion of political integration.
The plan is for every possible opportunity to be taken to promote "Europe"
via these organisations, all of which are to be encouraged to acquire a
"European dimension". The mechanisms are tried and tested: they can affiliate
with Europe–wide umbrella organisations, or participate in activities
organised or funded by the European Union. From chess competitions between
European towns to Mothers’ Union knitting circles in village halls, everything
is to be enlisted in the greater cause of European integration. No doubt, even
allotment societies will be encouraged to "dig for Europe", as long as they do
not exceed production quotas.
Networks, organised on a Europe–wide basis, were the second element of the
Commission’s implementation plan, involving both civil society and the
regulators. Again, it was an academic who showed the way, this time Professor
Beate Kohler–Koch of the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research.
Regarded as one of the leading scholars of the European Union in Germany, she
saw "network governance" as a way of "widening the unitary political space",
thus creating a "trans–national political space" 15. According to the Commission, "the 1–2 million
Europeans directly involved in trans–European networks related to European
policies have both the motivation and the required mastery of European affairs
to facilitate the emergence of an organised European civil society" 16. So successful had they been that their use
was to be extended.
A classic example is the Natura 2000 network, an EU network of conservation
sites or, in Commission–speak a "coherent ecological network of protected
areas across the EU". As part of the EU’s nature conservation policy, its
overt aim is to protect endangered species but the real agenda is elsewhere.
By co–opting NGOs in managing sites, and seeding activities with funding
through its LIFE Nature fund and regional development grants, and by also
insisting on cross–border partnerships, it recruits an important and
influential part of "organised civil society", while introducing a European
dimension to "feel–good" projects which have general public support.
Networks, however, pervade all strata of member states, not only the "civil
society" but also the administrations. Already, senior civil servants from all
the member states are trained in "the management of European integration" by
their own civil service colleges. Such courses are provided for civil servants
who wish to be promoted to the higher administrative grades. The colleges in
turn are all affiliated to the European Union’s own civil service college, the
European Institute for Public Administration at Maastricht, which sets the
syllabuses and trains the lecturers, thus forming a Europe–wide network of
senior civil servants.
A similar "network" is being planned via the European Police College where
senior police officers will be trained in the "European Approach" to policing
– presumably increasing their knowledge of tear gas launchers and water
cannon. In academia much of the considerable research funding available for
EU–approved projects can be obtained only when researchers ally themselves to
institutes in other member states, thus forming the desired "networks" with a
By this means the networks, in the words of the Commission, become
"multipliers". The whole network concept aims to have a knock–on effect
involving many more citizens on a European level, thus turning them into what
is quaintly called "European Actors". Networks, thus, are to be another key
tool in building the new "European society" with its collective identity at a
In enlisting the regulatory mechanism to further the creation of the
European "demos", the Commission is displaying considerable imagination but
also reverting to type. Regulation has always been the primary mechanism of
European integration, embodied in what is known as the "Monnet method", named
after the founding figure of the EU, Jean Monnet.
His method embodies what former Commission President Jacques Delors called
engrenage or "spill over". This involves progressive economic integration
through the making of Community–wide law, which in turn needs even more law to
make it work, thus creating an ever–increasing "supranational regulatory
capacity". As the body of law eventually displaces national law, full
political integration is the inevitable outcome 17.
At the heart of this "method" is the acquis communautaire, the
inviolable body of law created by the Community. Whatever the subject, be it
environment, transport harmonisation, health and safety or even nature
conservation, the real aim of the acquis is to weld together the
disparate member states in a framework of common laws, until they become
inseparable. However, in the White Paper, the Commission announced a highly
significant and important development in the use of the acquis. Its
intention is to promote greater use of regulations, framework directives and
co–regulatory mechanisms, together with more effective enforcement of
Until recently, the bulk of Community legislation was enacted by the
"Directive" route which, in theory, leaves member state legislatures freedom
of choice as to how results are to be achieved. In the UK this invariably
means that primary or secondary legislation must be adopted, by which means
the law acquires a British identity, with its EU origins often obscured. The
significance of using Regulations rather than Directives can be gleaned, in
part, from a Foreign and Commonwealth Office document, written in 1971 while
Britain was still negotiating to join the (then) "Common Market"18. The writers state that "In the case of action
by way of Regulation there is, once the Regulation has been made, no room for
Parliamentary action (other than, possibly, to supplement the Regulation or
mere debate). Generally speaking Parliament must take the Regulation as it
stands, and while with Regulations made by the Council, a United Kingdom
Minister (who is subject of course to Parliamentary pressure) will take part
in the proceedings leading up to adoption of this Regulation, this is not the
case with Regulations made by the Commission".
In other words, the Regulation takes direct effect, not requiring any
transposition into British law. Not only does this have the merit of creating
one unified, standardised law, directly imposed from Brussels without the
reliance on member state governments to put them into effect, it also strikes
at Prodi’s concern that "Europe’s citizens" are "confused about the blurred
roles of the institutions and the Member States". Prodi has criticised member
states which are quick to take the "credit" for Community initiatives, leaving
the EU to take the blame for the more unpopular or apparently ludicrous
measures 19. With legislation coming
direct from Brussels, Community in action will become much more visible.
But there is more to this mechanism. In 1971, the FCO writer referred to
the previously observed fact that: "Regulations made by the Commission are…
essentially of an implementing rather than policy–making nature". Thirty years
later, this is all to change. The Commission is to rely on a variation of the
Directive, a development known as the "Framework Directives" which confer upon
it wide–ranging legislative powers in the manner of a British enabling Act,
allowing it to make thousands of new Regulations in areas previously reserved
for directives. As the distinction between policy and implementation steadily
blurs, the Commission is using what appear to be technical changes to assume a
greater role in policy–making.
In addition, the Commission proposes to create more regulatory agencies, to
administer its regulations. Within the Community, twelve "independent"
agencies have already been created, most of which have either an information
gathering task, such as the European Environment Agency, or "they assist the
Commission by implementing particular EU programmes and policies" 20, such as the European Training Foundation in
Turin. Three, however, are "regulatory agencies", charged with enforcing
particular aspects of Community law. These are: the Office of Harmonisation in
the Internal Market; the Community Plant Variety Office; and the European
Agency for the Evaluation of Medicines.
The particular advantage of this type of agency, according to a German
political scientist, is that "…it takes issues defined as technical ones out
of the difficult process of consensus formation in the Council of Ministers"
21. In other words, in their day–to–day
activities, they by–pass what remains of the democratic process. But the key
attribute, in the context of increasing the visibility of "Europe", is that
the enforcement of the law assumes a specific European identity. As a welcome
by–product, they also create a mechanism for charging fees from those they
regulate, thereby avoiding the need to increase the EU budget.
That the agency process is essentially anti–democratic is more than
adequately demonstrated by the treatment of the proposed European Aviation
Safety Agency, one of the three agencies in the process of formation 22. Coincidentally, the proposal for its
establishment came before the European Parliament on 3 September 2001, a day
before Prodi spoke to the White Paper on Governance. My colleague
Jeffrey Titford, leader of the UK Independence Party, spoke on the issue in
the debate. What particularly struck both of us was that aviation safety is
already regulated through an independent inter–governmental agency – the Joint
Aviation Authority (JAA) – so the issue was not about bringing the aviation
industry into the regulatory fold. The true agenda was revealed by a
Commission statement that it intended to create the Agency "through the
gradual integration of national systems". This was the "Community method" writ
large, and the clearest possible demonstration of where the Commission was
Additionally, the measure demonstrated the Commission’s absolute contempt
for democracy allied to national interests. Before it had launched its agency
initiative, changes to the functioning of the JAA had been proposed. But the
Commission had pulled out of discussions because the changes, to quote from
the rapporteur’s report: "would have involved lengthy ratification procedures
in the national parliaments of the states concerned..., which would not
necessarily have been successful". In his speech, Jeffrey Titford remarked:
"How awkward and inconvenient democracy is. Rather like the Irish population
when they run a referendum, you can never rely on it to behave. Much easier,
therefore, to create another European institution and get rid of the whole
The other strand of the Commission’s implementation plan is more effective
enforcement which, despite the relationship with regulation, is actually part
of the "network" strategy. The outward justification for improving enforcement
is to deal with the many complaints (particularly in the UK) about other
member states not enforcing key legal provisions – the acquis – a
situation which does not suit the Commission. The acquis is not
simply a collection of laws; it is a living, breathing instrument of political
integration. If it is to have the effect of melding the disparate societies of
the member states into a European "demos", it must be enforced.
Thus, while some gullible eurosceptics applaud the Commission’s declared
intent to improve enforcement – thus levelling the mythical playing field –
the true agenda is, as always, furthering European integration, with the
chosen mechanism being the "enforcement network". This was partly revealed on
4 September 2001, the same day that Prodi first addressed the European
Parliament on the White Paper, when an amendment to the competition law was
put before the European Parliament.
Currently, with this legislation, enforcement is the monopoly of the
Commission, so only the Commission can take action against transgressors. Over
the years, and increasingly so, however, it has found that its resources are
too limited for it to be able to handle all the cases which have come to its
attention. Therefore, through its amendment, it announced its intention to
"devolve" some of its enforcement powers to member states, an action which was
greeted with approval by many MEPs as "decentralisation" and the application
of "subsidiarity". However, in "devolving" its powers, the Commission has no
intention of loosening the reins. On the contrary, it is planning to create a
"network" of enforcement officials within the member states, which will
enforce competition law. At the centre of that "network" will be the
Commission, to which the various member state enforcement agencies will be
directly responsible. The Commission will issue "guidelines" on how the law
should be enforced – guidelines which have mandatory effect – while reserving
the power to step in if it believes that its network "partners" are not acting
in accordance with its directions. Through this the "network" philosophy is
being extended into the enforcement arena once again bringing a highly visible
"European dimension" to a previously obscure activity. And for good measure,
what is offered under the guise of "devolution", therefore, is in fact a
highly centralising measure. More effective enforcement means the assumption
by the Commission of more direct control.
A model for this weapon already exists in the form of DG SANCO’s Food and
Veterinary Office (FVO) based in Dublin, which has executive powers to inspect
and report on member state enforcement systems. Enforcement officials from
member state are required to submit themselves and their systems to
examination and any areas which inspectors consider to be deficient must be
remedied, on pain of infringement action being taken by the Commission.
Increasingly, the FVO is taking a direct role in instructing member state
officials in the conduct of their duties, a process which will increase with
the establishment of the European Food Safety Agency – progressively
sidelining the member state control systems. It is no accident that the
proposed revisions to the food safety laws have been promulgated in the form
of a Regulation – where previously Directives have been considered necessary.
This is evidence of the Commission’s determination to take direct control of
the legislative process.
What we are, seeing overall, is a move by the Commission to take over the
member state civil services from the inside – the ultimate in
integration. These officials may still be employed by member states – and paid
by them – and will retain an outward identity of their member states but
organised as "networks" they will work solely for the Commission to which they
will be directly responsible. These many thousands of civil servants,
themselves, will form the nucleus of the European "demos", owing their
allegiance to their masters in Brussels rather than to the member state
governments and the taxpayers who pay their wages.
As the fourth main part of the implementation plan, the commitment to
"global governance" looks as the weapon with which to further political
integration. Ostensibly, the White Paper presents this part of its strategy as
"looking "beyond Europe", applying "the principles of good governance to its
global responsibilities". Only in the explanatory booklet accompanying the
White Paper 23, where the Commission
writes in glowing terms about "stakeholders", "partnerships", "transparency",
does the real agenda emerge, and then only in one short sentence: "Successful
international action reinforces European identity and the importance of shared
values within the Union".
This agenda was elaborated elsewhere by the Commission 24, where it became evident that the major reason
for wanting a strong international presence is because it helps define the
"European identity". In that context "global governance" is – whatever its
other functions may be – primarily a building block in the creation of a
European society, helping to achieve the goal of political integration.
If, as Jeffrey Titford implied during the debate on the European Aviation
Agency, there is a fundamental aversion in the EU to that "messy business" of
democracy, in theory, nowhere would that be more evident than in the attitude
of the Commission towards the "democratic" European Parliament. Yet, in the
White Paper, the profoundly undemocratic Commission openly advocates that the
European Parliament "should enhance its control on the execution of EU
policies and the implementation of the budget".
Ostensibly the Commission should be opposed to any such extension of power.
Nevertheless, there is no paradox. With its directly elected members, the
European Parliament is an essential fig–leaf which in intended to lend
credibility to the claim that the EU is democratic. Furthermore – and
essentially – the Parliament is a building block in the creation of a European
This is aided by the fact that the institution is a strongly
integrationalist body. Not for nothing is the Parliament described as
"virtually the major contractor for the construction of Europe" 25. As such, it shares the aims of the
Commission, as expressed by Christopher Beazley in the 2 October debate on the
White Paper when he told Prodi from the floor of the House:
"…the European Parliament and the Commission should be
partners in the construction of Europe, not rivals. If we remember the days of
Jacques Delors, your predecessor, he had a clear programme, a vision: the 1992
single market. He set out a time frame and turned that vision into reality. We
must do the same with enlargement and constitutional reform, widening and
deepening… the public at large needs to be able to see in practice that we
have a vision of a fully complete, united Europe and that you, Parliament and
the Council are working together to achieve this".
Mr Beazley is a member of the Conservative Party, which professes to
Euroscepticism and rejoices in the slogan "In Europe but not ruled by Europe".
But, as I have seen during the many hours spent in the "hemicycles" of both
Strasbourg and Brussels, Mr Beazley’s view is typical of the general sentiment
expressed by MEPs of all main parties and national groups – with a few
honourable exceptions. Such areas of friction as do exist arise mainly in the
form of complaints that the Commission is not pushing forward with the agenda
The main preoccupation of the Parliament, however, is with itself, its own
powers and status – to say nothing of salaries, privileges and expenses. Since
the parliament is the weakest member of the troika of institutions
which control the legislative agenda and the Council offers the greatest
competition in terms of democratic legitimacy – dubious though that may be –
it often sees the Commission as an ally against the Council and to a lesser
extent against national parliaments. Thus, the Parliament has a vested
interest in creating a European demos to provide legitimacy to the European
The support for the Commission agenda can clearly be seen from the debate
on the White Paper. A key speaker was IÒigo MÈndez de Vigo, an MEP and holder
of the Jean Monnet chair in European Institutions at the Law Faculty of
Madrid’s Complutense University. Representing the Group of the European
People’s Party (EPP) – to which the Conservative Group is affiliated – he
began by telling Prodi that his group had "always tenaciously supported the
European Commission having a monopoly on the exercise of legislative
initiative" and, having discussed the role of "civil society", concluded "Of
course, this Parliament is also going to cooperate in this task of
contributing ideas". Johannes Swoboda, an Austrian MEP speaking for the
Socialist group, told Prodi that: "Agenda setting, defining political
priorities year on year, is not just the job of the Council and the
Commission, it is also the job of the European Parliament", and then offered
"to hold a dialogue with you over the coming months so that we can bring about
a joint result". Italian MEP Gianfranco Dell’Alba, from the "Independent"
group, told Prodi he wanted "a strong, authoritative Commission", complaining
of the White Paper that "…this text does not go far enough".
What is so revealing is Méndez de Vigo’s blithe "Of course…". He did not
need even to hesitate before committing the whole Parliament (or, at least,
the vast majority) to assisting the Commission. This is not a parliament which
believes its duty is to keep the executive to account or ensure that it does
not overstep the mark. Thus, presented with the Aviation Safety Agency
proposal, it happily voted for it, by a very large majority, British
Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat MEPs all willingly contributing to
this process of integration.
The European Parliament is, thus, an ally of the Commission. Their
interests coincide and the alliance was sealed by the co–decision procedure,
first introduced to facilitate the development of the Single Market and
further extended by subsequent treaties. The Commission has, effectively, been
able to enlist the support of the parliament vis–à–vis its relations
with the Council.
Outwardly a mechanism for increasing the powers of the Parliament,
co–decision means that proposals for directives and regulations in increasing
areas of legislative activity are now submitted jointly by the Commission to
the Parliament and the Council and must be approved by both institutions.
Should there be disagreement, the Commission is able, through the conciliation
procedure, to "hold the ring", using the Parliament as a counterweight to
offset any blockages in the Council. According to a former deputy director of
the Institute of Economic Affairs, Frank Vibert, the effect of this is to give
the Commission the potential to use the Parliament as an instrument to assert
its own independent policy–making role 26.
Despite this, the Commission has been fretting about the delays which this
process introduces into its legislative programme and enjoins the Council and
the Parliament in the White Paper to "speed up the legislative process". It
wants proposals agreed in one rather than two readings, reducing the time
needed to adopt legislation by six to nine months – so further reducing the
time afforded to what passes for scrutiny. Furthermore, in a move which echoes
the increasing reliance of the UK government on statutory instruments, it
wants Parliament to focus on "primary legislation", thus "departing from the
present emphasis on detailed accounting".
The Parliament – presumably with the time liberated – "should become more
active in stimulating a public debate on the future of Europe and its
policies". That fate, incidentally, is also advocated for national
parliaments. "The Commission would welcome public debates, jointly organised
by the European and national Parliaments, on the Union’s policies", it
"The Council and European Parliament can focus on political direction and
content, leaving implementation to the executive", says the White Paper– a
task which will be achieved through its framework Directives and Regulations.
The job of the parliaments, individually and collectively, is to act as a
forum and to mediate the "organised civil society", communicating the wishes
of what is to become "European society" to the Commission and then
transmitting back the actions taken. This is the Commission’s idea of
participatory democracy, a structure which will relegate national legislatures
and the European Parliament to the role they prefer – the talking shop –
leaving the Commission to get on with running its new Peoples’s Republic.
Aside from the convoluted stratagems of the Commission, there is a more
direct means of "participatory democracy" – the referendum. I raised this
point in the European Parliament in the debate on the White Paper 27 when I observed that the only way to achieve
real participation in the European project was through consent – not the
consent of the European Parliament but of the ordinary voters in Europe. "Let
us have more referendums in all Member States", I said. "That is the only way
to achieve democratic legitimacy". The way to address the democratic deficit
was to give people a chance to express their opinions through this means.
This led to an extraordinary intervention by Christopher Beazley, who
declared that I obviously did not believe in parliamentary democracy. "He
wants a referendum every five minutes", he proclaimed, then adding: "It is
absurd that in my own country (that)… we will be asked in a referendum to
decide whether or not to join the single currency. Can you imagine our
financial and economic future being discussed in public houses up and down the
country? This is a job that elected politicians should do". The disdain for
referendums was also shared by Labour MEP, Barbara O’Toole: Mr Farage
"obviously has learned nothing about public policy if he thinks that we can
run the whole of Europe on a series of referendums", she declared. Beazley and
O’Toole are not alone. In an equally extraordinary paper by Peter Ludlow,
founding director of the Centre for European Policy Studies 28, he writes of the Danish "no" response to the
euro that "…referenda on EU matters are inherently risky and therefore
ill–advised…". In referendums there is a risk that the voters might say
It is easy, therefore, to see why the Commission is so enthusiastic about
the "civil society". As long as the "organised" component can be seduced and
bribed, it can be controlled and focused on how, and at what speed the
"construction of Europe" is to be completed. By this means, "organised civil
society" is to be "Europeanised". Already, national trade and professional
associations are finding that they have no status when they seek to lobby or
even communicate with the Commission on proposed legislation. Only when they
organise themselves at a "European level" are they then given access.
Furthermore, European organisations can be in receipt of substantial largesse,
which is denied to national groups. That much also applies to political
parties: proposals are well–advanced for creating European political parties
which will then receive EU funding. The integration of academia is even more
advanced, with some £1.5 billion of funding accessible only through "framework
programmes" which require participation in trans–national partnerships – or
networks – before funds are released.
The term "debate" in the EU vocabulary itself means something very special.
In ordinary English, the term implies that the participants are open to
argument. The idea encompasses an exchange of ideas with at least the
possibility that one side or the other might change their views. But "Europe"
– or, to be more specific, European integration – is not open to debate, not
in any ordinary sense of the word. Integration is a done deal. When in
December 2000, the Nice European Council called for a public debate across the
EU about the future of Europe, "participants" to an FCO website debate were
asked for views and opinions on four things: "a more precise delimitation of
powers between the EU and Member States to clarify who is responsible for
doing what in the EU, and whether action should be taken at European or
national level"; "whether or not to include the Charter of Fundamental Rights
in the EU Treaties"; "a simplification of the Treaties to make them more
understandable"; and "increasing the role of national MPs in the EU’s
decision–making processes". We were not invited to discuss whether the UK
should be a member of the EU nor whether the primary objective of the EU
should be political integration. In the EU lexicon, the word "debate" can only
mean discussion about how European integration is to be completed, the
ultimate objective being political union.
The secondary function of "debate" is the process of "improving the level
of public awareness of the major themes of European policy".
The final words in this section must go to Erik Erikson, contributor to the
Oslo University Advanced Research for the Europeanisation of the Nation State
(ARENA) project 29. Of the White Paper
proposals, he asked: "Will they enable citizens to participate in the
decisions that affect them at European level? Are they really contributing to
democratic governance?". His answers are a chilling indictment of the
Commission: "The citizens lack the instruments of power to force
decision–makers to look after their interests", he writes.
"The inhabitants are merely the subjects (or subordinates –
Untertanen) of power, not themselves the holders of power – they are
not empowered to authorise and instruct the rulers. The ultimate instruments
of control do not rest with the people but with the decision makers". In
other words, whatever the White Paper does propose, it is not democracy – nor
does it propose real participation. The European peoples are merely the props
to clothe the set, while our rulers play out their fantasies of a united
In its White Paper, it is patently clear that the ultimate objective of the
Commission is a charade – a form of representation which pretends to be
democracy but which is not. Democracy that is entrenched in the nation state
is incompatible with the "construction of Europe". Democracy, as we know it,
therefore, has to be dispensed with and to be reinvented on a European level,
in a carefully controlled manner, which will give the "right" answer to the
integration question. That is what the White Paper is all about – the
Commission’s master plan for forcing through the last stages of political
integration, in accordance with the Monnet method.
What it has perhaps forgotten is that the origins of the EU – the European
Coal and Steel Community – were intentionally undemocratic. The whole purpose
of that Community, and the EU that followed it, was to take power out of the
hands of democratically elected leaders and vest it in the hands of unelected
officials who could not be swayed by national interests, and thereby prevent
of repetition of the great wars which had plagued the Continent. Thus, as its
original purpose was to prevent another Continental war, this meant of
necessity that the mechanisms for disregarding the intentions of nation states
were an integral element of the original design.
But what these "New Methodists" fail to realise is that many of the nation
states which had so readily gone to war with each other had, post Second World
War, become mature democracies and, in any event, the geopolitical situation
had changed beyond recognition even before the European Communities were
created. The mantle of "superpower" had gone to the USA and the Soviet Union,
rendering the squabbles of the former great European powers irrelevant.
History has passed the Commission by and, locked into an intrinsically
anti–democratic structure, it has realised that in order to survive, it must
have something, which it can pass off as a democratic mandate. Unfortunately,
perhaps for the Commission and certainly for the rest of us, democracy cannot
be a bolted–on "extra" to something which is essentially undemocratic. Thus
Commission’s plans, for all their ingenuity, are redolent of previous failed
experiments, not least in the USSR where there was an attempt to superimpose a
Soviet identity on the constituent republics through a dictatorial system of
government. The tragedy for the UK and Europe as a whole, therefore, is that
the Commission has no alternative but to continue trying to implement a
similar strategy, which is also doomed to failure.
The other tragedy is that the true meaning of the White Paper has gone
unnoticed. Instead of informed analysis, we have seen a concerted series of
personal attacks against Prodi, on largely trivial issues 30. These attacks are misdirected. Romano Prodi
is faithfully projecting the Commission agenda and in so doing is simply the
messenger. Whether it is Prodi who delivers it, or his successor, the message
from the Commission will always be the same: integration, integration,
integration. To achieve that, real democracy is to be abolished.
The Commission is now set on the path of retraining the voters
of Europe to accept a sham democracy in which Europe will be loved, in order
that what passes for a democratic mandate can be claimed. Undeterred by the
experience of the twentieth century, another grand political experiment is
being put into place. It, too, is likely to end in a disaster.
1 Kravaritou, Yota: Affective Bonds, Labour Law
and Social Europe. In: Manifesto for a Social Europe, ed. Ulrich
M¸ckenberger. European Trade Union Institute, Brussels, 2001
2 COM(2000)154 final. Communication from the
Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social
Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Strategic Objectives
2000–2005. "Shaping the New Europe" Brussels, 9 February 2000.
4 The Chatham Lecture, Trinity College Oxford,
"Sovereignty and Democracy in the European Union". 26 October 2000.
5 The Politics of Culture and Identity in
Europe. In: Cerutti, Fulvio and Rudolph, Benno (eds.): What is Europe’s
Soul? 2 volume London: Routledge (in print)
6 European Union and the Politics of
Culture. Bruges Group Occasional Paper 43, 2001
7 European Commission Forward Studies Unit.
"Reflections on European Identity". Ed: Thomas Jansen. Working Paper, 1999.
Available on: http://europa.eu.int/comm/cdp/
8 Press Conference. European Commission. Brussels.
26 July 2001.
9 this author’s italics.
10 Notwithstanding that it is the political elites
of Europe rather than the "citizens" who seem to have given powers to the
11 Notis Lebessis taught economics at the
"Universite de Paris XIII". He joined the Commission in 1981. After eight
years in social affairs, dealing with flanking measures for industrial
restructurations and social dialogue with ECSC industries, he joined the
Forward Studies Unit in 1989, working particularly on issues related to
questions of demography, immigration and regional cooperation. Since 1996 he
led the research and actions of the Forward Studies Unit on governance.
12 Senior lecturer at the School of Law,
University of Westminster.
13 First convention of civil society organised at
European level. European Economic and Social Committee (ESC), 15–19 October
14 White Paper on European Governance
Work Area No 2 – Handling the Process of Producing and Implementing Community
Rules. Report of Working Group "Consultation and Participation of Civil
Society" (Group 2a). June 2001.
15/a> ARENA (Advanced Research on the Europeanisation
of the Nation State) Working Papers WP 99/27:
www.sv.uio.no/arena/publications/wp99_27.htm – Oslo University.
16 White Paper on Governance. Work Area
No 4. Coherence and Cooperation in a Networked Europe. This and other working
group reports can be obtained on the internet via:
17 For a more detailed explanation see: Grant,
Charles: Delors – Inside the house that Jacques built, Nicholas
Brearley Publishing, 1994, p.61 et seq.
18 FCO 30/1048. Public Records Office.
19 A point made in the White Paper (p.7): "Where
the Union does act effectively, it rarely gets proper credit for its actions.
People do not see that improvements in their rights and quality of life
actually come from European rather than national decisions".
20 White Paper, p.24
21 Jachtenfuch, M: "Democracy and Governance in
the European Union", European Integration Papers (EioP) Vol 1 (1997)
No2. The full paper can be found on the internet:
22 The other two are the European Food Authority
and a Maritime Safety Agency. For the moment, only the Aviation Safety Agency
will have clearly defined regulatory powers. A Transport Agency is also being
23 European Commission: European Governance –
A White Paper. Luxembourg Office for Official Publication of the European
24 White Paper on Governance, Working
Group No 5. "An EU Contribution to Better Governance beyond Our Borders". May
25 Moussis, Nicholas: Guide to European
Policies. (7th edition). European Study Service, Rixensart, Belgium,
26 In: Europe’s Constitutional Future,
Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 1990
27 Verbatim record: www.europarl.eu.int
28 A view from Brussels – a commentary on the
EU: 2004 and beyond. CEPS, 2001.
29 Published by European University Institute:
30 not least in a recent article in the
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 29 October 2001, the substance of which was
repeated in a number of British newspapers.