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Last Updated: Friday, 20 June, 2003, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
Head-to-head: Is EU blueprint democratic?
The new draft constitution was meant to make the European Union more democratic and bring it closer to the people. But has it succeeded?

Two leading thinkers on Europe give their opposing views:

YES

Giles Merritt, director of Friends of Europe and head of Forum Europe:

The decision-making machinery being proposed in the Convention's reform package obviously offers more democratic accountability:

  • increased powers for the European Parliament
  • more involvement of national parliaments
  • greater clarity and transparency of legislative and regulatory procedures.

It represents a pronounced shift in the EU's political culture away from the past 45 years when the Council of Ministers could justly be described as "the only secret legislature" outside North Korea.

Debate 'here to stay'

These are just some of the highlights of the Convention's blueprint for long-overdue structural reform. Just as important, though, is the process that the Convention initiated when it began its deliberations 15 months ago.

The idea of a European Congress - a regular, institutionalised EU meeting place on on-going reform - has for the time being been dropped.

But the political debate sparked by the Convention is here to stay.

'New era of openness'

Democracy in Europe is not just about votes and elections, but consists of encouraging more widespread interests and involvement of Europe's citizens in EU affairs. In this sense, the Convention has, in most of the 15 member states and in all of the 10 newcomers, strengthened the whole fabric of European democracy.

There is a third sense in which the Convention's reform package seems absolutely certain to make the European Union more democratic and less able to make decisions behind closed doors.

The introduction of a European Council President, EU head's of governments' own "Mr Europe", to counterbalance the Commission's President, will usher in a new era of openness.

Tensions

Far from boosting the "intergovernmentalism" of EU decision-making, the tensions that will be a political fact of life between the two presidents and their institutions will shine a much brighter light on the doings of the EU.

Instead of being the "parallel bureaucracies" that Commission President Romano Prodi warned of, they will be political competitors. The winners from this will surely be Europe's taxpayers and voters.

NO

Kirsty Hughes of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels:

The draft constitution represents both a step forward and a step backward.

There will for the first time be a single constitutional text where individual citizens can go to look at how the EU is run and who does what.

But this looks likely to make life simpler for existing EU experts, officials and lobbyists, not for the typical European citizen.

Did anyone test-drive the turgid, legalistic text with a sample of citizens from different backgrounds and different countries?

This would soon have shown that this text is heavy and rather impenetrable.

Confusion

Try some simple questions. First, who drives and decides the EU's strategic agenda? Well, the heads of state decide at their summit meetings on overall strategic direction.

But confusion starts after that.

The President of the European Commission drafts the strategy but another President - a new post called President of the European Council - is responsible for presenting it to Europe's leaders and ensuring its implementation, though in fact most implementation will be done by the President of the Commission.

Confused? Indeed.

'Baghdad process'

Second, does the public have a say in who either of these Presidents are? Well not yet!

European leaders will put one name forward - yes just one - for the European Parliament to vote on for President of the Commission. Some members of the Convention which drafted the text described this as a "'Baghdad process' where you can vote for any candidate as long as it's this one".

What about the other President? Well he or she will be appointed behind closed doors by European Prime Ministers.

Jumble

And third, who will represent the EU internationally? Yes, both Presidents... together with another new person, the EU's foreign minister (also appointed behind closed doors).

Executive power is jumbled up and shared out in an entirely confused manner in this new constitution, with little heed to legitimacy, accountability or simplicity.

Democracy surely demands better.

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