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Thursday, 24 February, 2000, 10:28 GMT
Should the national veto be scrapped in European affairs?
As the European Union sets about the marathon of another intergovernmental conference, is it crunch time? Can an EU structure be found which will enable it to work efficiently when it is much enlarged?
Could it now be time to reassess the national veto? Should it be scrapped? After all, the European Commission President Romano Prodi has described it as a ball and chain.
To discuss the veto and whether it should be abolished, Europe Today brought together two members of the European parliament, from the Netherlands Lousewijs Van Der Laan and first from Denmark, Jens Peter Bonde.
Listen to the debate hosted by Mark Reid.
What the debaters had to say:
We should not go along with the commission idea of abolishing the national veto, because this means that you abolish the last say for the electorate. The veto is to safeguard national democracy - that's what it's about.
Jens Peter Bonde
The veto is holding back integration. Decision-making now is extremely difficult - if we get more member states and if everyone can wield a veto, we're never going to go forward with a real European foreign policy or with real co-operation on fighting international crime - it's going to be impossible to answer the needs of our electorate.
Lousewijs Van Der Laan
The question isn't whether a veto is appropriate or not, since in an EU with more members and increased political integration a veto isn't practical (if 20 countries have to approve every decision unanimously then nothing will ever get decided). The question is how Europe sees it's future. A loose trading bloc? A federal state, or somewhere in between?
No, no, no to the lifting of national veto on policy issues considered truly to be vital to any Member country. Perhaps the breadth of national veto-permitting areas could be limited so that it cannot be used disproportionately and arbitrarily. If there is a situation where 14 Member countries agree to move forward and only one is holding back, then creative ways should be explored to break the impasse. One nation cannot hold the entire Union hostage to its sometimes petit obsessions.
Mehmet Ogutcu, Turkey
What the majority of those commenting seem not to have realised is that the 'veto' has already been abolished in the majority of the policy areas decided at EU level. Even that infamous euro-phile Margarat Thatcher willingly ceded a significant number of veto areas in negotiating the Single European Act in 1986. Moreover, choosing to use Qualified Majority Voting in place of the veto does not mean that some mythical Brussels Bureaucracy imposes policies upon the member states. Time to wake up UK and stop believing everything you read in the Euro-rabid Press.
Sam White, UK
My personal opinion is that a democracy that cannot exert its sovereignty is halved. Nation-states as they exist today in Western Europe are not capable to be fully sovereign as long as they stand alone. The future is to be sovereign through the Union and that means another delegation of sovereignty at a higher level. Yes it time to go to majority vote and to work on the real issues of the democracy gap, keeping in mind that a European Parliament is fully democratic as the national ones. National governments have to make a hard choice, but it is the only the way to serve effectively the interests of their own citizens and of the other Europeans.
Alessandro Politi, Italy
Supposing the national veto was to be abolished? What would replace it to prevent the many measures imposed from the EU? Some of the European countries appear to want things that this country does not. The current EU 'constitution' is not the most transparent and accountable structure ever devised. If the European Assembly was made an effective body and not an irrelevancy and unelected bureaucrats in Brussels did not devise European policy, then the Europeans might find a lot more enthusiasm for the EU in UK.
James Gunn, UK
The existence of a veto means that no E.U. laws are imposed upon a country without the consensus of that country's elected representatives. To take away that veto allows direct rule by non-domestic governments that do not reflect the ideology of the population in question. If the E.U. wishes its member states to form a single political body rather than a forum for trade 'agreement' then they should first seek consensus via referendum. Until then, any international transfer of rule is untenable, dictatorial and undemocratic. However, the reaction to Austria's recent elections shows that most E.U. members care little for democracy in pursuit of their particular ideology.
M. Moran, UK
The EU was never democratically elected. Yet, the member states are now supposed to subject themselves to decisions made by the EU. Somehow this seems like blatant anti-democratic behaviour. Of course member states should retain their right of veto. But it is another question whether the veto is any use...
Anti-EU, South Africa
The whole world is rejecting the idea of 'sameness'. And, the 'national veto' is opposed to that. I think we need to have a 'national veto' and people need to have their customs and ideas protected from being torn away from them,- which is the direction we have been moving. Having a national veto is not only essential, but characteristic with the pursuit of freedom.
Dave Adams, USA
One very seldom hears a continental European spell out what the POINT of the European Union is supposed to be. They forget that the whole thing was initiated in the late 40s by idealistic and war-bashed politicians who desperately felt that another war must be prevented by making everyone into a European "whole." If we MUST join something then let it be NAFTA and I say all power to the arms of the US Congressional committee coming over here soon to discuss the idea.
Geoffrey Charlish, England
Yes, abolish the national veto for each nation while giving a veto to an executive for Europe composed of members of the European Parliament elected upon a compulsory basis and thus far more representative and democratic than any of the other states.
Mark Taylor, UK
Democracy does not mean that everyone agrees with something, merely that most people do. The veto is holding back democracy by giving the minority a distorted amount of power.
Owen Clayton, UK
NO. The national veto should not be scrapped. The EU is a federalist project to create a single super state and divide nations like the UK, including England, into smaller regions squabbling between themselves such that we have no leverage in world affairs. We should start reversing this process which was started by corrupt politicians like Kohl and Mitterand.
M Wright, UK
Maintaining the veto in the European Council means that the EU will continue to work in the interests of the Member States, and not its citizens. Removing the veto would end the monopoly that Member States enjoy on the EU decision-making process, but in such a case, it would be prudent to strengthen the powers of the European Parliament to serve as an effective (and popularly-elected) check on the Council.
Marco Maertens, EU citizen living in USA
Heavens no, keep the veto at all costs. I wish to god every member of the UK parliament had a veto over new legislation! I know we'd "never get anything done" and that's the whole point. The less the EU can do the better
Alex Stanway, England
EU has been an inefficient body of countries, so much so that it can't even resolve problems in its own borders let alone what's going on in other places like Kosovo. Countries like Greece keep abusing EU for the sake of their own political games, not to mention UK which is a major obstacle on the road to a bigger, stronger, unified Europe.
Harold Kleppe, England
The paranoia of the British is the major stumbling block in the functioning and enlargement of EU. Either they hold on to their outdated concept of sovereignty and completely disassociate themselves from the EU project or engage wholeheartedly. This present double-standard of being inside and reaping benefits (and keeping their option open for a future sweated out by others) and at the same time blocking EU business is getting on everyone's nerves.
Absolutely not! The veto does at least provide a final, if residual, check over the unelected bureaucrats who would all have us eating straight bananas if they had their way.
Chris Klein, UK
Spain systematically uses the national veto to further her outdated claim on the territory of Gibraltar. The sole purpose of this anti-European, undemocratic action is to apply economic pressure and deter investment in Gibraltar. This action, ironically, has knock-on effects on the nearby Campo de Gibraltar area. Therefore it affects Spanish citizens as well as Gibraltarians. The sooner the veto is removed, the better.
Bill Bishop, Gibraltarian (in the UK)
The national veto for EU member states should never be scrapped. However, that does not mean the voting system cannot be reformed. There needs to be changes to make the EU function better, but not at the cost of sovereignty to anyone, whether it's small Luxembourg or giant Germany. But this is symptomatic of the direction of the EU. The enlargement of the EU's scope instead of its size has made the union unworkable. There is no workable solution without ridding more sovereignty, and that's anathema to many countries.
Mel Huang, Estonia
We Poles have learned this lesson as early as in 1791, when we finally removed the veto from the constitution. Before that, our parliament consisting of MPs of the two main parties and several minor nations and was practically unable to function. Though it was over 200 years ago, I don't believe veto could work much better now. It would be a perfect situation if all the decisions in EU were made unanimously, but I'm afraid we don't live in that perfect world, and thus should avoid wishful thinking as well.
Jarek Adam Pacek, Poland
All the European embassies around the World should be shut down, leaving only a single EU embassy in each country. By sharing the costs of diplomacy among all Europeans, income tax can be reduced dramatically and Europeans would become the wealthiest people in the World. In order to have an effective, foreign and internal policy-making process, the national veto has to be abolished.
Hubert Humbert, EU
Our veto is the last line of defence against the Franco-German alliance pushing all sorts of horrendous legislation onto Britain. The veto should be kept at all costs, and not just for some of the major points either. With the increase in the number of countries wanting to join the EU, it is clear that news of the gravy train has spread far and wide. Britain certainly needs its veto intact to stop it having to fork out extra cash for the economic wrecks that our Brussels masters have said should be allowed in.
Matthew Illsley, England
I dream of the day when on a debate about the European Union I will read some favourable comments from the English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh people. It seems like that the discussion about changing the "Members" countries Veto power means only taking that power away from your country. The proposed veto changes are necessary to allow the inclusion in our Union of the Eastern countries.
Francesco Scordato, Italy (living in the USA)
Scrap the EU and join the Commonwealth the USA, Mexico and anyone else who wishes in a free trade zone. Europe is full of corrupt Socialistic politicians who can never forgive Britain for being the saviour every time some Dictator gets too self important. You don't need them. Come back and give a lead to the body that evolved from your own empire. And for God's sake stop apologising for your past.
Peter Laverick, Australia
What I can't quite grasp about the British approach: If they recognise this lack of democracy in the institutions of the EU, why don't they actively push for changes, with concrete suggestions and plans, instead of always whining about EU domination and insisting on keeping their vetoes for ever. It's not as if everybody but the UK is totally happy with how things are run in Europe.
Thomas Jacob, Germany
Scrap the Veto but make it that all agreements have to be approved by a 2/3 majority. Any idea that isn't approved by 2/3 deserves to be shot down.
J.P Taylor, UK
We MUST keep the veto if we want to keep independence. However keeping it would be impractical in an enlarged EU. So the only solution is a the Tory one which creates a FLEXIBLE Europe, where member states can choose what to adopt, but where they can't block all the other countries from adopting it which is what happens presently.
The veto should never be scrapped, it is the only defence against the other countries abusing a single country. Imagine if the EU was able to impose upon Britain serious constitutional change which the British government itself rejects. If anything the UK should leave the EU.
Currently, Spain is abusing her veto to discriminate against Gibraltar and Gibraltarians. As a result, a lot of Directives are currently held up by the racism of one country. Removing the national veto will remove Spain's ability to discriminate against Gibraltar. The EU is going to have to get a lot better at reaching consensus decisions, which provide the greatest good for all. If that kills extremism, then so much the better.
John Borda, UK (Gibraltarian)
No way. The British veto is the only way of stopping destructive regulation on our economy. The most classic example would the veto used against the withholding tax. With the tax added on it would have caused jobs losses. Thankfully the veto was used for the job it's supposed to do.
Chrysler Anderson, England
I do not think that the countries composing the modern EU are politically or economically mature enough to yet become a United States of Europe. The fact that the UK is seemingly always at odds with France over foreign policy (for instance) makes me suspect that any call to have the veto removed is merely a continental ploy to have French and German policies enacted whether or not the UK government agrees; their joint economic clout in Europe would be suffice to crush any UK opposition.
And as the French, particularly, have a most selfish record within the EU (just look at the farm policy!), it is absolutely not in the UK's interest to give up its veto. Personally, I think the UK should join NAFTA ... let the Europeans wallow in their own mess.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
No, we should not scrap the right of veto! If the other EU member states want to do so then that's their business. Britain should keep its veto right, especially in areas such as defence, foreign affairs, border controls etc.
The fact is that every month more and more of Britain's sovereignty is moved from Westminster to Brussels and Strasbourg. We definitely need to keep a degree of self-government (more so than Scotland & Wales now have within Britain itself) IF we are to remain within the European Union. Personally I believe that we should leave the European Union altogether.
Trade relations with the Europe wouldn't necessarily suffer. Take Norway and Switzerland for example they have excellent trade agreements with the EU yet remain outside and are rich. In addition to that we have our links with the United States, but most importantly with the nations of the Commonwealth.
Bart David van Mourik (British), Great Britain
The question should also involve for which issues the national veto is retained and for which it should be removed. There are issues which no longer truly require a veto that could stand to have it removed as, while it would naturally lead to a reduction in the power of Member States, it would bring a net gain through simplification.
Similarly, there should be no rush to do away with it entirely - the number of issues to which it pertains could be reduced in number without it being necessary to act to remove it entirely. It would be difficult to sell a wholesale removal of the national veto to the cautious (and often sceptical) people and a backlash is to be avoided at all costs. The Union should be supported by the public and not merely defending itself against its accusations.
Damon Tringham, England, resident in Finland
The Common Market seemed and was a good idea, but the EU does not seem a workable idea to me. Eliminating the veto would probably kill the EU and so may be a good idea.
MS, USA, but from Italy
Europe is a hodge podge of cultural groups and languages and different ways of doing things. A nation needs to be able to say no we do not agree with that because it will destroy our industry and farming and our culture.
Mr German and Mr Frenchman is not interested in Mr Brit so they will just plough ahead with their nations interests. Mr Brit has to say No we all move together in this or what point is there of a union. We need to stop being bullied so we need the veto.
Mark Lisle, Germany (UK citizen)
One small step for unelected bureaucracy! One Giant leap for a Socialist Superstate!
How can people admire the system of checks and balances in the US, and yet want to jettison the sole check and balance system the EU has ever had?
Jon Livesey, USA
Do you want to remain a free country? Or do you want unelected bureaucrats to control your lives?
Richard T. Ketchum, USA
While policy is set by a group of civil servants we only have the IGC to represent our interests. Personally, if we lost the veto, I would (given the choice) vote to leave the EU
Bill Emmott, England
This is a wider issue than the veto alone. Personally, I would pull down the whole lot and start again from scratch. I am not opposed to the concept of a European economic union or even a federal Europe, but I am very much opposed to the way it is run at the moment. Unelected officials dictating legislation and a toothless parliament do not a good European democracy make. Until such a time as the EU's institutions can be given a good overhaul, the national veto must remain.
Ed Bayley, USA (English)
The national veto should not be scrapped because it gives member states some say in EU decisions and safeguards what little accountability the EU has to its members. The EU has already usurped the sovereignty of its member states. It is impractical to try to create a "United States of Europe" out of so many different countries with different languages, customs, cultures and histories. Abolishing the veto will mean that countries will be subservient to a supra-state and this could mean the extinction of individual countries in Europe.
I can't see what the problem is - our government appears incapable of actually using the veto to protect our interests, so we won't miss it when it is gone. Loss of the veto, together with the establishment of a constitution later this year, is simply the final stage in establishing a United States of Europe run from Brussels. It is a pity our politicians are too dishonest to actually ask us if this is what we want. I suspect they know the answer would be "no", so they prefer to proceed by stealth.
Steve Dowds, UK
Keep the Veto. Restrain the apparently unlimited power of politicians and unelected civil servants. Widen Europe. Welcome Eastern Europe. But stop and reverse the "deepening process" which is quite unnecessary until there is an unsolicited demand from those condescendingly referred to as "the people of Europe". That is taxpayers who keep the whole thing in the air.
Hugh Sharman, Denmark
No way! The EU should NOT scrap the veto. The veto is a country's last chance of protection from mob-rule. The veto is NOT a ball and chain as Prodi claims. If one country is consistently using the veto, the others will overwhelmingly pressure and isolate that country until it lifts its veto. So, in reality, the veto is not very powerful. Besides, there are many ways to get around a veto, such as bilateral relations outside of the EU between the interested countries.
If you believe in creating a completely artificial country called "Europe" then logically the national veto should be abolished. If you believe, as I do, that Britain should remain a free and independent country, with a government accountable to its people, then of course not.
Sean Fear, UK
The veto has always unofficially been restricted by European politics, as countries are afraid of using the veto to often and destroying all their relationships in Europe. Perhaps this could be expanded on, and using the veto made either more difficult or restricted to limited subjects or a limited number of times
Steve Sparrow, UK
Much as I like the idea of removing the National veto, it just is not really practical. I really think it would cause the slow disintegration of Europe, as first the UK pulls out and then the next country a major decision goes against and so on. Either that or we will have a rash of cases hitting the European courts as countries just ignore the rulings they don't like.
If you want Europe to become an untied federal country then - YES - you have to remove the veto. However, if you want to live in a free democracy and not an autocratic socialist state, that is run by failed politicians like Kinnock and Prodi, then NO the veto should not be removed.
Personally I think removing the veto would be a disaster, not just for the UK but for the whole of Europe. WHEN and IF are the citizens of the EU going to asked the specific question - "Do you wish to be a member of the United states of Europe??" Or are the bureaucrats in Brussels going to decide this for us??
Tim, USA but from UK
I cannot see how the EU could function when it has 30 members and each of them has the right to veto major directives. There is always going to be one that disagrees. That isn't democracy!
Rob Salih, UK
I have always thought that a majority should suffice in any electoral or democratic process from Parish Council up to the EU. One dog in the manger being able to block the decision of the majority or maybe even the rest is not democracy to me, scrap the Veto!
Steve Foley, England
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