2. The women who shape Brussel
BSSB.BE globalpolicyjournal.com 28/12/2018
* No way, it is not dear Frau Merkel but who then? Who is taking back control and EU are slowly gaining power…
In a remarkable inaugural lecture at the University of Amsterdam in early November, European law professor Christina Eckes challenged that assumption. Eckes pointed out that “while transferring powers to the EU limits the unilateral autonomy of national governments, it increases control for EU citizens over central aspects of international relations, such as the conclusion of international agreements.”
In other words: the transfer of power to Brussels may weaken member states, but it empowers citizens. Why? Because the European Parliament now has a key role in negotiating and finalising international treaties. As a result, it can exercise more control over institutions that implement these treaties – since they are European – than national parliaments can. In this way, Eckes argues, “European integration allows European citizens to retain control over international policies in a globalised world.”
The EU is not a perfect democracy – far from it. But the notion that the democratic deficit in Europe is enormous and static is misleading. In her lecture, Eckes referred to the German thinker Jürgen Habermas, who made a distinction between individuals as EU citizens and as national citizens. He developed the concept of “divided sovereignty” in which Europeans can act in two capacities –as citizens of nation states and as a citizens of the EU.
Some groups are eagerly picking up on this notion of divided sovereignty. One of them is the pan-European movement Volt, which aims to encourage citizens in every member state to vote in the European Parliament elections next year. Volt clearly sees the increased potential in parliament and wants to “change the way politics is done and shape the future of Europe”.
But many citizens do not seem ready for this. Many perceive their loss of influence through national parliaments, but far fewer recognise the extent to which the influence they gain through the European Parliament has compensated for this. It is in Brussels where, in their name, MEPs fight international political battles that their governments can no longer fight alone.
Citizens have gained more power in Brussels in recent years than they have lost nationally
It is in the European Parliament, not national parliaments, that EU officials report on all stages of the negotiation and conclusion of international treaties. Even on Common Foreign and Security Policy agreements, in which its powers are still quite limited, parliament has the right to be informed. It can also veto controversial international agreements or challenge them in the European Court of Justice.
It was the European Parliament that, against the will of the European Council and the European Commission, threw out a Swift agreement on the transfer of financial data to US intelligence services. It was parliament that stopped the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, the megadeal on internet freedom with the US. Likewise, MEPs received sensitive information about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations with the US from co-legislators in the European Council and the European Commission – information that national parliaments did not have. MEPs can also steer the Brexit negotiations to a certain extent because they have the ear of the main negotiators in Brussels.
National representatives do not have such access. MEPs, not national parliaments in EU countries, will vote on the final deal.
Eckes even suggests that citizens have gained more power in Brussels in recent years than they have lost nationally. In national parliaments, she argues, members of governing parties are under intense pressure to protect the interests of the government rather than those of voters.
In the European Parliament, this pressure is much less pronounced. As a result, MEPs are relatively free to focus on content. And on the essence of the job: democratic control. Against all the odds, then, the European Parliament can, as Eckes puts it, “credibly claim to give EU citizens a voice in international relations that, with all its flaws, draws on a source of democratic legitimation that is independent and separate from the EU member states.” What a pity that citizens don’t realise their political potential as Europeans, and stubbornly continue to see themselves as national citizens only.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: globalpolicyjournal.com