20 März 2014

Political union – the butterfly effect of a single word

The idea of a new treaty reform is out there – and it is time to talk about our priorities. In this loose series of guest articles, eurobloggers answer to the question: “If you could change one thing in the EU Treaties, which would it be?” Today: Horațiu Ferchiu. (Back to the start of the series.)

Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in the TEU set off a tornado in the European Union?
Changing one article in any of the EU treaties is most likely going to have the same effect as a butterfly fluttering his wings in chaos theory. The evolution of the European project, its many twists and turns, has been a very improbable outcome for most people. There are of course those who have always believed in the dream. And it is their efforts that have brought us here today.

I gave this idea, of changing one provision of the treaties, a lot of thought. It is a very difficult thing to stop at just one because there are many things I would like changed. However, after going through the treaties once more, it suddenly doomed on me that I should use the butterfly effect – that one small alteration that would incite enough change to actually lead us to a very different outcome, let’s say in 10-15 years.

What I would like to change

So I stopped at Article 3, paragraph 4 of the Consolidated version of the Treaty on European UnionThe Union shall establish an economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro. This is the article I consider most worthy of changing, as changes to it would incite little revolutions in all other articles of the Treaty, and in turn change our lives.

The change I have in mind is to see this article transformed into – The Union shall establish a political, economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro. I have considered adding social union, but in more ways than one the concept is included within the specter of political union.

Now, why does adding ‘political union’ change things?

First off it would require us to make a choice regarding the future of the Union, more overly so since political union implies the end of the national state. It also implies the recognition and upholding of a distinct ‘EU’ nationality, as a more complex construct on which the European Citizenship builds upon. The national state, as we know it today, would need to suffer a process of surrendering authority both upwards and downwards – some of the powers invested in national administrations today should move upwards to the new construct and some of those powers should move downwards, most reasonably to regions (NUTS levels 1 or 2 depending on member state particularities).

The powers of the member state should dissipate in both directions maintaining a clear division of executive, legislative and judicial powers, divided on levels of competence in both directions. One could draw parallels here with the federal system in the US, although significant variations are in order if it were to comply with EU reality.

Regional assemblies and the European Parliament

Secondly, a “political union” would forever mark a clear distinction in politics at upper levels and regional levels all across the continent. It would mean the end of European parties consisting of a variety of national parties, and open the door to truly pan-European parties with their own membership base and local representatives. Local parties in existence would also have to comply with this new reality, and a change of scope and means would be necessary.

A system of regions with their own legislative assembly would allow for a closer representation in this first level of legislative power, with politicians closer to the “action” and the people. Moreover, a second chamber to the European Parliament, elected in regional constituencies, could also benefit the democratic exercise, by allowing people to vote for a regional representative on the European level. Elections for the European Parliament could then take place in even smaller constituencies than the region and be focused on truly European issues and themes. In effect this will lead to a three-tier elected leadership: the local regional assembly, the European Parliament, and the secondary European chamber elected at regional level.

Improving the debate and establishing elected leadership

A political union would inherently change many of the debates currently on the EU agenda. Social protections issues, the environment, internal migration – these could all be handled at the larger level, creating a base level for all to respect. Local assemblies could then supplement those regulations, block some of them by referendum or even join hands in vetoing them. Because if for example a piece of legislation is approved at pan EU level, and 2/3 of all regions reject it in local referendums then the respective law or regulation could and should fail.

But most importantly it would create a sense of union far above what we see today within the union. Access to a designated top tier legislative election that happens at a pan EU level will allow citizens to get in touch, appropriate and support EU themes and issues. If parties that wish to send representatives to the European Parliament would be required to have presence, members and candidates in at least 2/3 of all regions, that would insure that a particular theme is very well debated and presented to the largest group of population possible. That in turn would also mean that elected members of the European Parliament would have to keep a closer contact with their constituents and in turn communicate better. Everybody wins.

Implementation – the executive

Moving along from the legislative, we have the executive branch. As Brussels is more and more contested over issues of representation it is clear that moving towards a political union would insure that the citizens would feel better represented. In a similar manner it would allow for people to feel involved in top tier politics. Whether we are discussing a president for the union, or a board of directly elected representatives that share “presidency” on a rotational basis is less important. What we need is not a struggle about technical features of different political integration models (federation, confederation), but to allow for a more democratically elected leadership.

I’ve always considered that the current system, the European Council and the Commission itself is quite remarkably undemocratic. If you look at the European Council for example, its members are democratically elected heads of state and government (prime ministers or presidents); but that becomes less obvious if you look at how they got elected – in theory by the will of the majority of the population, but more often than not, it is actually the person or representative of the party that got most votes from those that showed up to vote. So if let’s say 40% of those that can vote show up, and 60% of them vote for a certain individual, then that person is actually elected by 24% of the voting population. And then you have them all together, behind closed doors, deciding on a future for all of us.

If people got a chance to express their vote in a more direct manner, and if they where able to think that their vote actually makes a difference, then most likely than not, they will show up. It’s also a theme-related objective – important themes can play a more important role within the electoral process.

The executive branch would then be again differentiated on a two-tier basis – regional and EU-wide. Which means that people got to vote once for their immediate needs – local taxes, education, regional issues in general that they can relate to by experience – and once for the upper level – where they would actually feel as part of a greater debate concerning their and their children’s future. There is yet again a lot of choice available for the type of executive both at a regional and pan-EU level, but the important thing here is allowing people to actually choose and decide through their vote.

Laws, leaders and justice

In matters of the judicial things are even simpler – there is already a European Court in existence, it works and would just need some minor changes. A basic judicial code should be the basis with the regional legislative allowed to add specific pieces of legislation to that for their territory, as long as that legislation does not come in conflict with pan-EU legislation. This would also imply a common penal and civic code, so as to allow for citizens to have the same rights and access to the same type of judicial proceedings all across the union.

Establishing a common judicial code is in principle agreeing on some principles and then coming up with the adequate way to implement those principles. It will prove to be a more complicated matter in member states like the UK that has a different judicial system. But since crime is crime, no matter where it happens, justice should also reach the point of uniformity across the union.

The flutter of wings

All things are possible once a decision is made to put into existence a political union. Most importantly because it would increase the level of democratic representation across the continent and create a “union of minds” of sorts if EU-wide parties with EU-wide themes and projects would enter into existence. Until now, the differences between parties from different countries – even if they belong to the same European family – make it impossible for a voter in Spain to express the same opinion as someone in Romania, or for a German to express the same opinion as a Greek and so on.

An EU-wide party will have to have the same agenda in Spain, in Poland, in Greece and implicitly national populism, as we know it today, would pretty much disappear from EU-wide politics. It’s going to exist probably at regional level, but there it has to face a closer and smaller electoral base and an upper level that will exert some measure of control. This implies and leads to a new type of reality, where local politics can no longer affect major EU themes and empower people to look at matters directly.

A political union would lead to a different type of Union. It will bring about a lot of changes and the treaties will inherently change, by force of nature, as reality will require. So in the end, if I were to change one article it would be this one, because changing this means pushing the whole EU construct further, with the flutter of wings from a single butterfly, or in this case, a one word addition.

Horațiu Ferchiu is an urban and regional planner based in Bucharest, Vice President of the Romanian Association of European Federalists AFER. He presents his views on the development of the European Project towards a Federal EU on fedeu.blogactiv.eu, mostly on issues of identity, people, federation and a more democratic and innovative EU.
If you could change one thing in the EU Treaties, which would it be?

1: Wenn du eines an den EU-Verträgen ändern könntest, was wäre es?
2: Making the Commission truly Democratic ● Eurocentric
3: Against the creeping transfer of powers: a subsidiarity test by the European Court of Justice ● Martin Holterman
4: Political union – the butterfly effect of a single word ● Horațiu Ferchiu
5: People, not member states: A treaty change for a new era of political organisation ● Protesilaos Stavrou
6: Eine Klausel für sozialen Fortschritt ● Eric Bonse 

Pictures: By Werner Seiler (User:Centine) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; private photograph [all rights reserved].

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