Not more or less EU, but more openness

More than ever before, the recent European elections campaigns seemed to revolve around one single question: are you for or against the EU? That is a pity, since the big political challenge that the EU will have to face during the coming years is not about more or less EU, but about making its decision making function in a democratic manner. To reach that goal, the EU will above all have to start working in a more transparent manner.

By Maarten Hillebrandt


The Big European Debate

“This time it’s different”, large letters on the Berlaymont told passers-by over the past weeks. The Brussels headquarters had placed these banners in an attempt to turn the tumultuous atmosphere among the European electorate into votes. Europhile or Europhobe, it does not matter, the European Parliament told us in Facebook advertisements – as long as you will go and vote. And from the Spitzenkandidaten to the political bloc Le Pen – Wilders, politicians were stumbling over each other to coax voters with their stories of all that is marvellous or despicable about the European government.

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The European Elections: Time for Another ‘Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate’?

Posted by ACELG on 29/05/14
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The recent elections for the European Parliament, despite ensuing some ‘earthquake’ changes to national political scenes, have been business-as-usual to a large extent: yet again no genuine public debate over the ‘European project’ and its ownership. Is a new ‘Plan-D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate’ necessary?

By Vigjilenca Abazi

After the failure of the European Constitution in 2005, the European Commission issued the so-called Plan-D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate with the aim to ‘reinvigorate European democracy and help the emergence of a European public sphere, where citizens are given the information and the tools to actively participate … and gain ownership of the European project’. The results of the recent European Parliament elections, albeit not representing a peak of crisis as may have been the referendum for the Constitution, show that this aim is yet to be achieved and new clear steps towards a democratic practice in Europe are still needed.

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Austerity EU-style: not very social, not very democratic

Posted by ACELG on 14/05/14
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Turnout at the European elections has been steadily on the decline since the European Parliament was first elected directly by European citizens in 1979. At the last elections, five years ago, only 43% of voters bothered to make their way to the polls. The low turnout appears at odds with the evolution of the European Parliament’s powers. Especially after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty (2009), its powers have increased significantly. Still, areas remain where there is much to gain for the Parliament. In this blog post I will consider one such area where effective democratic control is currently lacking, namely the operations of the so-called ‘Troika’. Voters could have much more influence on the operations of the Troika through the European Parliament than through their national parliaments, if the Parliament puts its recent Troika report to good use.

 

By Chris Koedooder

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Bitter-sweet birthday parties – The 10th anniversary of enlargement

Posted by ACELG on 08/05/14
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On 1 May 2014 it was exactly ten years ago that  ten new countries joined the European Union: Cyprus, Malta, Hungary, Slovenia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The enlargement process has significantly shaped and transformed not only acceding countries’ legal, economic and political system, but also that of the EU.

By Kati Cseres

In what has been widely regarded as a historical moment, on 1 May 2004 the East and West of Europe were united after decades of separation, marking the beginning of an economic and political challenge for both the EU and its Member States. At the same time, with the accession ended an exceptionally large-scale legal  exercise: the alignment of ten countries’ legal systems and specific legal rules to that of EU law. The largest enlargement of the EU so far increased the number of EU Member States from 15 to 25 (and later, with two subsequent enlargements, to 28) and added  70 million new citizens  and nine more official  languages to the EU.

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Why you should never answer the question ‘do you trust the EU’, and what you should know if you hear others answering it

Posted by ACELG on 24/04/14
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In the run up to the European Elections there has been some media attention to the public’s trust in the EU – which is reportedly falling. Polls show that apparently people do not trust the EU. While there are many legitimate concerns about the relation of the EU and its citizens, there are likewise many legitimate concerns over such polls. To sum them up:  the polls ask that indeterminate and thus meaningless question trust as such. They do not specify what it is that I am supposed to trust the EU with (or not), and thus inquire after an attitude without an object.

by Eljalill Tauschinsky

 

The EU Barometer polls levels of trust in the EU routinely by asking: ‘For each of the following institutions, please tell me if you trust or tend not to trust it.’ Apparently this is a rather standard way of asking the question, although there could be some variation in terms or translations, such as replacing ‘trust’ by ‘confidence’- but let’s stay with trust for the moment.

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Sceptic UK can bring new ideas on bottom up democracy in Europe

Posted by ACELG on 09/04/14

The prospect of an in-out referendum in the UK in 2017 (if the Conservatives are back in power) is a fantastic incentive for politicians (and academics) to come up with new ideas on ways of governing Europe. The Brits are showing the way on how national parliaments can become more involved in holding the EU executive to account.

By Deirdre Curtin

The British input into this wider debate on the future of Europe is often ‘negative’ and defensive.  An example is the proposal by a group of UK parliamentarians to get a new power to  ‘veto’ planned EU legislation. Yet not all is negative or destructive in the UK thinking on Europe. The House of Commons is engaged in forward-looking reflection and recommendations, in particular on its own scrutiny role. In a recent report looks to consolidate a wider role for national parliaments in democratic self-government in Europe. National parliaments are after all the key actors to hold their governments (ministers and civil servants) to account for what they agree in European Council and Council meetings. This is a task that cannot be taken over by the European Parliament, but that needs to be exercised pro-actively on the ground by the parliaments in the various national capitals.

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Germany’s (Hurdle) Race to the bottom: The abolition of the 3%-hurdle for the European elections in Germany

Posted by ACELG on 26/03/14

by Mark Dawson and Pierre Thielboerger

What kind of European Parliament (EP) will emerge from the coming European elections? The hopes of many European leaders rest on their ability to produce a stronger and more politicized EP. This task has been made more difficult by the recent ruling of the German Constitutional Court squashing the 3%-threshold for German parties seeking election to the EP.  In striking down a legislative compromise between supporters and opponents of a more proportional European electoral system, and by dismissing the evolving role of the EP as a link between EU citizens and EU policy, the Court may have risked overstepping its institutional mandate.

In truth, the Court’s ruling was not wholly unexpected. In an earlier judgment – from November 2011 – the Constitutional Court struck down a 5% threshold on the grounds that this violated provisions in the German Constitution protecting the equality of voters. Recognizing the increasing preference of German voters for new political parties, the Court argued that their entry into the European Parliament would not damage the ability of that institution to function. Arousing suggestions of double-standards, the Court did not extend this line of reasoning to German regional or federal elections.

The most recent judgment follows the approach of its predecessor, arguing that ‘no significant change in the factual and legal circumstances’ has occurred since 2011. In general terms, the judgment re-enforces the low regard in which the German Court holds the EP: it is viewed largely as an institution designed to ‘re-enforce’ the legitimacy of the other EU institutions (the Commission and Council) and to hold them accountable. As such, an increasing fragmentation of the Parliament would not do similar damage in Europe as it would nationally.

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Who should be ‘plugging the gaps’ in EU law?

Posted by ACELG on 20/03/14

by Elaine Fahey and Maria Weimer

The European Court of Justice does not make law per se, but it has to make many choices, and it has to make them fast and within page limits. Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston’s visit to the Architecture of Postnational Rule-Making Project at the University of Amsterdam clarified her perspective.

In her talk in the Architecture Dialogue Series at the University of Amsterdam AG Sharpston engaged with an intense debate in recent academic publications on the legitimacy of the European Court of Justice, and its alleged judicial activism. She made a plea to judge the Court in its complex, imperfect legal and practical context. Reform of the procedures and functioning of the Court is urgent, as it has a direct impact on both the quality and legitimacy of the EU’s highest Court.

The AG’s response to the question raised in the title of her talk ‘Does the EU Court of Justice make law?’ can be summarized as follows. It usually does not. Instead, the Court often has to choose a legal meaning from a range of possible meanings, beginning with its teleological approach to interpretation. In doing so, it is confined to the ‘parameters’ of EU legislation and legal adjudication, namely the circumstances of the particular case, the parties’ submissions, and the text of the law, which is often the result of a compromise carrying with it either an accidental or deliberate ambiguity, something wholly unforeseen. Under these circumstances, ‘it is almost inevitable for the Court to go beyond the bare text.’ ‘No court works in a vacuum,’ emphasized Sharpston. And, yet, according to her, interpretative choices whilst sticking to the limits of the law’s text is not law making, but merely ‘law exposition.’ While this is arguably walking a tightrope, the AG defined what in her view are acceptable criteria for making judicial interpretative choices. On the basis of the preamble, the legislative history and the text, the Court can acceptably make a teleological interpretation to overcome legislative ambiguity. However, what is not acceptable in Sharpston’s view is to write a completely different notion from what the text says or to second-guess the legislature. By contrast, the Treaty text was often not ambiguous but rather simply ‘bare’. She thus sought to contrast law-making, law-exposition and ‘plugging the gaps’.

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Le Pen: a European representative for a nationalist Europe

Posted by ACELG on 26/02/14

Le Pen and Wilders are leading by example. They aspire to form a European political group in the European Parliament, and are openly campaigning for that goal. Many other parties are more silent on their brothers-in-arms. But voters should realise: a vote on a national candidate will strengthen the European alliance to which he or she belongs.

By Kathalijne Buitenweg

With just four months to the next European elections, Austrian, Belgian, Dutch, French, Swedish and Italian anti-immigrant and anti-European parties seem ready to join hands and organize the most European of all European campaigns ever. The nationalists are pioneering to address an electorate that stretches beyond their nation’s borders. Ms Le Pen, leader of the French Front National and candidate for the European Parliament, has announced that she wants to reach a European electorate. She hopes to profit from the fact that the far-Right alliance has united itself on a common anti-Brussels manifesto. European alliances of other political families, already existing for a longer period of time, have drafted common manifestos as well. Just as they did for previous elections. These manifestos are generally very patient and vaguely formulated pieces of paper. In all previous elections, and despite formal pretenses, the European parties have not succeeded in getting substantial European campaigns off the ground. Ironically, if Le Pen succeeds to convince voters across borders to vote for national parties that belong to her alliance, she can be regarded as the avant-garde of European campaigning. A remarkable achievement given the fact that she is ready to “to do all in her power to facilitate the collapse of the EU” (The Telegraph, 9/1/2014).

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The German Federal Constitutional Court As Part of a New European Judicial Network?

Posted by ACELG on 14/02/14

After 57 years of shouting from the sidelines, last week the Bundesverfassungsgericht (German Federal Constitutional Court; GFCC) has for the first time chosen to take part in the game.

By Christina Eckes

For the first time ever, the GFCC referred a preliminary question to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The occasion was the ECB case, in which the GFCC was asked to decide on the constitutionality of the European Central Bank´s much debated bond buying scheme. By referring the case, the GFCC may have chosen an easy way out; yet, it has also chosen the most legitimate way of dealing with the ECB case. The CJEU is better placed to defend a judicial ruling on whether or not an EU institution has overstepped its mandate than any national court could be.

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