Monday, 24 June 2013

MAKING THE EUROPEAN UNION MORE DEMOCRATIC...............................................


Why is there criticism of lack of democracy in the EU at this  time?
One of the criticisms of the policy guidelines, laid down by the European Commission and Council of Ministers for economic policy in the European Countries, is that the European Union lacks sufficient democratic legitimacy to be making recommendations on things like this. I believe this criticism is exaggerated, but has some underlying validity. 

The guidelines , of course, really do have to be followed, not primarily because they have been recommended by the EU, but simply because lenders in the commercial markets will not lend money otherwise.

Without an EU endorsement, markets nowadays will hesitate to lend to governments, who are consistently  spending more than they are raising in taxes, or who are maintaining economic structures that inhibit the economic growth. 
Economic growth is needed to raise tax revenues, and thereby to sustain better public services. But economic growth requires the removal of rigidities in the market for jobs and services that may prevent change.

Constant change is actually essential to economic growth. Change is often painful, and evokes anger. Because its advice often advocates painful change, the EU is being criticised...and also accused of being undemocratic. 
But the truth is that, even if the EU, and the euro, had never existed, European governments with budget deficits, ageing populations, and rigid economic structures, would be facing painful change at this time, anyway. Neither the EU, nor membership of the euro, obliged the governments in difficulty to adopt the policies that have led to their present difficulties.
That said, there is a need for more democracy in the EU, so that the public will be willing to assess the legitimacy its guidelines on their merits.

Democratic legitimacy exists when the voters feel that, if they are not satisfied with what their government is doing, they can peacefully remove it from office.

Europeans feel they can do that with their national government, and  with their city or local government. But they do not feel they can vote any part of the EU government out of office
That should change.

What should be done to make the European Union more democratic?

There should, in future, be three, rather than the present  two, sources of democratic legitimacy in the EU.

  1. The existing democratic mandate that member state governments,  who make EU policy in the Council of Ministers of the EU,  already enjoy from their parliaments and people
  2. The  existing democratic mandate  that the European Parliament  has from  the  national constituencies, in which it members are  elected.  I believe this could be improved if some MEPS were also elected from an EU wide constituency
  3. A new EU wide democratic mandate, that a directly elected President of the Commission would have to win from the entire unified electorate of the EU. The President should be elected using the alternative vote system of Proportional Representation, whereby  voters would indicate an order of preference among candidates, and the votes of candidates, with lower numbers of first preferences, would be redistributed  according to the second preferences, until one  remaining candidate had achieved 50%. In this electoral system the President of the Commission would have to be acceptable, on a preference basis, to a majority of the EU electorate .In contrast, if a “first past the post” electoral system was used, the EU could find itself with a President, who might come from the  biggest party, but who still  had the support of a minority of the electorate. That would be unstable.

This new third element would create a vehicle whereby Europeans, voting all over Europe on the same day, could vote into or out of office, an office holder who could attempt to change the trajectory of EU policy. That would greatly enhance the democratic legitimacy of the EU. It would bring the EU closer to the people. It would bring the same degree of democracy to the EU, that Europeans expect at national and local level.

We must first create a truly European electorate, if we are to have the level of common identification with one another across national boundaries, which would be essential if there is to be public support for more federal integration. 

Elites in Brussels need to understand that electorates must first “think European” before they will happily pool more powers, especially on budgetary matters, They must trust one another, regardless of nationality.

For this reason I believe election of the President of the Commission, directly by the people of Europe themselves, is infinitely  preferable to an election of the President of the Commission by the European Parliament.

A President of the Commission, who had been elected by the European Parliament, and who could be removed by the Parliament (as happened in the Santer case), and  who has no power to  dissolve Parliament in the event of a policy clash(as most national Prime Ministers can), would be too weak, and would lack the necessary independence. He or she would be subject to too much short term parliamentary pressure. We would be introducing, at European level, the sort of weak governance that caused such difficulty for the Third and Fourth French Republics.

I believe that a  separation of powers is an important safeguard in a Union as complex, and large, as the EU. 

The direct election of the President of the Commission by the people, rather than by the European Parliament, would preserve the separation of powers, on the basis of which the EU has operated successfully since its foundation. 
Some suggest that the EU could gain greater democratic legitimacy, if the 27 national parliaments became more involved in EU policy making. One suggestion is to set up a joint committee of MEPs and national parliamentarians, who could question EU Commissioners and the European Central Bank.

This might do some good, but  it would not close the gap between national electorates and the EU decision makers. National parliaments are national entities with national concerns. That is their . It is not a European role. In any event, national parliaments are themselves facing criticism for the performance of their national roles, and giving them a new set of European responsibilities will not necessarily reassure national electorates about Europe.

Furthermore, national parliaments, subject to party discipline,  will tend to follow the policy line of the national governments , and  thus are unlikely to add many new, or different, inputs from those put forward in the Council by national Ministers. 
election of the President of the Commission does raise a The direct question about the quasi judicial functions that the Commission performs, like Competition policy, enforcement of EU laws, and the   guardianship of the Treaties, which many believe should not be subject to electoral pressures .  A solution would be to hive off these quasi judicial responsibilities of the Commission to an independent body, with a level of independence similar to that now enjoyed by the ECB, which would not be subject to direct electoral pressures.

I  do not  favour merging the roles of the President of the Council, and that of President of the Commission, but only one of them(The President of the Commission) should be directly elected. This would establish a natural hierarchy between them, and avoid the embarrassment of sending two Presidents to the G8.

Ideally, I would favour a smaller Commission, but I do not see how it will come about in practical politics, because smaller countries will not agree to amend the EU Treaties to give up ”their” Commissioner. A solution may be to enhance substantially the role of the vice Presidents, and attribute some of the “surplus” Commissioners to the External Action service, to handle EU relations with particular parts or regions of the world. 

In addition to the EU electorate, acting as a single body, electing the President of the Commission,10% of MEPs should be elected from in a single constituency of all of the EU. 
The question of a single EU wide constituency for a proportion of the European Parliament was an issue that the Convention on the Future of Europe was asked to consider, but it did not do so.
I believe the EU will evolve a true common foreign policy only after it has evolved a common defence policy, and I believe that will happen, very gradually, and only because of financial necessity, not  because of political idealism.

But it will never be sustainable to have a common foreign and defence policy until we, as Europeans, feel we have common interests, and common understandings, among ourselves. 
That has not come about yet. I believe that it can be brought about only if we have elections that are truly European, rather than mere national elections, to European jobs.

Saturday, 22 June 2013


I was in Germany recently, and it caused me to ponder why Germany’s economy continues to do so well, despite the huge costs of absorbing the former Communist East.

What makes some countries grow, while others stagnate?

Obviously the age profile of a country is important.

If more of the population is elderly or retired, one will have slower growth. In 10 years time Germany may not be so dynamic for that reason.

But, at the moment, Germany is doing well.

For example, German and British car factories are running profitably at 80% of capacity production, while Italian car factories are only using 46% of their capacity, and French car factories only 62%. Running at less than 75% of capacity means running at a loss.

Rigid labour laws may explain why French and Italian factories have not been able to reduce capacity in response to reduced demand for new cars.

In Germany, youth unemployment is only 5%, while in southern Europe it is 25%.
Meanwhile, France is beginning to worry about the performance of its schools. There are suggestions that it has dropped 14 places in Mathematics between 2003 and 2009 in the OECD Pisa tests conducted in 65 countries.

China, Korea, and Finland regularly come near the top in these tests. Education for the elite in France is excellent, whereas German education is more broad based, and its apprenticeship system imparts vital skills to a larger proportion of the population.
The German Minister for Science told me that German Scientists produce 10% of all the scientific papers in the world with only 0.1% of the world’s population. China spends four times as much on research as Germany, but China produces fewer scientific papers. Specialist scientific institutes, like the Max Planck Institute, which are separated from universities (and from university politics) play an important role.
But perhaps the reason for Germany’s success can be put in a single word.....frugality
Writing of the Germans in the early 16th century the Florentine diplomat, Niccolo Machiavelli said

“The reason why private citizens are rich is that they live as if they were poor......Nobody cares for what he has not, but only for what is necessary to him”

This is as true today, as it was 500 years ago.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


I chaired this week in Brussels a meeting of the European Resource Efficiency Platform.
The Platform brings together Environment Ministers of EU States, MEPs, and EU Commissioners with representatives of business, trades unions and environmental organisations.
Key materials that we need for the support of human life are in diminishing supply as world population increases and more people aspire to western life styles and consumption patterns. This includes the air we breathe, the water we drink, and other materials like oil, metals and phosphate

We need to conserve, and recycle materials, and to do that, concerted action is needed by the whole of society. That is why the declaration agreed at the meeting this week, which is  along with this note, is so important.

(please click on image for doc)

Thursday, 13 June 2013


I bought “American Scoundrel...the life of the notorious civil war general Dan Sickles” by Thomas Keneally in the After Words bookstore in Chicago recently, when there on business, and I am really glad I did.

Keneally is an Australian author, of Irish descent, and is the author of “Schindlers List”, which is also based on a true story, and was made into a very good movie.  “American Scoundrel” would make a great movie too, with its mixture of low and high politics, adultery, betrayal, exotic diplomacy, and warfare. The book was published by Anchor Books
Keneally became interested in Dan Sickles when researching the life of Thomas Francis Meagher, the Waterford born Young Irelander, who was imprisoned in Australia after the failure of the 1848 rebellion, but escaped from there to go on to have a career in the United States as a politician, lawyer, and leader of one of the Irish regiments who fought on the Union side in the American Civil War.

The flag of Meagher’s regiment was presented to Dail Eireann by the late President Kennedy in 1963, and I used to look at every day as I came in and out of the Library in Leinster House. I had an added interest in it, in that I once stayed in the house where Meagher was born in Waterford (now the Bridge Hotel), and attended the same school as Meagher, though not at the same time! 
Dan Sickles was a close political associate of Meagher in New York politics, and when Sickles was later tried for the murder of his wife’s lover, Meagher was a member of his legal team, charged with coming up rhetorical flourishes that would impress the jury.
Sickles was an effective, if unscrupulous, politician. He was largely responsible for the preservation for recreation of Central Park in New York city, something he gets little credit for nowadays.
He was a Democrat in politics, and initially favoured concessions to the Southern states on the question of slavery, to keep them in the Union.

But when the South fired the first shot, at Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour, he took a strongly pro Union position and used his political name to raise a large number of volunteers in New York for the Union army. On the strength of his recruiting efforts, and without any military experience, he became a General in the Union Army.
And this happened after Sickles had been controversially acquitted of the murder of his  wife’s lover, Barton Key, a man who happened to be the son of the author of the Star Spangled Banner. 
Sickles had neglected his young wife, and  had carried on several public affairs with women, while married, including a notorious brothel keeper. Yet, when he discovered his wife herself had had an affair, to which she confessed, and he saw her lover Barton Key outside on the street, he armed himself, went out and shot the unarmed Key dead.
But he was acquitted in the trial , because it was considered that a man had a right to defend his honour in this way, and because, as one of Sickles lawyers put it, “the personal body of the wife was the property of the husband” (notwithstanding his own notorious misbehaviour). The jury accepted this notion.

Sickles once acquitted, quickly regained his good reputation, and went on to become a close friend of President Lincoln and a General. His wife, in contrast, could barely appear in public for the remainder of her short life. She died of TB at the age of 31. Sickles remarried,  was equally disloyal to his second wife, but lived to be re elected to Congress in 1892, having first served there in the 1850’s.
This book is well worth reading for the insight it gives in social attitudes in the nineteenth century and how different these are from those prevailing today. It also presents a great insight into the politics immediately preceding the American Civil War.

Monday, 10 June 2013


Next December, the European Union will have a special Summit meeting devoted to defence matters.

This is an important meeting because European countries have substantial mutual values and interests to defend, militarily and otherwise.

Europeans want to prevent genocide anywhere in the world. We remember what happened in Rwanda when the international community could not, or would not, act.

But we have more selfish interests too. Europeans import 50% of our energy, often from unstable parts of the world. We live by trade, so we need to keep vital trade routes open. We want to avoid huge uncontrolled flows of refugees into Europe from conflicts in our vicinity.

As a continent with 20% of the world income, but only 7% of its population, we want to uphold international law. 
Most EU member states are members of NATO, which is a military alliance and has capacity to deal with such questions. Some, like Ireland, maintain a policy of military neutrality. 
NATO is heavily, and perhaps unhealthily, dependent on the military strength and will of the United States. The United States share of NATO spending has risen from 63% in 2001 to 77% today. 
United States and European interests will not always be identical. The US will soon be self sufficient in energy, the EU is unlikely to be so in the foreseeable future. EU and US attitudes to international law are not always identical....for example on Guantanamo and drones.

Although the US pays the bulk of NATO’s bills, EU nations spend a great deal on defence. In fact they spend 200 billion euros a year, which is more than the defence spending of Russia, China and Japan combined!

But is EU defence spending as cost effective as that of, say, China?

There is a lot of duplication in defence spending by EU states, which is difficult to afford or justify, when other forms of spending are being cut back. EU states have 23 different types of armoured vehicle,4 different types of tank, and 7 different types of helicopter, which would make it more difficult for EU states to synchronise operations or  pool spare parts, if they did have to fight together in mutual defence, whether in a NATO context or otherwise.  
The European Union has an agreed security strategy. It was prepared for it by Javier Solana in 2003. It said that, for the EU, the 

”first line of defence will often be abroad”. 

But EU states lack the capacity to transport troops and equipment long distances, and have to rely on the Americans for this. This means that the EU is not the master of its own defence policy. At critical moments, the US is.
Among EU states, only The United Kingdom and France have significant military capacity. And these are the only EU states with seats on the UN Security Council. This gives them inordinate influence. 
For example, the EU recently lifted its  embargo on supplying arms to the parties in the Syrian civil war, a course demanded by France and the UK, who favour the rebels, although the other 25 EU states wanted to keep the embargo in place. On matters like this, where decisions are supposed to be unanimous, 2 states were still able to get their way over 25! 

We now have a strange situation in Syria where Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda are on the same side. 
Already in Iraq, western intervention has released sectarian forces  that led to a decimation of the Christian minority in that country. The same is likely to happen in Syria, if the side favoured by France and Britain wins. 
One has to ask if this is compatible with either the values, or the security interests, of the European Union.

One also has to ask if the concept of European Union defence can have much reality, if decisions on it, are made by the same system by which the Syria arms decision was made. 
That said, EU military cooperation has had some notable successes.

For the EU, safe sea lanes are a vital interest. 90% of all EU trade travels by sea. A few years ago piracy off the coast of Somalia was a huge problem for EU ships coming out of the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean, a vital trade route for EU exports to Asia. Now, thanks to a combination of  EU naval action, and EU development aid to Somalia, piracy on this sea route has been cut by 95%.
The European Union has also had considerable success in brokering a peace deal between Serbia and Kosovo. It has been able to do this, partly because both countries would like eventually to be members of the European Union.
A neutral island nation like Ireland has strategic interests to look after too. It needs trade routes to remain open. It needs to be able to import energy. It needs peace in Europe if it is to prosper.

Defence costs money.

The decision Ireland has to make is whether its security can be achieved more cost effectively by greater pooling of resources on defence matters with other EU states, or by  acting independently. This is a discussion that should take place before the December EU Summit.

Sunday, 2 June 2013


I had a meeting this week in Dublin with the members of the Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue (TLD).

This body brings together members of the United States House of Representatives, and members of the European Parliament for regular discussions. In many respects, these are the two most powerful legislative bodies in the world. So their  cooperation is  a vital global interest.

When I was EU Ambassador in Washington, I had a great deal of involvement with TLD and attended many of their meetings.
One of the big topics for the TLD was the possibility of a comprehensive Trade and investment Partnership (TTIP) being negotiated between the European Union and the United States.

If such a deal could be agreed it would cover over half of all the economic activity in the world. It would be a boost to the economy because it would remove barriers and inefficiencies that prevent Europeans and Americans realising their full economic potential. 

Even without an agreement, investment across the Atlantic supports 7 million jobs. For example, 70% of all foreign investment in the US comes from Europe, and US firms have more investment in Ireland that they have in China! Californian firms export twice as much to Europe as they do to China.
Among the barriers that might be swept away by a TTIP  are 
+ Tariffs on good exports, that average 3%.  Eliminating these tariffs could boost exports in both directions by 7%
+ Unnecessarily complex and duplicative customs formalities
+ Restrictions on European involvement in the provision of passenger air transport inside the United States, which means Americans pay unduly high air fares
+ Similar restrictions on European involvement in Shipping between US ports, which add to the price of goods
+ Restrictions on the provisions of services in one another’s markets in fields like insurance, education, computer services and logistics
+ Restrictions on the supply of goods and services to governments on both sides of the Atlantic, which mean that taxpayers pay more taxes  than they would if their governments could buy from the least expensive supplier regardless of nationality
+ Insufficient cooperation in combating counterfeiting, and theft of copyright and  of intellectual property
+ Non tariff barriers, and duplication of tests, that arise from having different standards, and different testing procedures, for electrical goods, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and other products
+ Restrictions on the sale of food products across the Atlantic, because of protective tariffs, and differently applied food safety standards

All these restrictions involve  potential misallocation of resources, and  waste or sub optimal use of time, talent, and material. Removing these restrictions could add 70 billion euros to the world economy.

The negotiation of this agreement will not be easy.

It would have been better if a new comprehensive global trade and investment deal could have been made through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), because it would have been open to every country in the world, and the WTO has a well established system for settling disputes. A transatlantic deal may lack that.

But the WTO talks collapsed so this is the best available option.

It is also urgent for Europe because the United States is negotiating a trans Pacific deal, which might diminish Europe’s relative position.
Among the leading figures who took part in the meeting were US Congress members,Mario Diaz Balart, Henry Cuellar, Michael Turner and Bill Keating.

On the European side, the delegation was led by Christian Ehler MEP and Elmar Brok MEP. Also included were former Commissiomer, Danuta Huebner MEP, Sarah Ludford MEP and Sean Kelly MEP.