A SIMPLE PROPOSAL TO DECIDE IN EUROPE WITHOUT BETRAYING THE PEOPLE
To stop national policies in their race to the abyss, citizens rely on merchants of dreams, or hate-mongers. The time has come to pull out of the drawer a simple solution to the inability to decide and act otherwise: recognition of a Member State's right to disagree and arbitration by Parliament. Those who propose it will be elected. The European Union will finally be able to change its policy without risking an explosion, and democracy will have scored a point.
On freedoms and security, according to whether the risk or threat is seen from a particular point of view or from a common one, according to whether everyone for himself or solidarity prevails, the decision to be taken is not the same and the subsequent action has opposite effects: independence or dependence, power or powerlessness, prosperity or precarity, resistance or vulnerability.
In the history of the construction of Europe, which is the construction of its unity, not its division, the founders were therefore right to weigh the national interest against the common interest. This contrast has been reflected in the treaties in a permanent hesitation between the unanimity rule and the majority rule, between the veto and the vote. However, the veto paralyses, and denies efficiency to Europe; and the vote, if it is European, can contradict a national vote, and deny democracy to the nation.
From this dilemma, there are only two outcomes: either the federation, i.e. a secure and recognized division of labour between the federal and national levels, but which presupposes a people of several peoples, the author of its constitution, fully aware of its composite nature and accepting it over time; or, within the framework of existing treaties, an innovation that makes a democratic definition of the common interest prevail, and gradually creates the conditions for a common popular conscience. Since the federation is not yet on the agenda, it is this simple innovation that is at issue here.
When Theresa May, the executor, with a narrow majority in Parliament, of the will of the British people cut in two, has to speak of a common future, she calls it "a United Europe". This is the paradox: those who are most hostile to the EU or to the euro, who put England at risk of sordid isolation, cannot imagine a solitary future. Apart from a few madmen and a few liars, when it comes to the essentials, war or peace, dictatorship or democracy, the common interest is never far away and the national interest accommodates itself without difficulty. But it is in the management of the process of economic integration through market and currency - the very object of the Treaties - that interests presented as common prove too particular or even too private to win public support in each and every State..
For years, governments have been in a state of shock: crisis of financialisation, the causes of which they reproduce to the point of nausea, incapable of instituting a European public power at the right scale to protect their populations; shocks in return for extractivist aggressions, wars for fossil energies and rare earths; ecological disasters, of productivist or consumerist origin. They can no longer reassure voters without explaining, or explain without acknowledging their betrayals and powerlessness. They therefore lose the citizens' confidence, abandoning public opinion to dismay. People sell themselves every time to the highest bidder, but understand too late that they are the cannon fodder of economic wars waged in their name, but on their backs. They are then vulnerable to scapegoating speeches by apprentice dictators.
When a member country does not agree, whether it is a choice of its high administration, the party in power or a popular will, it is not that it disowns Europe, that it is prepared to sacrifice its achievements, or that it considers it impossible to define a common interest; it is because it has difficulty in admitting that what is presented to it as such is not in reality the interest of a stronger or richer partner, or even quite simply that of Big Money.
Let us accept that we should first return to the spirit of the Treaties in the practice of the institutions and restore the Commission's monopoly of the original proposal. The proposal comes to the Council table and one government puts forward a different point of view. In current practice, it vetoes this proposal and embarks on a war of attrition, aimed at weakening the position of its most receptive partners to the Commission's proposal, at emptying the text of its substance, so that the final compromise, the one to be reached unanimously, or by sufficient majorities in both Parliament and the Council, will have lost its initial ambition and its original consistency. The Union will have taken the wrong decision and will act less effectively than expected, or even not at all. The author of the veto, having to concede part of the ground to his partners, is not satisfied, and public opinion is disappointed by the inability to act of the Union - and the State. The governments do not take responsibility for the failure, and shift it to Brussels. This little game is now so well known that no one is fooled anymore. It's a lose-lose game.
Why not instead abandon the idea of the veto, formally understood as a government's request to postpone a decision until unanimity is reached? And replace it with the idea of the recognition and implementation of a right of dissent. That would be to remember that democracy is also the protection of the minority. Today, the government in disagreement has only one recourse: to denounce the dictatorship that the majority of member countries claim to exercise over it, and to impose on them its own dictatorship, a dictatorship of the minority, a power to prevent the decision. It has only one choice: to submit or leave ; that is, to conform or exit.
The proposed innovation opens a completely different door: it first requires any government to recognize: 1) that the Union makes no sense if it is not aimed at satisfying the common interest; 2) that the Union is not a closed field where national interests clash, but a democratic order where deliberation must produce decisions and actions; 3) that the Commission was invented to propose in the common interest; 4) that the European Parliament, representing European citizens (the European people in formation) has the legitimacy necessary to express the common interest as well. It requires the government, which disagrees with the Commission, not only to demonstrate that the proposal does not take into account the national interest, but also to propose in its turn in the common interest, in other words, to formulate on its own a proposal that would better satisfy all its partners (voice). From that moment on, there are two proposals on the Council table. Instead of seeking to reconcile them, at the double risk of inconsistency, insignificance and inaction, it is better to entrust a representative third party, Parliament in plenary session, with the task of deciding, after public deliberation on both proposals.
Or the minority government takes the conviction of Parliament, and the Commission bases its new proposal on Parliament's definition of the common interest. Codecision starts afresh. Or Parliament can agree with the Commission and the minority government can only comply with the principle of loyal cooperation (loyalty) and the Council's majority decision on the Commission's proposal. Codecision is resuming its normal course. No drama, no denial.
The rise of national-populism will not be stopped by speeches, but by placing governments, which are elected and therefore legitimate, before their responsibilities. They still have a formidable negative power, that of breaking down the Union. They will probably take a few more years, and their public opinion still more, before they learn the common interest - the time to realize that the breakdown is unbearable and hinders the formation of a people of peoples. In the meantime, the drift of institutions towards the diplomatic entre-soi of mainstream governments and their submission to the injunctions of finance confirm citizens' doubts about the very interest of market and monetary integration, instead of provoking the solidarity leap, necessary to learn democracy together.
There is in every national interest a piece of European interest. The national interest and the European interest deserve equal consideration.
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