Oh, how I wish I was at the Körber Debate: “Should Germany relinquish more sovereignty to the EU?“ held in Hamburg, on the 4th of March, 2013.
But here is an insight in what I would comment during the Q&A session and although it’s maybe “timely” belated, in my opinion, it’s a reading worth the attention.
Mr. Schulz, please allow me to first briefly introduce myself. I am a master’s student of European Integration at the EuropaInstitut in Basel and a student of master studies of EU Law at the Faculty of Law in Sarajevo. I am not bragging but just want to underline that I am well acquainted with the current Institutional Architecture of the EU as well as the procedures and judicial topics.
Firstly, although you mentioned on the beginning that “The EU’s current institutional set-up resembles a ‘Frankenstein’ monster because there is no democratic separation of powers”, I will just note that I have it on my mind but I will put it aside for now and maybe in the end of my comment we could come to a common understanding.
You say: “National sovereignty in Europe is based on a model of separation of powers: we have a government that can be voted down by a parliament and an independent judiciary overseeing that rules are respected.”
There is of course nothing untrue in this sentence. Afterwards you also mention that now we are trying to make out of pieces of these structures a functional EU, but “without also transferring the separation of powers.”
Here, I certainly understand that there is a difference between “legal” that is to say EU according to the Treaty and “living” – EU in practice. You are here to tell us, I suppose, how things are functioning in “everyday” Union work, but allow me then to remind you, what the “Masters of the Treaties” have agreed upon in 2007 and to what ALL 27 Member States (according to their respective procedures) gave their consent.
After finalizing the agreement on the Lisbon Treaty, I remember Mrs. Merkel saying that with it the Union’s legitimacy is finally resolved: national parliaments are given a say through the Early Warning System and European Parliament’s rights have been extended in several areas. Mrs. Merkel also mentions some other facts: it is now legally possible to return competences to Member States and thus limit EU competences; we can now fully speak of a legitimate decision in the Council because QMV enables its bigger efficiency but also gives it more weight by adding “the percentage of the population” criteria. “This one (Lisbon Treaty) leaves no question unanswered”, said Mrs. Merkel in the German Bundestag in 2007.
Although many would argue of a specific differentiation between supranational institutions (such as the EP, the Commission and the Court of Justice) and the intergovernmental (European Council and the Council) I would say that this might be generally true, BUT again we need to take a closer look. This time in the practical field, from which you come from (this having in mind that I come from this “by the book” field).
If we discuss the relation between the European Council, which (to be honest) has in the recent years put in the shadow the Council of Ministers and had a “final say” upon many crucial and vital decisions, and the EP we can say that EU Council respectively knows what the Treaty says and thus “invites” the EP to pass the legislation. Mr. Schulz, I am certain that you are also aware of the strength that the ordinary legislative procedure gives to the EP and I hope that at least upon this matter we won’t dwell upon. Mr. Schulz, you have the opportunity to present the EP’s stand before every European Council meeting and thus duly inform the Heads of States and Governments on what do the direct representatives of the people of the Union have to say.
Here you might just challenge me on this “direct representatives” so to anticipate it, here’s what I think. The citizens of the Union have been given the opportunity to vote and directly elect those who will represent them in the EP (it’s a different debate why the turnout is decreasing in the past years and why do citizens mainly “punish” the ruling national party and sent to EP the representatives which come from the opposition and smaller parties). Also, there is this “minor” fact that Heads of States and Government are also democratically elected by the voters in their respective countries and thus are accountable to their national parliaments, that is to their citizens. A vicious circle, wouldn’t you agree?
Turning to the separation of powers: oh, I know that it’s Germany where you are giving the speech, so of course you need at least indirectly to show respect to the Bundesverwaltungsgericht.
EU is a complex mechanism, though I would rather say that it is aspiring to be a complex but perfectly working Swiss watch rather than a “Frankenstein monster”, but if after all I have to say, you still remain on your position on this, we can of course “agree to disagree”. In my opinion, if in this system every institution would work according to the national systems then that would be an even bigger mess. With Lisbon, the European Council proposes the Commission President (taking into consideration the latest EP elections) who you and your fellow MEPs have to ELECT. If we go back historically, I also wouldn’t diminish the significance of the “hearings” of the proposed Commissioners before the EP.
So, then you speak of the “most undemocratic of all three institutions” – The Commission. It is of course, legally, true that the Commission is the one who initiates the legislation, but it is also true that the EP, the Council and European Council can suggest to the Commission the fields in which they believe legislation is necessary. If the situation in the Commission is as bad as you say, then why did the European Council, confide it with the monitoring and controlling process of national implementation of fiscal discipline? Wouldn’t you agree that the mere fact that the Commission is there as the “Guardian of the Treaties” and to ensure effective application of EU Law in Member States, makes it an independent institution which will pursue the EU interests in the fields conferred to it by MS?
Here I hope you won’t find it offending for me to mention just a remark I noted. It seems to me that, having in mind the upcoming EP elections and the election of a new Commission President, on which post you are aspiring to, that you are trying to score political points, amongst the public and future and current MEPs? I am not saying that you wouldn’t be good at that post (that it is yet to be seen), but be certain that this speech is noted, as well as what I understand as your “political promise”: if you become the next Commission President you will “reform the Commission and parliamentarise Europe”.
Coming to the end of your speech, you say something that surprised I think every student and that is that the EU should have competences in the area of trade, environment, monetary policy, financial regulation and migration. As far as the Treaty of Lisbon says: trade (and internal market) as well as the EMU are part of EU’s EXCLUSIVE competences. As for environment, if the EU’s action is found to be more efficient than the national, according to TFEU, Member States won’t object it.
Therefore, Mr. Schulz I hope I haven’t been too long in my exposition and please, if I made any false statements in reproducing what I have learnt so far, feel free to correct my mistakes. I am a young woman willing to learn and one of the best ways to do it, in my opinion, is to have an elaborated dissenting opinion.