Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

December 5th, 2002

Convention on Europe

As most will already know we are currently part way through the convention on Europe – the talking shop/convention that is meant to propose reform on what the EU is and how it should work. When it first started it seemed to me that it would inevitably produce a report that would be haggled over and negotiated into such a messy compromise that the resulting changes to the EU would not resemble any agreements made during the convention. However, as time has gone by, it seems that the convention is being taken fairly seriously, and there is a good chance that the resulting EU structure will reflect the results of it.

Everyone is trying to make their own power grab of course, but the important thing for me is that the question of what the EU is for is actually being debated fully with all of the options and ideas coming out. The one big achievement that should be welcomed is that the idea that the EU should have a constitution has been accepted by most (all?) of the major governments. This is a huge step forward in that it will define what the EU is in such a way that the basis of it’s existence can be explained to people without having to consider the scope of the latest treaty.

The battle is now on for what will be in the constitution, with the large powers generally in favour of a permanent (e.g. a 5 year term instead of the current 6 month term) president of the EU. This seems like a good move to me – however one of the big concerns I have is that the talk is not of this president being elected by popular vote, but rather selected by the heads of the national governments. It’s hard to predict how that will work out over the years, but if you want to bring the EU closer to the people then having them vote for someone to define the direction of it seems like the best bet.

The European Commission of course would rather see it’s power extended – I think this is a non-starter. I generally think that the EC does a fairly good job overall, the bureaucracy is fairly small compared to many governments, and they do push hard for members to respect and enforce EU law. Generally the EC is portrayed as being a large over-regulating body, but a lot of their work is instead about forcing members to open up their markets to competition, something that is good for all EU citizens. So why do I think they are wrong to push for more power? The one thing that the EC does that I’m not keen on is the proposal of legislation – to me this is something that elected government should do.

Many people have put together proposed constitutions for the EU (the most memorable one for me being the one the economist did). I’m not sure myself what I would like to see, except to say that I want there to be a strong directly elected component that has the power to overturn existing legislation and to propose new legislation. This would provide a simple and direct way for citizens to change the direction of EU legislation. The problem with acting through national governments is that EU level issues get left behind during election campaigns – and so despite politicians claims otherwise they do not represent the views of the people when dealing with issues at the EU level.

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