News and Research on Europe highlighting Robert Schuman's
political, economic, philosophical contribution from the independent Schuman
Project Directed by David H Price.
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Europe's democratic institutions
Welcome to the European Union!
Collect the Five Keys from its Founder
On 9 May 1950 French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman interrupted broadcasts to announce good news. The Government had just decided to create a supranational structure "open to European countries," a Community reinforcing democratic values. Its aim is to unite the continent and its peoples by applying universal moral values in deciding measures to work together. On 1 January 2007 Bulgaria and Romania joined the Union with its supranational Communities. This brings the borders of the EU to the coasts of the Black Sea, the ancient territory of many of Europe's nations. In May 2004, ten other countries joined the European Union stretching its borders from Cyprus to Estonia. Today the EU's population is close to half-a-billion people. It becomes, even more, an economic and civilian superpower.
What goals did the founder set for EU? His mission statements:
At home: Peace: "to make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible". Today, the countries of the first European Community (France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg) are experiencing the longest period of peace in their entire history. In no previous period of more than 60 years was the area free from the destruction of war. By ensuring true equality of states, the EU reinforces peace and justice for all.
Foreign policy: Schuman said that Europe’s objective and purpose should be "peace and works of peace." He wrote: "We must construct Europe, not only in the interests of the free peoples but also to welcome in it the peoples of eastern Europe, who freed from their repression … will ask us for their adhesion and for our moral support. … We consider as integrating part of a living Europe all those who desire to rejoin us in a re-constituted Europe. We render homage to their courage and their faithfulness, as well as their suffering and their sacrifices." Schuman was also co-founder of NATO.
All citizens can help develop the five key institutions of the European Union. One for Governments, one for Individuals, another for Groups of people in civil society who have a collective interest. An impartial arbitrator-- the Commission -- searches out the common good. It places useful initiatives before Government ministers and the public. Any of these institutions and any individual or any group can appeal to the Court of Justice, either directly or indirectly through national courts.
Schuman was a scholar of democratic systems and ancient constitutions. He did not expect Europe's to gain full development in its five institutions right away but when the nations of Europe had gained democratic maturity and responsibility. Fifty years have passed and there is still much to be done.
The intergovernmental democrats. Democratic governments should provide the most striking examples of public trust and honesty, wherever possible. This demands that the Council of Ministers should now be opened to the public and the press (except for some security matters etc). Schuman wrote: "The Councils, Committees and other organs must be placed under the control of public opinion, efficiently yet without paralysing their action or useful initiatives." Democratic governments should take the lead to open up to the maximum all their meetings. In a Community, national opportunities and problems are no longer confined to the nation but they become the means, where agreed, for joint action for the common good. Politicians should show a transparent example of escaping from the rut of nationalistic politics that have bedeviled Europe in the past. All meetings should be open, except where guidelines democratically agreed by all Europeans define that they can be closed for security reasons or the protection of individual rights. The public needs to learn from the collective wisdom of its leaders assembled to discuss important topics like Energy policy and Climate Change, as well as all other aspects of legislation that affects their daily lives.
The impartial arbitrator. The European Commission puts proposals of European interest to the Council, which with the other democratic institutions, decides measures by providing a Legal Opinion. Commissioners should be neutral and chosen, therefore, not to represent states or interests, but as the most competent and impartial to watch over and develop a benign Europe. Priority should be given to the Commission’s ability to launch impartial initiatives conciliating all European interests in "a sometimes delicate synthesis". They "should neglect no individual or national interest."
The People: democrats for citizens. The European Parliament co-decides for the citizen's rights. At first, parliamentarians were delegated by governments. Schuman urged elections by "direct universal suffrage" as written in the founding Treaty. It took nearly thirty years for governments to make this step, following a boycott by parliamentarians and various Court cases. Schuman said: "Consciousness of European unity would grow if it is confirmed from time to time by a Europe-wide vote." Parties now act more like European ones, not coalitions. Governments have still not fulfilled obligations written in the original treaties that would increase democratic control.
Democracy for Interest Groups. The Consultative Committee system was the major motor force in creating the first Common Market under the Treaty of Paris. It represents civil society. Today's Consultative Committees are designed to represent democratically all interest groups and all regions in civil society. Collectivities, representing consumers, capitalists and workers, have views and interests of their own about Europe's future. The treaties say membership should be 'representative', that is democratically elected. Governments have not yet taken this step, more than fifty years after the original treaties of Paris and Rome. The Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, and the Scientific and Technical Committee of Euratom, are legally obliged to give Opinions. Such Opinions have no sense if they have no representative force. The treaties make it clear that the Consultative Committees have a voice and, potentially, as much influence as the other institutions, sometimes more. At the start of the EU in 1952, these representatives were the major democratic innovator and conciliator. They can still represent the economic, environmental and social interest of the present and for developing a strategy for the future. The Treaties' legal requirements indicate the crucial future development foreseen for them. Two of the founder Member States of the EU threw out the projected "Constitutional Treaty" that would have reduced their powers to near zero. Why? Mainly because they know that the fairness and justice demands that all interest groups should have their proper and open voice in the face of globalisation. The Consultative Committees should now be developed as a democratic institution of interest groups defending workers (social aspects), capital (representing investment strategies) and consumers (representing the environment and interests of the general public).
The Parliament, too, originally gave legally required Opinions but the Council of Ministers often ignored them. Some parliamentarians, as experienced politicians, embargoed the European Parliament because governments refused direct elections that was written in the 1951 Treaty of Paris. This reaction against the national governments' high-handedness became the start of democratic reform. Then the Parliament took the Council to Court because the Council had acted without even receiving their Opinion. This legal path was written into the first Treaties but it took decades for parliamentarians of many nations to gain political maturity and react together. The European Court ruled in favour of the Parliament's refusal to be a quiet lapdog. Now Parliamentary opinions are more like those of a watchdog and are taken more seriously. Members of the Consultative Committees should not just be political delegates of governments. The Consultative Committees originally had far greater powers than the Parliament because the Committee representatives had major investment, labour and consumer interests. The treaties direct that such Interest Groups should elect and organise themselves fairly. They should represent all associations involved in debating European issues and legislation. Schuman defined Democracy as being "at the service of the people and acting in agreement with it". Regions, industries, lobbies, trade unions, corporations must show how they serve all citizens and minimise harm to any of them. By making their opinion legally required, Schuman provided a means to ensure that lobbies and interest groups of all shades should have their own open democratic forum. Their Opinion, that is their Assent with a reasoned criticism, is required on practically all legislation. Today lobbyists too often act in secret as shadowy pressure groups. They should debate in the broad daylight of democratic debate.
Justice. For the Court of Justice,
Schuman deliberately chose a number of judges that did not correspond to
the number of states. The judges should be independent and competent in
the jurisprudence of all member states. But no national quota was specified.
As much as we can recognise justice (and injustice) in past ages and other
countries, the judges should search out what is just. A judge ‘should obey
only his conscience.’ Thus Schuman combined the realities of Continental
and Common Law.