News and Research on Europe highlighting Robert Schuman's political, economic, philosophical contribution from the independent  SCHUMAN PROJECT  Directed by David H Price.
Further information Tel/Fax: +322 230 7621. email:            ©Bron 1999, 2000-01-01/ 2005

Open Letter to 
                                                                                         from  David H  PRICE
  Democracy means saying NO as well as YES

Dear President Juncker,

Distrust. That is manifested in most of the reasons the French and Dutch gave in voting No in referendums on the Constitutional Treaty. Some distrusted politicians. Some at the extremes are nationalists and dislike all foreigners. Some people have Angst that neither national governments, nor the European institutions are up to the task of saving jobs when dealing with China’s and India’s industrialisation, and USA’s Mr Bush. Passionate young people want Europe to deal with globalisation and the environment. Many of the voters are in favour of Europe. They waved the European flag and voted No. Bankers accuse the French and German governments of cheating on their own rules and undermining the Euro. Many suspect the Constitutional Treaty hides Europe’s real power structure. When people do not understand, they are distrustful.

How has such distrust arisen? It is rampant among core Europeans who best know European construction: French, Dutch, Germans, Italians and Luxembourgers. That is significant. The European Community, initiated by the French Government’s Declaration of Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950, has engineered the greatest prosperity for the largest population in all Europe’s history. And it brought a longer, deeper peace than these countries have ever known: sixty years. Why distrust?

The five institutions
Distrust is eliminated by open democracy. What was Schuman’s definition of democracy? It is “at the service of the people and acting in agreement with it”. It was defined by objectives the people have jointly set and with the means they have agreed to. (Pour l’Europe, p55). As for the means, Schuman planted five key institutions as roots for the growing Community. Three created democracy at the international level: for governments, a Council of Ministers; for individuals, a Parliament; and for organised interest groups, a tripartite Consultative Committee. The impartial Commission, a key innovation, was to make proposals to benefit all Europeans and the Court was to defend supranational laws that governments, interest groups and citizens had signed up to.

From de Gaulle on, nationalists wanted to destroy the five institutions. The early European Communities produced unprecedented growth for the Six original states. President de Gaulle, however, wanted the Community under his own French harness. Other Europeans did not judge him fair, tolerant or impartial. Certainly not with the impartiality of  a Frenchman like Schuman. who knew how to defend not only France's interest but everyone else's in growing prosperity and well-being. The non-French Ministers said NO to de Gaulle. So in 1965 France boycotted the Council of Ministers. Thus began Europe’s gravest moment, the crisis of the empty chair. After half a year of sulking, France returned. Europe flourished.

They insisted that Parliament should be directly elected as Schuman said and strengthened. Schuman had pioneered this new idea of a Parliament for Europeans in the Council of Europe in 1948-9. But European politicians neglected the third level of democracy, a congress for civil society including what Schuman called ‘collectivities’. In-depth debate must include interest groups such as industrial associations, farmers, professional groups, workers’ unions and public consumers.

Civil associations
Why a democracy of associations? Because associations of human beings represent and encapsulate centuries of our culture. They have in-depth experience of European values in action. They are the reservoirs of innovation, professional ethics, morals, interests and the lessons of history. They have penetrating views of how to organise our future. Together they provide the best elements to debate European civilisation and the future of our continent and planetary responsibility. The European Community must be built on the strong foundation of working communities. Governments often want to make quick and simple decisions. Sometimes they are not wise, coherent, comprehensive, openly-arrived-at or honest.

Distrust thrives on secrecy. It is estimated that presently there are more lobbyists around Brussels than there are European officials. They are well funded but do not represent all Europeans’ interests. Commission officials are a prime target. Today we are in danger of ‘democracy by lunch.’ The poor don’t take officials to lunch.

When a Commission official tries to draft a European law for ministerial decision on chemicals or to regulate advertising, he or she needs an in-depth knowledge of highly complex, technical sectors in 25 countries. For expertise he calls, not on Schuman’s democratically organised, Consultative Committee, but on experts, sometimes partisan, in committees working in the shadows of the institutions. An arcane world of “comitology” and experts is shut behind the Council of Ministers’ closed doors.

Open government
Ministers in Council still refuse to debate in public -- astounding disdain when public money and interests are involved. Astounding, if it were only the local parish council. But this Council regulates a trading entity producing and distributing a third of world exports.

The Council should be open to the press. Schuman reiterated that “the councils, committees and other bodies {of Europe} should be placed under the control of public opinion.” (Pour l’Europe, p145.) The livelihood of millions of Europeans, their jobs and living conditions depend on ministers’ secret deliberations. No wonder that people used referendums to express their discontent at secretive governments.

Schuman created an embryo institution for open, technical debate among interest groups to ensure impartiality. Their joint Opinion on proposed legislation, built by consensus or voted, was vital. If the groups refused to give ministers an Opinion, no legislation could take place. Schuman’s original Committee had even more potential power than the Parliament. In their legislating decisions, Ministers sometimes had total disdain for these Opinions. Then it went too far. In 1980 the Parliament said NO. The momentous event was the innocuous-sounding Isoglucose case. Council had tried to pass a European law, a Regulation, without even waiting for the Parliament’s Opinion. The European Court of Justice made the Council back down. It was illegal. Governments had again been caught red-handed, cheating. The Parliament increasingly overcame nationalism and petty squabbles. It grew in democratic stature. Today it confirms the appointment of the Commission and elects the Ombudsman. It casts attentive eyes over the Community budget and spending. Its No means NO.

However, the third level of democracy in Schuman’s original conception remains a rubber stamp. It never said NO. The geo-political organ of the Consultative Committee, in today’s Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions, has been reduced to an appendix. Government ministers decide who will or will not be members. It is as if civil society, the most vital associations of democracy, still wore baby-clothes. Are 'democratic' governments still afraid if democratic associations organise themselves democratically to have their impartial voice at the European level?

Ten trillion euro economy
Our world becomes more and more complex. Europe’s ten trillion Euro economy needs a real congress of interest groups or collectivities. Europe should bring in the lobbyists from the streets and restaurants and experts out of shadowy corridors.

The light of day needs to shine on interest groups, testing ‘fact’ and ‘truth’. Industrialists need to confront ecologists; impoverished family farmers need to speak out to monopolistic supermarket buyers. Globalised industries need to explain themselves to development agencies and vice versa. Open, in-depth discussions will enrich the quality of European politics. Impartial analysis reveals strategic values worth safeguarding. Values help forge a stable consensus to legislate for Europe’s future. Open power structures including interest groups will develop trust among Europe’s half billion citizens and its 25 governments.

Democracy will blossom when Europe’s Consultative Committees vote NO.

David H Price has written a number of books on Schuman and European politics. He directs the website:                             © Bron 2005


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