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Europe's democratic institutions
The SUPRANATIONAL System of democracy
Five official institutions of the European Community:
The Supranational system has more democratic control than most of the national democratic systems. It has checks and balances of a more robust nature and strength. Its most significant feature is that it is constructed with the specific aim of obtaining the most impartial solution to specific technical problems of common interest to all Europeans.
The national system has an executive, legislative and judicial organs.
The Supranational Community has a similar division. There are FIVE key bodies in the first and all succeeding supranational communities. These are based on the principle of obtaining the most fair and just outcome, not the seesaw of power politics.
*the European Commission
formerly called the High Authority, acts in the interests of all the
Community (the impartial arbiter, executive and guardian of the
treaties). Members of the Commission are not designated so they can
repeat their own private prejudices or political convictions, nor to
reiterate national opinions or sectional considerations; their duty is
to seek out the means to express the common good of all citizens,
interests and States together. Their experience and knowledge
should serve all citizens. Three institutions must give a Legal Opinion
before the Commission's proposal can be accepted. This involves
democracy at the level of the individual, organized civil society and
The major innovation: the
Some powerful and self-serving States see the Community as a brake on their international political power. De Gaulle, when he wanted a French-led Directorate to govern Europe, is one example. Why is there a restriction at the level of governments and States? Because in any international association in the past, the large States had a habit of ganging up against the weaker or smaller States. The Commission's power of initiative is designed to safeguard against this abuse of power. Once all three democratic institutions, Council, Consultative Committees and Parliament, have given their Opinions, the proposal can still be modified by the Commission taking the criticisms in the Opinions into account. The Proposal becomes law once the legislation is published and available for all including the Court to see. The Court decides that all Opinions have been properly and fairly given. Usually the Council is the last to give its Opinion. This does not mean that the Council decides, although they tend to use this terminology. The final form of the legislation must be agreed by the Commission and the Court. With its controls that legislation must be fair to all, a properly working Community system is the fairest and most just system that Europeans have yet devised.
Politicians, mostly from the larger States, devised systems to avoid this democratic control. The Council of Ministers has given itself powers outside the Community legal system but within the pillar system European Union (Maastricht/Amsterdam treaties) to come to intergovernmental agreements but these avoid proper democratic control by the Court, Parliament and the Consultative Committees. Areas cover Home and Justice Affairs and International relations.
What is the alternative? To guard against abuse of power, the American constitution relies on alternance of two parties (Republican and Democrat) plus 'checks and balances'. To stop an overly ambitious President, Congress or the Supreme Court was supposed to be able to block his powers. However, sometimes the Congress was controlled by the President's party and could also be highly influenced by commercial or partisan interests. Minorities such as the poor could be neglected.
The European system is not based on political alternance as there are multiple parties in all the Member States. Europe has its own checks and balances but the institutions above all are designed to analyse more closely non-partisan solutions. The main aim is to establish an impartial solution in the first place. The Commission is central to this goal. Commissioners' duty is to find a technical solution that at that time encapsulates the European interest. Impartiality is tested in various forums: the Council of Ministers analyses the proposal from the point of view of national governments. The European Parliament analyses it from the point of view of the European citizens, all of them. The legally required Consultative Committees analyse it from the point of view of collectivities, whether commercial companies, labour unionists or consumers. Each body must come to a consensus, vote by majority or give a joint legal opinion without which no legislation can pass.
Double, triple and quadruple
How is this impartiality achieved? Firstly the proposal by the Commission has to be as impartial as possible to pass through the other institutions. For Schuman impartiality was practically a scientific discipline. Given enough time and patience, scientists are able to agree about definitions, methods and measurements. The USA created its own volume measure, the US gallon. Throughout the EU, there is one system based on the litre (or the metre, kilogram second system). It is now recognised worldwide. Technical means, whether in the common rules of open trade and human rights, can help Europeans move from the present political situation to a situation based on greater justice and fairness. A consensus, often at first fragile, allows parties with good-will to move to long term strategies and a generalized balanced system, good for all. Innovation and cultural and spiritual growth can take place in this environment of evolving trust. In the Coal and Steel Community, consensus was first achieved in opening each other's markets tariff-free. They created a solidarity fund to encourage economic improvements, housing for deprived workers, and re-training based on impartial criteria. Solidarity is built by working on common projects and rediscovering the necessary pragmatic and just principles to achieve them. Trust in this quickly led to a generalized reconciliation of peoples and a broad common market. First of all the Community had to create a range of standards for the manufacture and sale of various qualities of steels, coals and cokes that were recognized by all Member States. National and company statistics had to be free from cheating. Fair principles for trade and transport had also to be jointly decided.
Impartiality can be confirmed with almost scientific precision by two or more neutral and disinterested judges acting and concluding independently. In the case of the European Community, the Commission's impartial proposal is tested by the judgement of Parliament, the Council of Ministers, and the Consultative Committees. Then each institution has the possibility to look at each other's proposed revision to see if it is an improvement. It cannot force, only try to convince. Once it is decided -- and this is mainly the responsibility of the States' governments acting in the Council of Ministers -- there are still other safeguards.
A Court open to all
The Court is there for any one to shout 'It's unfair for me!' If anyone, whether an individual, a corporate entity or collectivity, or a State thinks that their interest is prejudiced, that individual or other entity can take the matter to the European Court, national court or a local tribunal. The Commission, as an impartial observer, can do the same and often does. It can take States and governments to Court for non-compliance to democratic European decisions.
The judges in the Court of Justice of the European Communities are
selected by the nation states. They are not subject to the same type of
party political climate as the US Supreme Court. In the original treaty
judges, besides the regular renewal of their mandate, cease their
function by resignation or death. They could be relieved of their
office, if in the judgement of the other judges, they cease to
correspond to the necessary conditions of impartiality.
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