Emilio De Capitani, Olivier Dupuis
VoxEurop, February 28, 2019
“Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice.”
These words in the Preamble of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, (which since 1st December 2009 has the same legal value as the Treaties) mark a Copernican revolution in a European Union which has been until now more focused on the market and on the cooperation between national administrations.
However ten years later, we can reasonably wonder if this reorientation of European policies toward the individual and the citizen has really happened or whether the European Union is still nothing more than a huge marketplace where the main focus is on economic players and consumers, but not citizens no matter of their economic conditions. We can also wonder if our system of supranational governance favours the European citizens as required by the Charter « or if it is most driven in the interest of the national administrations.
The latter continue to filter the outcome at EU level by taking credit for all advances at EU level by blaming it for unpopular choices.
This practice dating back of decades is unfortunately de facto endorsed by European institutions and, notably by the Commission, even if this practice is contrary to the obligation of loyal cooperation among member States and the Union (Article 4.3 of the TUE) and routinely undermines citizens’ trust in European construction.
The result is an almost systematic misrepresentation of reality by several national governments and this practice goes hand in hand with their legislative behaviour at the European level. Paradoxically since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty these Governments are trying to reverse the process of integration and the facto limiting the potential impact of the fundamental rights of European citizens and people under the EU jurisdiction. The most evident example is the the proposal for the anti-discrimination directive whose goal is to normatively transpose the principle of equality among European citizens and which is blocked in the EU Council since eleven years.
Yet while citizens are meant to “receive equal attention from [the Union’s] institutions, bodies, offices and agencies” (Article 9 of the TUE), one cannot but observe that they still have difficulty keeping abreast of European administrative and decisional procedures, not to mention the obstacles still limiting administrative and judicial redress or even collective redress.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the ordinary European citizen is disappointed by the EU and even when they do manage to obtain some information on EU legislation this is in few even if important areas such as environmental policy, consumer protection and research.
Everything, or nearly everything, still proceeds as if the European Union was essentially a large marketplace praising economic champions against the less favoured regions and not a new political community drawing its legitimacy from the citizens ”.. who shall receive equal attention from its institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.” (Articles 9 and 10 of the TEU).
In this framework the relation between the European Citizens and the European Parliament is of the outmost importance. The latter since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon is on the same real, legal footing as the Council for most of European policies but instead of taking in full its own new political responsibilities it seems to have lost the stamina which marked the first ten years (1994-2004) as co-legislator since the procedure of co-decision was introduced. Paradoxically after Lisbon instead of designing a new EU strategy it accepted a sort of ancillary role towards the Council, and even towards the Commission, which should be inspired and driven by a Parliamentary political majority.
The point is that by abdicating its role the EP is the facto endorsing the political inertia of the Council and of the Member States which consider that have nothing to gain from a stronger EU. Furthermore, a reluctant Parliament risks losing the trust not only of Euro-skeptics, but also of former Euro-enthusiasts who will not be more motivated in participating to the European elections or to the definition of the new EU policies.
Losing the contact with the citizens will be fatal not only for the EP but for the EU itself and to avoid this it is essential moving forward as quickly as possible with initiatives that strengthen direct interaction among citizens not only with the European Parliament but as well as other EU institutions, agencies and organizations.
It is in this spirit that we propose a radical reform of the Council of the European Union which should be turned into a European Senate, an institution that works full time, whose members are familiar to European citizens, whose debates are public. In short, a political institution in every sense and not simply with regard to bureaucratic matters.
Similarly, it is essential that we promote a series of reforms that strengthen both the transparency of the EU’s decision-making processes as well as participation in them by European citizens and civil society. In that vein, we offer a series of pointed reforms, outlined here in the form of a petition to the European Parliament, to all citizens and political movements striving to strengthen the Union.