Year XXVII, 1985, Number 3, Page 179

 

 

 

THE TREATY ESTABLISHING THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THE LEGITIMACY OF DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY DECISIONS
 
 
Gerda Zellentin’s article “Ueberstaatlichkeit statt Bürgernähe?” (Integration, 1/1984), contains a critique of the Treaty establishing the European Union approved by the European Parliament on February 14th, 1984 which needs to be commented.
Zellentin argues that the passage from unanimous to majority decisions, which the European Parliament considers decisive though hard to achieve, given many national governments’ resistance, is questionable as regards its principles. She believes that the “binding nature of democratic majority decisions is questioned even within the Member States particularly with reference to the new tasks of public authorities. Indeed, if we consider the wide-ranging chronological, territorial and objective implications, not to mention the implications of genetic technology (destined to play a decisive role in bio-society), or microelectronics and information technology (without which economic activity in the next decades will be unthinkable) or even the use of atomic energy, it is obvious that democratic bodies will have to take decisions whose political content is irreversible, uncorrectable and uncontrollable. In those cases where the majority decides definitively on the possibilities of survival of the current and future generations, on the survival of natural and historical assets, on the quality of the environment, majority decisions are neither adequate, nor morally admissible. Life and health cannot be sacrificed to the needs of political compromise, if we do wish to avoid a ‘tyranny of the majority’ with no legitimacy”. Fairly vague conclusions are derived from these considerations regarding the need to give life to a European Union which, instead of being founded on a European superstate model and hence on majority voting, is close to citizens and thus gives the maximum space for decentralisation, responsibility of individuals and their participation.[1]
This type of criticism of the Draft Treaty Establishing the European Union finds very sensitive ears within the European Federalist Movement. For some years now, we have been dedicating great attention to the question of the institutional options needed to face the problems raised by the transition to a post-industrial society adequately.[2] We have begun to reflect on the need to integrate classical federalism with newer forms which seem to give central importance to the extension of bicameralism to all levels of the organisation of a federal State, the division of powers on the basis of territorial and non-functional criteria, the “cascade” system of elections. Faced with the situation whereby today we increasingly come up against the need to make decisions capable of impressing a direction on the social and historical process that will influence the destiny of peoples for a very long time and maybe forever, we have come to the conclusion that the plan should have a constitutional nature. In other words, the constitutional pact, which in democratic states makes political and social forces jointly responsible in the defence of the regime, i.e. of the institutions which regulate the struggle for power and constitute the bases for political cohabitation, must be extended to a wider terrain: the planning level. This means that the plan’s approval must be based on participatory mechanisms which are more effective and articulated than current ones and must require the same qualified majority (normally two thirds) needed to introduce constitutional changes.[3]
If therefore we are very sensitive to the question of the legitimacy of majority democratic decisions vis-à-vis the problems posed by modern scientific and technological progress, we consider the criticism that Zellentin formulates on this basis regarding the Draft Treaty Establishing the European Union as being very misleading. At a Community level the introduction of majority decisions within the representative body of national governments (which must go hand in hand with the attribution of full legislative codecision entrusted to the European Parliament) means the elimination of the right to national veto, a mechanism which has been blocking the development of European integration for the last fifteen years or so. Substantially it is a question of extending the democratic system from the national level to the supranational level and of establishing a European democratic sovereignty in the absence of which the Community is destined to break up and Europe is destined once more to become a nest of vipers that will make its decline and subordination to the Superpowers irreversible.
Apart from this prospect, the current confederal structure of the Community has extremely adverse implications precisely in respect of problems which are so preponderantly and rightly felt by Zellentin. This is particularly evident, for example, vis-à-vis the problem of pollution. That pollution no longer stops before national barriers, is all the more true in an area like the Community where the process of integration has produced particularly marked forms of interdependence. Now the absence of a democratic European power prevents an effective control of decisions which, though part of the sovereign powers of individual states, can nevertheless produce extremely adverse consequences for neighbouring states. This state of affairs is not restricted to pollution but is apparent in all cases where there is a growing, interdependence that is not matched by a democratic supranational power able to govern it. Only a strong democratic European power would be able to control the decisions of great multinational enterprises effectively, which in the absence of effective State control (which individual national governments are too weak to exercise) may very well produce adverse and irreversible consequences.[4]
For this reason Zellentin’s reservations vis-à-vis the passage to majority decisions of the European Community, as well as playing into the hands of the nationalists, are also counterproductive with respect to the need to set up effective democratic control over the problems connected with the rise of post-industrial societies.
Having said this we are fully aware that the Draft Treaty Establishing the European Union does not give a complete reply to this need. Precisely because of this, while considering the reform of the community democratically and federally as the strategic objective of its struggle, the MFE is at the same time committed to a long-term struggle towards a new type of federalism, mentioned in passing above, and the reform of the democratic system itself so as to bring it into line with a historical situation which makes it possible to make decisions which endanger the possibilities of life for future generations. In this respect, it is also extremely important to realise that the achievement of the European Union will create the essential political framework needed to achieve these objectives.
The basic point is that with the transformation of the Community in a democratic and federal direction we will overcome the structural deficiencies which the democratic systems suffer from at a national level and which depend basically on the fact that the basic problem goes beyond national boundaries. Within the framework of solid supranational democracy the dangers of authoritarian involution which are always present in the stifling national democracies would disappear and it would be possible to fight in a non-illusory way to achieve democracy for the problems of post-industrial society. To this we must add that the Draft Treaty Establishing the European Union contains an important option which goes beyond pure interstate federalism: the indication of the principle of subsidiarity as a basic criterion in the division of powers between the national and supranational levels. The second paragraph of Article 12 lays down that “The Union acts exclusively to develop tasks which in common may be carried out more effectively than by the individual Member states separately, in particular those whose implementation requires action by the Union since their dimensions or their effects go beyond national confines”. Since this principle of subsidiarity is one of the structural elements of federalism taken as a general criterion of organisation of society and the state, it is more than legitimate to expect that the recognition of this principle by the European constitution will increasingly tend to influence the internal evolution of Member states favouring their restructuring on federal lines.
 
Sergio Pistone


[1]When Zellentin’s book Möglichkeiten alternativer Entwicklung und Integration in Europa, which is announced in a note of the article considered here, comes out, we will be able to understand more precisely the author’s proposals regarding the European Union ‘close to the citizens’ and whether they are worth discussing.
[2]See in particular M. Albertini, “Discorso ai giovani federalisti” , Il Federalista, XX, 1978, n. 2-3; L. Levi e S. Pistone, “L’alternativa federalista alIa crisi dello Stato nazionale e della società industriale”, Il Federalista, XXIII, 1981, n. 2; F. Rossolillo, Città, territorio, istituzioni, Napoli, Guida, 1983; F. Rossolillo, “Federalism in a Post-industrial Society”, The Federalist, XXVI, 1984, n. 2.
[3]We may mention in this respect B. Guggenberger and C. Offe (eds.), An den Grenzen der Mehrheitsdemokratie. Politik und Soziologie der Mehrheitsregel, Opladen, Westdeuscher Verlag, 1984, which contains very interesting considerations and analyses regarding this subject and a few conclusions which tally with ours.
[4]The inability to identify clearly in supranational federalism the only instrument able to face this problem often provokes the emergence of protectionist trends in progressive circles. This temptation has not been entirely discarded even in the book mentioned in note 3. Cfr. p. 179.

 

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