Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Thursday, 05 October 2006
Friday, 06 October 2006 02:13

Europe and the US: allies or competitors

Conference at Fordham University, November 2003

EU-US relations are a very hot topic, especially with the Iraq conflict. These relations are made of a wide range of issues which have evolved enormously since World War II. The international political environment has also considerably changed from a fierce and dangerous cold war to a still very dangerous unipolar world.
But we should not only see these relations from a diplomatic and theoretical point of view. They also bear a lot of feelings; frustrated proximity and friendship, enormous ignorance, and a lot of stereotypes and images. Perceptions are changing. While the English Channel used to be an enormous separation between the British and the continent, bigger than the Atlantic, it seems that now this same Channel is just a big river, while the Atlantic has become as large as the Pacific.

In this presentation, for the purpose of clarification, I think we may justly observe how the year 1989 was the key moment in a complete revolution in the world scene. There is a time before 1989 and a time after, a time of allies working together, and then a time of progressive separation and autonomy of Europe. This has its consequences on EU-US relations.
But the period after 1989 ought to be also divided into two periods, one before 9/11 and another after 9/11, when allies are throwing at each other all sorts of funny names, and divisions become very apparent. So I will have three parts in this presentation, EU-US relations before 1989, which I call “alliance and domination”, then between 1989 and 9/11, called “competition and counterweight”, and after 9/11, called “consensus, divergence and confrontation”. And if you are still alive and awake after that, you will hear my conclusions.
I am sure you are enough awake to download the entire text of the conference (pdf)!

Attached media :
Conference at Fordham University, 2004

As you know, Europe is made of many countries with a long history going back many centuries, history of monarchies and empires. Still to-day we can notice some relics of that past in the fact that 7 out of the 15 member states of EU have crowned heads of states, Kings, Queens and Grand Duke. And sometimes, even Republican President tend to act like the Sun King, Louis the XIV.

Nevertheless, everyone recognize that these European countries are real democracies. Separately, the countries of Europe have a real commitment to democratic governance. May be because they know the price of the mistakes of the past.
However, it seems that when you put 15 and very soon 25 democracies together, it does not look like the whole system is so democratic. Arithmetic does not always apply to politics.
The problem comes from the fact that the European Union has a very complicated institutional system, which does not look like any national government. Jacques Delors, former President of the European Commission, said at one point that the EU was an “unidentified political object”. Imagine how you can drive an unidentified vehicle. You better make the difference between a Hummer and a small car before you start your trip.
So, if we want to know what governance can be envisaged for this European system, it might be good to know more about the system itself.

1. Between Federation and confederation: what kind of system

We should remind us first that the nation states remain the basis of the legitimacy of the EU system, with a strong sense of identity based on different histories, different cultures, different languages.
Those states have not lost their nationalistic tendencies, as we can see in Spain, in France, in Britain, in Greece and in Poland. National pride still exists. Then Constant tensions have to be managed and discussed between them in the framework of the European institutions.
Thus, the EU is a new structure complementing the nation states in many areas. It has no autonomy, and no vocation to become a superstate.
So this EU political system lies between a federation with a super state, and a confederation where the power relies only on the nation states. The EU is more than a confederation, and less than a federation. That is why J Delors and J Fischer have talked about a Federation of Nation States which is a contradiction in terms, but represents the European reality quite well.
Now what about citizenship. Legitimacy in the EU does not come only from the states, and that’s the problem, but also from the citizens, the individual. The future Constitution of EU starts with the following words: “Reflecting the will of the citizens and the States of Europe to build a common future….”. Clearly we have here the elements of a double legitimacy from the Nation states and the Citizen.
And to ass to that complexity, since the treaty of Maastricht in 1992, the EU recognizes two coexisting citizenships, the national and the European.
So, this system is then quite complicated, as you can imagine.
It is criticized by many for its “democratic deficit”, which mainly means a lack of accountability for the decisions taken by the EU institutions.
Now there are two sides of this criticism: a constructive one and a negative one:
The constructive aspect of that criticism comes from those who want a supranational EU. They want the EU to become more like a State, and to be accountable like a state. So they criticize its lack of accountability. They call for more power for the EU parliament.
But there is also the other side of this criticism on the democratic deficit, which wants to get rid of the principle of integration: they use the democratic deficit as an argument to “reinforce their fundamental objections to the integration process ”. Those critics do not want more integration in the name of democracy.
I must say that the argument is not right in both cases: the critics use the democratic argument either to favor the process or to stop it. But they do not help to understand where the problem is. It is a good question with two bad answers.
We can conclude this first part saying that the expression “democratic deficit” is at the best inappropriate, and at the worst unfair. Because its use implies that Europe would already be like a nation, which it’s not going to be.
It is best to speak about the “democratic dilemma” in the EU system or, in order to avoid those theological debates, we would use the expression of “an enigmatic governance” of the EU. This term of governance is defined by the EU commission itself as “rules, process and behavior that affect the way in which powers are exercised at the European level” . Beyond democracy, we certainly have a specific governance in the EU, which is enigmatic enough to be discussed.
This democratic dilemma is a sort of original sin for Europe. It is due to the division of Europe in national states and national cultures, which have difficulties in communicating with each other since they are divided into different cultural spheres according to countries and languages. It is a structural sin where the necessary social and cultural preconditions of a political system are missing, a minimum of unity and common culture. In that sense, the recent debate over the Constitution is quite different from the debate in Philadelphia in 1776.
Nevertheless the classical question on governance should be asked to that type of system, that is: how authorized by the people is this government? How representative is it? How responsible is it to the people? We might not have the same answer at the European level than at the national level, but we are entitled to ask the same questions.
We must ask ourselves now how this type of European system has been managed so far? And how it came to be as bad as it is described sometimes?

2. Bureaucrats and efficiency first

In order to understand the problem it is good to go back to the beginning. When Jean Monnet proposed the new Coal and Steel Community in 1950, he clearly had in mind a French model, an institution made of good and able civil servants, totally dedicated to their work, with a great sense of public service. This would be an administration made of the best competences of Europe, able to decide for the best interest of the members.
This building of institutions would gradually create a common spirit, the conditions for a political system. This has always been the European method. You did not have a cultural and political community at the beginning. So, the EU starts from the differences, organizes institutions, and then fills that up with common policies, hoping that this will create more unity in the end. In other words, institution building precedes the identity building.
This method has allowed to build a common market, a common currency, a Charter of fundamental rights and the writing of a common Constitution, all elements which give a new identity for the European Union and its members. Identity building has succeeded.
But these initiatives have been taken by an elite of bureaucrats. This is a very limited sense of participation which is typically French, and was presented by Jean Monnet as “an essentially democratic method”
This way of governance is a great temptation. The temptation of efficacy over legitimitacy. But it worked very well for some time, and very few people had anything to say against it, because public opinion just did not realize what was going on.
An enormous work of integration has taken place in more than 50 years, and this in two phases, one positive, the other negative.
From 1950 to 1992 (the Treaty of Maastricht), the European Commission was the main actor and could advance an incredible work of integration of what was then the European Community. This was an intense and positive integration.
But in 1992, the nation states came back on the front line. The national governments thought that the federal institutions like the European Commission were getting too strong. It was time to come back to the wheel of power. A time of negative integration followed, with the power devolved back to the European Council and the Council of ministers, which are intergovernmental institutions.
During all this time, new problems were coming up, because public opinion was not following the development of EU institutions and politics.
Surveys give us some ideas about the situation. On one hand, the opinion supports in general the principle of EU integration. It is even more explicit as far as the Constitution is concerned, since 77% of the population of the EU wants this new Constitution. 62% want their country to make concessions in order to reach that Constitution. 63% are in favor of a European Minister of Foreign affairs.
Preceding studies have found the same thing : there is an overall popular support for the EU. The positive answers to the question “Is EU membership good” grew from 54 to 70% from 1982 to 1992. In this study, 80% are for, or very much for this effort to unify Europe, while 8 to 17% would be happy to see the end of the EU.
On the other hand, the level of participation in European elections is constantly decreasing. In 20 years the participation in election to the EP, from 1979 to 1999 went down in Germany from 65% to 45%, in UK, from 31% to 24%, in Italy from 85% to 75%, in Netherlands from 58% to 36%.
Several referendums have barely passed. In 1992, the Treaty of Maastricht was ratified in France by a majority of 51%, which is not much. In Denmark it was lost and they had to vote again. The best case being the Irish ratification of the Nice Treaty, which was refused on a first referendum and finally accepted on a second.
That means that the answer to EU development is far from being simple. Euroscepticism is growing, protesting what they call the “dictatorship of Brussels». The feeling is that Brussels is intervening into too many details of daily life, the size of bananas, the color of lights in your car, the quality of chocolate, and so on.
Other objections to the EU: there is no way for EU citizens to appoint or dismiss the EU government. Europeans are governed by non-elected civil servants. Citizens are under the control of a bureaucracy. The Kafkaïan image of Brussels is confirmed by the tons of paperwork needed for any activities linked to Brussels.
A bigger and bigger gap between the institutions and the sense of European identity was perceived by many European citizens. If the dynamic of integration has been very strong, the feeling of identity has not followed.
What’s too bad is that the population approves of the principle of EU integration. We see that again now with the approval of the work of the Constitution in the surveys. But people do not understand the method, and they are sensitive to the eurosceptic criticism of the absence of democracy.
People are pulled in complete opposite directions. One cannot go on like that anymore. Europe should change its method of governance.

3. The White paper on Governance

The European Commission, which is far from being dumb, realized that. After just arriving in power in 1999, a new President, Romano Prodi, decided in the year 2000 to promote a study of governance in the EU, with the idea to improve the way the institutions work and to bridge the gap between the citizens and EU power. The target was the famous “democratic deficit”.
The task was not too easy to fulfill, because the changes in democracy were not only coming from the European system, but they existed in all participatory democracies at the national level. So, the question is to know if the EU democratic deficit is coming from the EU system or from the growing skepticism around modern democracy?
To these concerns were added several other more precise ones : the lack of progress with the “Europe of regions” which does not seem to work. A real concern about the influence of corporate interests over EU regulation policy. This is a problem since EU policies are much more regulatory than distributive.
So, in February 2000, the European Commission asked a French civil servant who knew the European Institutions very well, Jerôme Vignon, who had been counselor to Jacques Delors for many years, to write a report on that subject. Mr Vignon went to work, consulting with every possible interested person on the subject, governments, the EU Commission, the EU Parliament, representatives of Regions, lobby groups of all kinds, academic figures, internet consultation, public debates, and so on. This was a very open process. He gave his report a year and a half later in July 2001.
It is interesting to evaluate this report. It has been written by people inside the system, former members of the European Commission, very much convinced of what they call the “Community method”, and by a French civil servant, which is not without importance because of the tradition of French public service. This might explain why the report states that “there is much that can be done to change the way the Union works under the existing treaty” . The report only invites improvement in the Community method. This would be done in two ways: first, take greater account of the local and regional. Second, enhance involvement in the policy process by citizen’s organizations, giving a bigger and better role to lobbies and advocacy groups with the idea to improve the dialogue with civil society.
This is OK, but it cannot be the panacea for a very fragmented governance, even if it is a good start. This is not democracy in the sense that it gives power to another elite, the elite of NGO’s and European civil society. We saw that very bluntly during the Convention which prepared the Constitution. The European associations which intervened in the process, and among them, our Jesuit association, were not democratic. They were made of a European elite, very competent and already convinced of the value of European integration, while the bulk of the European citizens are not. So, participation, which is one of the great means of action of this text, remains a very closed concept.

Unfortunately, this report has never really been put into practice, since it was published in July 2001 when the reflections on a new Convention for the writing of a Constitution were already on the way. The future Constitution was supposed to answer all the questions raised before the White paper on governance The report was forgotten with the beginning of the work of the Convention in February 2002.

4. The proposals of the Constitution

The agenda of the Convention was enormous since it had to proceed to a real new foundation of the Union by writing a Constitution.
This Constitution wants to fulfill the normal role of a Constitution, which is rule making (to create news rules and regulations), measure taking (to force in the application of the law), and dispute setting (to regulate the oppositions and disputes).
But it also has the ambition to fulfill a second role of all Constitutions, which is to create a political community, a political unity rooted in a cultural entity. This is stated in the preamble: “While remaining proud of their own national identities and history, the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their ancient divisions, and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny”. The expression “united ever more closely” has a strong, symbolic significance. Although it is not very precise, it is full of meaning which did not escape the people who wrote the Constitution, since debate was very strong on those words.
The same desire of forming a cultural entity in a common destiny is clearly the reason why the Constitution includes the Charter of fundamental rights, gives a juridical personality for the Union, and promotes the symbols of the Union like a flag, an hymn, a currency, a day of celebration (May, 9th).
Beyond that, one of the main debates was over the democratic deficit. Several responses have been completed in the project of the Constitution. I give you 3 points:
1. An increase of representative democracy, at two levels. The European Parliament has increased its area of intervention of common decision with the Council of ministers to 35 new sectors. But the National Parliaments have also increased their role in the European process. They will be informed of all projects of legislation, and will have 6 weeks to give a green light or red light to the European Commission before a decision is made. This is a good way to practice subsidiarity, such an important principle in the European construction since Maastricht in 1992.
2. An opening to majority democracy. The EU system is very much based on consensus. It’s a good principle in order to respect the diversity of the various nation states of the EU, but this limits the practice of democracy. The Constitution introduces the idea that the President of the Commission should be chosen in the political majority of the European Parliament and he would be elected by this Parliament the day after the Parliament elections. This opens a choice for the people.
3. Last but not least, the introduction of participatory democracy in the EU process. Civil society, Trade Unions, associations and churches are accepted as natural partners of political institutions. But there is something more: the Constitution also offers the possibility for a million people to ask the EU Commission to introduce a project of law.
I must say here a special word about the churches. They have been very active as part of European civil society, well present through various organizations which certainly had an impact on the redaction of the Constitution. Europe is more open to religion than several of the European countries themselves.

These three points are really essential. They show the attempt of the Constitution to answer that call for democracy. But they do not answer all the problems of the democratic dilemma in Europe. One of them is the absence of representative government for the European citizen. No one knows who governs in Brussels.
To answer that, the Constitution proposes the idea of a permanent President of the European Council for 5 years and the abolition of the six months rotation system of the Presidency. You hardly know the name of the President and then you have to learn the name of the next one. So a permanent president would allow some identification at the European level. At least we would know who leads Europe.
Another issue raised by the constitutional project is the problem of a European Commission of 15 members, leaving many countries without a Commissioner. If it is juridically a good proposal because it aims at efficiency, it is politically a great mistake because it keeps states out of the essential place of decision. All countries of the EU want to be part of it, and for good reasons. If someone is part of the decision, the country has a feeling that it participates in the development of Europe. This also is an expression of democracy. It allows to go beyond the fragmentation of Europe in different cultural spheres.

Can we say that these proposals of the Constitution are enough to help overcome the democratic dilemma?
I think it is not enough. They are real improvements, but they do not create the European political space which is needed for all citizens of Europe. The citizen remains too far from the European political debate, which is fragmented into national debate in each national space. This European political debate is not brought close to him. The original sin of the double nature of the EU, national and federal, is just partly overcome by these reforms.
One of the most democratic proposals of the Constitution is the idea that the debates in the Council of minister would be public, when they discuss a legislative proposal. It is a very good idea but I don’t think many people would watch that on their TV set (and we have not C-Span around), but certainly it would break the fortress of secrecy built by the Council of ministers. It would allow journalists or specialists to get informed about the political discussion on European issues, and to know which country is in favor of this or that. This is an idea that should probably be developed.
But it remains very confidential. It would be one of these great ideas for Europeans already very much informed. This is one of the dangers of Brussels. The specialists get everything they want, all the information (on internet for instance), real transparency etc.. but there is no real open debate where the general public can be involved.

5. The necessary opening of the political debate

At this point, we can appreciate the proposals of the Constitution, but it is not enough. There is a need to “parliamentarize” and politicize the EU. This is something that the EU civil servants do not really want and do not really like because it might make the process slower and more difficult.
But we enter now a new phase in the development of Europe. With 25 countries in and with 80 000 pages of common regulations, with a common market and a common currency, very soon common immigration laws, and the beginning of a common foreign policy, we are no longer in the growing phase of Europe, in a phase of development. Europe is not a growing child anymore, but an adult, with its regular size, its own autonomy, its own identity. The time for building the foundation is finished .
After many years of debate on the type of institutional system, and with an approval of the Constitution in June, the EU is entering the phase of policy decisions. There should be debates in the public opinion now on what to decide, where to go, how to relate to the US, how to continue integration and so on. The people should be able to say what they want and how to organize Europe. European politics cannot remain with this system of consensus decided behind closed doors, keeping the public totally ignorant, and then waking up all surprised that the public says no. The dilemma is now how you can politicize the democracy of consensus . Three proposals could be made:

The first proposal is to make the government dependent upon a parliamentary process. This means that the European Commission should be appointed according to the majority of the Parliament, which is the project of the Constitution.
This is a very good step. Every political party of the EU parliament should have a candidate for President of the Commission, each of them with their own program. And the citizens could choose in the EU Parliament elections between programs and candidates. The project of the Constitution should go further. The President of the European Commission could create a majority model of the EU Commission instead of a consensus model. This is not easy since the Commissioners are appointed by the nation States and not by the Parliament. But the nation States are not all of the same political group, so differences will remain to allow political options.
The second proposal is to get the EU Commission to introduce options in their political projects, and not only one proposal as it is now. The proposal is supposed to be the only good proposal, accepted by all without debate. The EP and the Council of minister have no other choices but to say yes or no to the EU proposal. This use of the “technicality” of a proposal can be ambiguous. You cannot always dissolve “political issues” into technical solutions.
The third proposal is to get the national parliaments involved in the European debate . I have said that already in connection to the Constitutional project, but it is still very limited there. It should be systematic and there should be some constraint of the EU Commission if an important number of the National Parliaments disagree with a project. The debate in the national parliaments should take place before the decision at the Council level, so that the delegate of each government knows what to do when he meets with the other ministers. This is already in place in Denmark; it should be so in all countries.


Those reforms are necessary. Others are impossible, particularly the direct election of the President of the EU Commission by all European citizens. It is not a good idea, since nobody could really meet this candidate because of the problem of diversity of languages. I can’t see a candidate going to 25 different countries with 20 different languages. In that sense, the European structure, its fragmentation in different cultural and political zones, does not allow a presidential system as it is known here, although I know that some people are in favor of such an initiative.

These are some proposals to change the governance in Europe, to make it more political, to allow the expression of local entities, and citizens. It will remain for a long time enigmatic for many people. But Europe has proved in the past to be able to be creative in political terms. That’s why I hope the ratification of the Constitution will be a new step in a permanent way of political creativity.
Link to the "Etudes" website

Attached media :
Thursday, 05 October 2006 19:45


【陈太乙 译】











Thursday, 05 October 2006 19:39


【尉迟秀 译】


太阳快要下山的时候,他走出家门。他要去摆放捕鱼用的柳条笼子。他总是让笼子沈到非常深的地方,沈到只有他一个人知道的水底断层,或者放在峭壁底下的水底岩台。每一次,他都把他的话放在那里当饵。这句话还是活跳跳的,他每次从自己心底深处掏出来,他和这句话分开,望著这句话在手心抽动著,然后把它勾在这些柳条编成的陷阱里。这句话,他放在身体里摇了一整天,就像别人在整理房间的窗帘,耙平花园里的小径,扎一束白棉草或欧石南花,磨光一块木头,或是一块石头,或者修饰一段音乐、一段文字 为了某一个人。






Thursday, 05 October 2006 19:18


【陳太乙 譯】












Thursday, 05 October 2006 18:47


【尉遲秀 譯】


太陽快要下山的時候,他走出家門。他要去擺放捕魚用的柳條籠子。他總是讓籠子沈到非常深的地方,沈到只有他一個人知道的水底斷層,或者放在峭壁底下的水底岩台。每一次,他都把他的話放在那裡當餌。這句話還是活跳跳的,他每次從自己心底深處掏出來,他和這句話分開,望著這句話在手心抽動著,然後把它勾在這些柳條編成的陷阱裡。這句話,他放在身體裡搖了一整天,就像別人在整理房間的窗簾,耙平花園裡的小徑,紮一束白棉草或歐石南花,磨光一塊木頭,或是一塊石頭,或者修飾一段音樂、一段文字 為了某一個人。






Thursday, 05 October 2006 18:14


【李美圜 譯】











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