Europe an economic success and democratic failure

The European Union is 50 years old on 1 January 2008. It has been en enormous economic and institutional success, but a democratic failure.
By John Duggan


By many criteria, the European Union has been an enormous success. It has not attained the status of a Federation, which was part of the ideal of its ideological founders, and never addressed another of its original purposes (“to pursue the achievement of one of (the Community's essential tasks, namely, the development of the African continent)  from the proposal of Robert Schuman, then French Foreign Minister, the proposal which led to the establishment of the Coal and Steel Community in 1951 (see separate panel). But it has become a magnet for stability on the European Continent and it has engendered economic growth throughout the region through the creation of a single market.

But on the negative side, it has engendered what is coyly called a “democratic deficit”, namely a power structure (primarily the Council of Ministers) which is largely outside democratic control (although, theoretically, the Ministers on the Council are responsible to their national parliaments). And far from addressing “the development of the African continent”, it has contributed to the further despoliation of that continent and built a fortress around Europe, primarily to keep out Africans.

Furthermore, its ideological underlay is aggressive libertarian (free market), with little of the compensating mechanisms of taxation and welfare to avoid social injustice.

Attempts at “deepening” the integration of Europe have failed largely, because of conflicting foreign policy interests (largely the divide between those who enjoy or wish to enjoy a favoured relationship with the United States of America and those who wish to remain more aloof). There are growing co-operation initiatives agreed on issues to do with justice and home affairs (mainly to do with immigration, “terrorism” and illicit drugs) but these so far have been largely harmless.

The European Parliament, the only institution in the Union directly responsible to the people of Europe, has acquired some additional powers through various Treaties. It now has co-decision making with the Council of Ministers but the Commission, alone, can initiate legislation. But the council remains the driving force and power house of the Union, remains impervious to democratic accountability. The European Union remains essentially hostile to accountability, the most recent illustration of this being the device whereby only the citizens of Ireland will be allowed a say, through a referendum, on the adoption of essentially a new Constitution for the Union.

The essential idea of what is now the European Union is the creation of a single market and most of the legislation (directives and regulations) arise from attempts deviously to frustrate that objective by self-interested national governments and Parliaments. The adoption of a single currency, the Euro, was part of the single market agenda.
The first institution was the Coal and Steel Community which came into being in 1951, comprising the original “Six”, France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg. That led to the establishment of the European Economic Community (the EEC) on 1 January 1958, the fiftieth anniversary of which is now being celebrated. The EEC stalled in the 1960's primarily because of what was perceived as intransigence on the part of the then French President, Charles de Gaulle, who was skeptical of any supranational organisation and opposed the entry of the UK and, by implication, Ireland. His instincts regarding the UK were probably correct for Britain has never absorbed itself into Europe, leaning instinctively towards its former colony in North America.

But with the departure of de Gaulle the gates were opened to other European countries and in 1973 Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined. In 1995 Austria, Finland and Sweden joined to form the “Fifteen”. On 1 May 2004 Malta, Cyprus (the Greek part), Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary joined. And on 1 January 2007 Bulgaria and Romania joined. Turkey has been an aspirant member for over 20 years now but antipathy towards a predominately Moslem nation, coupled with concerns over human rights abuses and economic disadvantage, have precluded its membership to date. It is likely that some of the other counties for former Yugoslavia, notably Croatia, will join ahead of Turkey (Slovenia is already a member). There are currently three official candidate countries, Croatia, the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia as well as Turkey. Also Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia are officially recognised as potential candidates.

With almost 500 million citizens, the EU generates around 31 per cent share of the world's nominal GDP.
A treaty establishing a constitution for the EU was signed in Rome in 2004, having been negotiated largely by Bertie Ahern It was intended to replace all previous treaties with a new single document. However, it was rejected French and Dutch voters in referenda. In 2007, it was agreed to replace that proposal with a new Reform Treaty, that would amend rather than replace the existing treaties, although everyone, notably Bertie Ahern insists it is no different from the new constitution proposed in Rome in 2004 and rejected by the French and Dutch electorates. But because it is not now called a “constitution” the accent of the people of Europe is deemed no longer necessary, aside from Ireland, which, by mistake, has an “irritating” (to Euro-fans) constitutional provision requiring the assent of the people to any changes not “necessitated” by European membership.