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How to Reform the European Union

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TSR's new app is coming! Sign up here to try it first >> 17-10-2016
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    Brexiteers are keen to argue an absolutist argument that the European Union cannot be reformed under any circumstances. This post is here to challenge that.

    In many ways, I struggle to call myself "pro-EU". I support 'Remain', but only because this European Union is what I view as a 'necessary evil' to a stronger European superpower.

    No: I'm not interested in this politician union that tells us how much water we can flush in our toilets or how big our olive jars should be: I'm interested in a fully-democratic, maximum-devolved, federal, liberal United States of Europe - a modern superpower on the European continent that sets the international agenda on the worldwide issues and rivals the great superpowers of the emerging 21st century.

    In many ways, this vision of a 'United States of Europe' - a term first coined by Winston Churchill - is not a new idea. In 1975, during the EEC referendum, a key campaigning point of the 'No' campaign was that the Common Market would expand in order "to merge Britain with France, Germany, Italy and other countries into a single nation" (source). When the British electorate rejected their proposals in that referendum by two-to-one, then unlike what Nigel Farage is now claiming by rewriting history, the British electorate actually gave its consent to a European Union far more powerful than the one we have today - somewhat closer to my vision of a more internationalist, powerful United States of Europe than the current protectionist, weaker European Union.

    In fact, I have heard it claimed that this was reflected in the literature of the 'Yes' campaign too: the 'Yes' campaign rarely even mentioned 'the Common Market' in its official literature - because it made it clear from the start that a 'Yes' vote was not for the status quo, but moreover for a new powerful European entity.

    As all this proves, the idea of a United States of Europe is neither recent nor new: forty years ago, it was the very international superpower which the British public voted in favour of.

    Brexiteers are therefore right to question why such a powerful political union hasn't been brought about in forty years - even though this notion of a maintenance of a 'status quo' entirely contradicts their argument that the EU has changed in the past forty years to become far more overbearing and overreaching.

    Many point to Brussels as the source of no reform - but I have a different theory. It is not Brussels stopping EU reform; moreover, it's the peoples of Europe themselves.

    Firstly, a key fact has to be established: hunger for reform exists in Brussels, contrary to the claims of Brexiteers. There is clear hunger in Brussels for the liberalising, democratising, devolutionary and federalising reforms which would be needed to establish a United States of Europe like the one I have described. For decades now, voices like those of Guy Verhofstadt, Jean-Claude Juncker and their respective parties (and I dare say the new anti-austerity parties of Syriza and Podemos too) have been demanding liberal and democratic reforms to the European Union. Listening to some of their speeches regarding EU reform is ample evidence of this claim.

    It is clearly, therefore, not true that there is no political will in Brussels for reform - unlike what Brexiteers are proudly claiming. The establishment in Brussels is in fact probably mostly in favour of reforming the European Union to deliver the liberal and democratic reforms needed to build a fully-democratic, maximum-devolved, federal, liberal United States of Europe.

    This is a crucial and important point: there is a hunger for reform at the very heart of the European Union in Brussels, and therefore it is possible to reform the European Union even further still.

    What, therefore, is holding the establishment back?

    Ironically, the culprit is democracy. The so-called Eurocrats in Brussels have no mandate to reform the European Union further because the European Union's democracy is a total sham - and I do join the Brexiteers in readily denouncing how it makes a diseased mockery of voters (this is why I favour abolishing the Commission as the first democratising act of a United States of Europe). The reason why these Eurocrats have no mandate is because nobody bothers to turn out to vote in European elections (with turnout usually averaging below 50%) - and for as long as there is no European 'demos' (a voter base), there can be no proper European democracy.

    If the peoples of Europe want to democratise the EU, they must firstly exercise their democratic right by bothering to turn up to vote at the polling stations every five years in the European elections. The reason why the European Union has such a great democratic deficit - and why the Commission still exists - is because there can be no European democracy until there is a European demos.

    In the Orange Book, former Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg argued that because there is no European demos, the European Parliament has no democratic mandate, and so the ultimate sovereignty for issues has to remain with the national governments. This argument shows why the European Union hasn't been reformed in democracy sooner: because the peoples of Europe do not turn out to vote, the unelected Commissioners have to remain more powerful than the elected MEPs. This, in turn, halts the process of democratising the EU because it maintains that national parliaments have to be more powerful than any notion of a European superpower.

    In short, the reason why there is no European democracy is because there is no European demos. If we want a European democracy, we therefore have to build a European demos - and this means that democratisation doesn't start with Brussels, like the Brexiteers are telling us, but moreover with the voter at home watching the elections on television. If the peoples of Europe do not turn out to vote, then the Eurocrats have no mandate to enact their liberal and democratic reforms to democratise the European Union further. Democratisation doesn't start with the establishment in Brussels: it starts with the peoples of Europe.

    It is not, however, just a case of improving turnout at European elections. Once a European demos is built, which is necessary to push arguments like those of Nick Clegg into irrelevance so that there is a mandate for further democratisation of the EU from Brussels, a European democracy must be established. Whilst a European demos is required to build a European democracy, it is not sufficient in itself. To build a stable and proper European democracy, MEPs need to be accountable to their constituents - and they are not.

    At the last European election, the United Kingdom returned 24 UKIP MEPs and several additional Eurosceptic Tory MEPs. These MEPs collectively have the worst attendance ratings of the European Parliament, meaning that whilst complaining about the overblown salaries that all MEPs (themselves included) have, they fail to serve their constituents by actually bothering to turn up to the Parliament and contribute to positive discussion about how to build our United States of Europe. On the rare occasions that UKIP MEPs are in the European Parliament, they mostly talk in diatribes with empty political rhetoric about how it's all a shambles.

    Aforementioned leader of ALDE, Guy Verhofstadt, has beautifully torn into Farage on his own voting record to illustrate this point (for those of you like me who hate political rhetoric and prefer solid proofs on voting records, here is a newspaper report - I won't bother to track down the original data tables, and I trust the Guardian that they exist).

    If we are to have a true European democracy borne of a European demos, we need to vote at elections based on the voting records and policies of incumbent and candidate MEPs. This means improving recognition of MEPs, improving understanding of the European Parliament, improving turnout at European elections and improving awareness of the policy platforms of different parties.

    Controversially, this in itself requires for there to be a clear distinction between European politics and national politics: for as long as the Liberal Democrats are judged on their national political coalition and not for their wider party, international European policies and proposals regarding further federalisation and democratisation of the European Union (a policy which far more Britons support than is reflected in their vote shares at European elections), there can be no proper European democracy built.

    To conclude, this long ramble considered, there are four crucial concluding points that can be made:

    1. The European Union can be reformed: contrary to the claims of Brexiteers, there is hunger for reform in Brussels even amongst the EU establishment, as exemplified by politicians like Jean-Claude Juncker and Guy Verhofstadt.

    2. The European Union has not been democratised in its many decades of existence because there can be no European democracy until there is a European demos giving the current European Parliament the mandate needed to enact democratising reforms, as argued by Nick Clegg in the Orange Book.

    3. In order to democratise the EU, it is therefore necessary to increase turnout at European elections, to ensure that the peoples of Europe hold their MEPs to account and to vote for parties based not on their national politics but on their European platforms.

    4. There has been longstanding will to build a more powerful [and democratic] European Union (a liberal, maximum-devolved, federal and fully-democratised version of which has been coined 'the United States of Europe', and this will for a more powerful European Union was even manifested in the 1975 campaign, contrary to the claims of Brexiteers.

    As may be noted, the four above points could stand alone without any mention of the democratised United States of Europe that I would like to see built. This is predominantly because the United States of Europe is the context from which I pose my argument: as the European Union becomes democratised, so too I anticipate that it will be liberalised and have more devolution because I anticipate that, in a real European democracy, these are the policies that a new European demos would vote for. If this is my mistaken belief, a European demos would be able to reject a United States of Europe through a democratic vote - and this is an important distinction to make. Although I have framed my discussion here within the context of building a United States of Europe, this context need not exist to demonstrate how the European Union can be democratised - not from the inside-out, but from the outside-in.

    I think your points are idealistic and there is no proof or indication that they will indeed work and reform the EU. I also think many Brexiter, including me, are tired of predicting what will work and will not work, and the focus of attention has now turned to exploring the opportunities outside the EU. There is a balance between waiting for reforms, and whether the wait will result in the UK becoming more integrated to the union as time goes on, which would make it more difficult to withdraw our membership if we delay the referendum.

    You must also appreciate the fact that not everyone desires a 'United States of Europe'.

    To put it simply, your points seem to emphasis the belief that 'where there is a will, there is a way', but unfortunately politics is not this predictable and we do not live in an ideal World where the people's wills always translate into policies.

    It is a sad state of affairs that so many people are disappointed with the EU to the point of wanting to leave the union. If there is a way that can solve the EU's problem I'm sure all of us will go for it, however in a situation where you cannot count on others, the only thing that you can count on is yourself.
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