Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law

Previous |Next |Up |Title

VI Conclusion

So, that is the situation. Today's European Union presupposes democracy as a heritage of values and institutions shared by its Member States in all of which the representatives of the people control the action of the executive branch;[60] but it is not itself democratic. Indeed, the Union is doomed never to be truly democratic as long as not only its foreign and security policies, which are openly carried out on an intergovernmental basis, but the very management of its supranational core, the single market, are entrusted, with or without a circumscribed control by the European Parliament, to diplomatic round tables. In other words, democracy will elude Europe as long as its form of government includes rules and legitimises practices moulded on those of the international community.

All this looks sombre enough; but a further consideration makes it appear even gloomier. As evidenced by the figures which I have just quoted, the application of such rules and practices also threatens to reinforce the governments' predominance over domestic parliaments and therefore to infect the constitutions of the Member States, that is the very democracy presupposed by the Union.[61] This very serious danger is even regarded with growing anxiety by the many who wish the Union to remain what it is. The remedies which they offer, however, are either ineffectual or disruptive. Thus, a tighter control exercised by the national parliaments on the legislative process in Brussels by means of rigid guidelines imposed on the respective governments would restrict the bargaining power of the latter, consigning them, whenever decisions are taken by a majority vote, to a splendid but sterile isolation.[62] As for nation-wide referenda, the Danish experience in 1992-1993 has shown that, if their outcome is negative, they may have such ruinous consequences as to force the Union and the State concerned to sidestep the popular will by working out some fudged compromise. Finally, the testing by Member State courts of Community provisions against the values enshrined in their constitutions runs the risk of undermining the major advances made during the integration process: namely, supremacy of European law and its corollaries, undistorted competition and equal treatment for all Union citizens.[63]

The truth is therefore that the problem of democracy cannot be tackled at national level. It must be confronted where it was engendered, in the very fabric of the Union, and it may only be solved by ridding the Union of the last - but still how powerful! - vestige of its original constitution: the essentially international nature grafted onto its policy-making machinery. In 1941 Clement Attlee uttered five words of glorious political folly which were soon forgotten and were destined never to be repeated in England or elsewhere: `Europe' - he said - `must federate or perish.' The following decades proved him patently wrong. Europe opted for a set-up verging on the confederal and this choice did not prevent it from making the idea of war unthinkable within its boundaries and from becoming economically prosperous. Unless I am entirely mistaken, however, Attlee's folly sounds much like wisdom today. While yielding its crop, the confederal set-up has given rise to contradictions which grow in direct proportion to the growth of the Union's powers and which only a leap towards federalism can hope to overcome. The alternative, I am afraid, is a withering of the worthiest reasons which justify Europe's role as a protagonist in world affairs - its democratic integrity and hence its right to preach democracy to those who do not practise it.

Of course, as Karl Marx put it, no tailor can hope to try his breeches on history. Hard as it may be to visualise, the Union might after all evolve into a democratic entity without becoming a federal state, even as minimal and open a state as it could possibly be in a world order which is light-years distant from Kant's vision. If this were to happen, I would certainly not be vexed; in fact, I would rejoice. Democracy is the end, states, as we have known them, are but means. Achieving a stateless democracy has been one of mankind's most recurrent and noblest dreams. How could the miracle of its coming true be felt as a discomfiture?

[60]La Pergola, loc cit, n 5 at 19.

[61]A particular aspect of this infection is revealed by the fact that Member State governments use the Union as a scapegoat. To borrow from Schmitter, loc cit, n 10 at 150: `[s]ending intractable issues abroad to Brussels and blaming it for the need to implement unpopular policies at home has become a standard feature of European politics.'

[62]For a perceptive discussion of this state of affairs cf, Newman, op cit, n 9 at 191 et seq.

[63]On this danger, which has been smouldering throughout the whole history of Community law and which became red-hot in 1993, see the remarkable article by Boom, `The European Union after the Maastricht Decision: Will Germany be the `Virginia of Europe'?' (1995) 43 American Journal of Comparative Law 177.

Previous |Next |Up |Title



Questions or comments about this site?

Top of the page