A pan-European referendum on a new treaty is needed if the EU is to convince its citizens of its transparency, accountability and democratic legitimacy, I write in an op-ed at The Parliament Magazine.
The British 2017 referendum is a good initiative by UK prime minister David Cameron, but it is not enough. Outside Britain there are 450 million citizens in the EU who also want democracy, transparency, and common sense in their policymaking, as opposed to what Brussels is delivering today.
But even if the British referendum in itself is not enough to solve the EU’s political problems, it presents a window of opportunity for all of Europe. This is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.
The article has now disappeared from The Parliament Magazine, but here it is:
We Need a Pan-European Referendum On a New Treaty
Britain will have its in-out referendum in 2017. Unless the EU wants to run the risk of a major member state actually leaving, it has until 2017 to transform itself into something attractive enough to make the Brits want to stay of their own free will. This will be a major task, but it can be done, and it needs to be done.
The EU needs a new basic Treaty to replace the constitutional mess we have today. The Lisbon Treaty has not yet been in operation for two years, but there is a universal consensus that it will have to be revised as soon as possible. Although there are very different views on how it should be revised, everybody agrees that what we have is simply not good enough.
But to try to fix the Lisbon Treaty with yet another layer of patches will not work. There are already so many layers of patches in the Treaties that they are impossible to understand for everybody except a small number experts.
It may (or may not) be technically possible for the political elite of Europe to repeat the process that led to the Lisbon Treaty: to draft revisions to the basic Treaties behind closed doors, and then ram the result down the throats of Europe’s citizens using whatever means necessary. But even if this kind of process would be possible, it quite obviously would not solve the problem. Another Lisbon style treaty revision will not make the EU more popular with citizens who feel that it lacks accountability and democratic legitimacy.
We need a new Treaty, but the Pirate Party does not have a proposal for how that Treaty should look, at least not now. Instead, we have a proposal for how it should get adopted. If we can agree on the procedure first, this will create the conditions necessary for a constructive discussion about the contents of the new Treaty.
A new Treaty should be adopted in two steps. First, there should be a pan-European referendum where each citizen has one vote, regardless of which member state he or she is a citizen of. Then, each member state will have to decide if it wants to be part of this new Union, either by holding a national referendum or by letting the national parliament decide.
If we can agree on this procedure for adopting a new Treaty, any proposal for such a Treaty will have to fulfill certain criteria if it is to have any chance at all of getting accepted by citizens and member states.
- It will have to be understandable, or citizens will vote against it. Only a fool would say yes to an agreement that he or she cannot understand. Europe’s citizens are no fools.
- It will have to be democratic, or citizens will not want it even if they do understand it. Unless the new Treaty is seen to address the EU’s current lack of transparency, accountability, and democratic legitimacy, there will be no way to get a yes in the pan-European referendum.
- And it will have to respect the member states’ sovereignty and not transfer more power than is absolutely necessary to Brussels. Otherwise the risk is overwhelming that important countries (including, but not limited to, Britain) will decide not to be members of the new Union.
The British 2017 referendum is a good initiative by Mr. Cameron, but it is not enough. Outside Britain there are 450 million citizens in the EU who also want democracy, transparency, and common sense in the policy making, as opposed to what Brussels is delivering today.
But even if the British referendum in itself is not enough to solve the EU’s political problems, it presents a window of opportunity for all of Europe. This is a opportunity we cannot afford to miss.