Michael Holz talks about EU reform at a federalist level rather than at the behest of individual member states. 

The Polish population face turbulent times. Recently, a law was passed through both legislative chambers that aims to restrict the independence of the Polish constitutional court. Thankfully, many thousands of people saw the events as what they really are – an intrusion into the separation of powers. It gave me hope to see that citizens take their democratic responsibility seriously and it should remind us all that a democratic society can only exist if we as citizens actively participate in it.

The intergovernmental approach is failing

In response to these events, the EU has threatened to trigger Article 7, the so-called ‘nuclear option’ that can culminate in the suspension of voting rights for the accused country. Many commentators argue that this is nothing more than an empty threat. And while it is largely true, it shows us something very important:

The apparent powerlessness of these threats reveals a structural weakness in the European institutions. The most important decisions in today’s EU are taken by the European Council which is comprised of national politicians. The procedure of making European law on the basis of loose cooperation between the representatives of the Union’s member states as we have it today is usually referred to as ‘the intergovernmental approach’. This approach is a relic of old times, where there was only the six founding states of what then was called the European Economic Community or the EEC. Add to this issue, a lot of legislation requires unanimity to be passed. And here is where the problems begin.

Times have changed and the EU has grown to 28 states. And with 28 member states, it is crystal clear that the intergovernmental approach will ultimately lead to the paralyzation of European policy-making and is in my opinion, the direct source of conflict between national and European interests.  It is also the very reason why the threats towards Poland are empty. For example, Hungary has already announced to veto any procedure of Article 7, where the second step requires an unanimous decision.
But what can we learn from these events? A modern EU requires a revision of the current law-making processes. The absolute minimum of such a reform must be the replacement of unanimity votes in the council with qualified majorities. While that prevents the EU from slipping into paralyzation, it certainly does not improve the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the decision-making.

A viable, federal alternative

In contrast to the  intergovernmental approach, federalist movements propose a federal approach which is a comprehensive structural reform of the EU that includes the formation of a true European government,  A strengthening of the European Parliament’s representative power and functioning, and the replacement of the European Council with a chamber of national representatives. These reforms aim to create a federal level which must be based on a European constitution.

A European constitution’s purpose and advantages are manifold – on basis of the constitution, a European constitutional court could be installed and would thereby open the possibilities to solve problems like we see today in Poland. Simultaneously, the democratic legitimacy of the institutions would be much stronger than today and the right of EU citizens would be significantly strengthened.

Although it might be a very unpopular topic in national politics, giving a European constitution a second chance is the least the Union’s citizens deserve.

There is also a clear way ahead how to foster these ideas – The European Union is still a assembly of nation states. Therefore, we must create the political will to reform in our very own nation states and make reform a popular topic. That is a massive task to do, and it requires all of our engagement and personal responsibilities, as well as becoming a prime directive for all people who depend on free exchange in all regards and on a cosmopolitan society.

Michael Holz
An electronic engineer and particle accelerator physicist with experience in European scientific communities. Born and raised in Germany, but living in Sweden. A convinced federalist, president of the European Federalists in Sweden, and believes that a united Europe is imperative for the future success of our continent. Interests regarding Europe focus on political structures, global strategy, and - naturally - scientific exchange.

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