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Public participation in the EU

by A swedish kind of death Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 10:32:54 AM EST

In a previous thread we yet again got into a discussion about the constitution. Let me first say that this diary is not about the constitution. If you must know I do not have a firm grip on the pros and cons of the constitution as public debate barely started in Swedn before it stopped. So I have no position.

This diary is about the public participation in the formation of the European unions treaties. And please leave the discussions of the illfated constitution by the door. You can pick it up on the way out.


The problems of the publics current role

The way I see it the public has very little influence in the shaping of a EU treaty and is at best called in at the last minute to approve (not disapprove) of the treaty. The big problem I see with national referendums in the process of creating a new EU treaty is their place in the process.

In a normal national referendum you choose "yes" or "no" to a proposal, in a EU treaty referendum you choose between "yes, and let the process of ratification continue" or "no, and stop the process here". This creates the situation of "vote yes or else you are the backwards saboteurs". And this is very much stressed in the referendums. "Everyone else has (so far) voted yes", "There is no plan B". This is a common problem to ruling by treaties.

As I have stated before, the public should not be expected to fill their role of accepting the treaties.

From my point of view the resonable answer, the expected answer to 'Accept this or else!' is 'No'. No matter what 'this' might be. To be deprieved of choice, to be asked to express your acceptance to something you can not affect should be met with protest. 'Eat these delicious pancakes covered in chocolate or else!' should also be met with a sturdy 'NO' (good both for your body and your moral fiber).

If two states make a treaty, referendums in both might be a way of ratifying the treaty. But with the number of states, the risk of a 'no' somewhere grows. Now we it looks like are at the end of the road of the old system, and has to look for something else.

Solutions
Here is a list of three ways treaties could be passed in the EU with a focus on the public participation. I am sure more can be thought up. I will not go into detail of how to get there and what treaties would be needed on the way.

A) No public participation
If there is no referendums, ratification can go smoothly as long as the parliaments can be trusted. The governments doing the negotiation should know what can be passed in their respective parliament. States with mandatory referendums has to remove it from their constitutions (which would include referendums...). Switzerland can never join.

B) Public participation as a safe guard
In many states referendums are needed for constitutional change as the ultimate safeguard. Dictatorship is seen as more easily passed by parliament then by the public or both the public and the parliament. If this is what you want for the EU, it should be done by a EU-wide referendum (at the same day). Thus it is not a question of holding up the process, but of a simple yes or no to the proposed new treaty.

States would still need to ratify, but the moral authority (if there is a clear result for yes) would probably be enough to carry it through.

C) Public participation in treaty-creation
This in particular concerns making a new constitution, but as you will see, it has far going consequences for treaty-ratification in general.

I propose that an assembly is gathered to write a draft for a new constitution (yes, I know this has already happened once, but the whole process determines every step of the process and thus it would be different this time). To this draft changes can be proposed by governments, parliaments, and public petition (should require a pretty high threshold). Attempts should be made to gather similar proposals together, though I think this will also be inherit in the process as those would have greater chance of getting passed. When changes has been proposed and compiled a referendum is held where the public ranks the different alternatives. The rankings are then compiled (preferably with Condorcet method, but that can be discussed). This is then the proposal for a new EU-constitution.

The ballot might look something like this:

The EU-president shall:

i) Be elected by popular majority on a term of three years.

ii) Be elected by the European parliament on a term of six years.

iii) Be elected by a complex systems of electors on a term of four years. :)

Yes, it would be many questions, and everybody would not vote on everything. Though that in and by itself would probably keep the constitution short.

It is then ratified in normal manner (som referendums and a lot of parliamentary votes), though I would think it would have got enough moral authority to sail through the ratification process.

Of course, the constitution would decide how future changes should be made so that is up to the people to decide the future of public participation.

Display:
Is this a tip jar?

A) Yes

B) No

C) Tip jars do not exist

D) Other (please specify)

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 10:35:01 AM EST
To get some kind of debate started:

Which one of these would you prefer?

As you probably can deduce from the diary I would love C.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 12:41:34 PM EST
Another starting-point is which is more likely to happen. Sadly I think A will be the way it goes. I think fast-tracks will be created through constitutions to be able to pass Eu-treaties.

But then again I live in a state with a strong parliament where referendums are always optional. There might be other states where referendums would stop such a development.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 01:09:53 PM EST
You suggest an interesting procedure, but I see no chance of political elites agreeing to it. The EU may be concerned about democratic deficits but no one seems to be trying to make the change of attitude necessary to change things in a meaningful way.

I continue to believe that to make major progress Europe should be built from the bottom up not the top down.

by Gary J on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 04:57:34 PM EST
Well, C is more of a dream. What I wish would happen.

I think A will happen. The elites will get rid of the pesky referendums.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 10:17:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
are a stopgap solution to the problem of speed of change.

The so-called 'democratic' solution, developed over centuries, is that the populace elect representatives for long periods (usually 4 years) on the basis of bias, manifestos and promises, and then let them get on with it - throwing them out if they didn't deliver at the end of the period.

But in the last few decades, this model began to fail - for several reasons:

  • The elected representatives realised that their promises didn't have to be fulfilled because they could always claim that changed circumstances prevented them from fulfilling them.

  • The media, while always powerful in shaping public opinion, managed to reduce politics to celebrity and simplistic arguments.

  • The leaders of the elected representatives began to see their power as a right, not a duty, and used the first two changes to keep their jobs and their perks.

Referenda are a smokescreen.

The real problem is that the democratic institutions we have no longer reflect the bottom-up claims of representational systems. They have become misrepresentational systems.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jul 9th, 2006 at 04:57:33 AM EST
 "The real problem is that the democratic institutions we have no longer reflect the bottom-up claims of representational systems. They have become misrepresentational systems."

  Why---that, that's,--heresy!

  ;^)

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Sun Jul 9th, 2006 at 11:19:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
yep ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jul 9th, 2006 at 11:56:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Even Proportional Misrepresentation won't change anything...

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jul 9th, 2006 at 11:57:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, if only we could be in power to change things and make them right.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Jul 9th, 2006 at 12:49:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't disagree with what your write about the representative system, but IMO referenda aren't a 'smokescreen' but a democratic institution separate from the representative system. Strengthening the institutions of direct democracy may not repair the institutions of representative democracy, but may improve democracy itself. I believe Switzerland is a positive example here (while California a negative one).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jul 9th, 2006 at 01:03:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]

 I agree with you; and I almost posted effectively the same thing.  Then I thought that what is more accurate is that there are occasions when referenda may be misused as a kind of "smoke-sreen" for genuine democratic initiatives.  It isn't hard to find examples in California where multiple referenda are mounted as much to create confusion over policies as to offer genuine opportunities for popular control of government authorities.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge
by proximity1 on Sun Jul 9th, 2006 at 03:36:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Exactly.

And if something like C was enacted I would work towards getting a more Swiss EU...

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Jul 10th, 2006 at 09:18:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 Object lessons in bad faith argumentation

 Example # 1

 confuse subjective and objective:

argument:

  "The real problem is that the democratic institutions we have no longer reflect the bottom-up claims of representational systems. They have become misrepresentational systems." http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2006/7/8/103255/7202#6

(sarcastic) rebuttal:

 "Yeah, if only we could be in power to change things and make them right."

 Fallacy:

  The sarcastic rebuttal implies that the matter of whether or not political institutions are genuinely representative of the majority of the public is a  subjective issue; thus, each definable interest group is at liberty, according to this view, to assert, even falsely, that the political institutions at issue are not representative because their interests are not predominant.

  However, whether political institutions are or are not faithful representatives of the popular majority is not a subjective matter but one which can be examined by objective criteria which indicate the number of occasions in which such institutions depart from the expressed majority will (as shown, for example, in repeated poll results, or other quantifiable indicators of this.)

  Dismiss your opponent's view with sarcasm; assert falsely that an objectively-measurable indicator is instead a subjective matter; then, once sarcastically asserted, offer nothing in support of that assertion.

 end of lesson #1

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Sun Jul 9th, 2006 at 03:55:07 PM EST
What, exactly are you complaining about?

The Constitution was submitted to a public referendum. Voters said no. The Constitution is dead. How exactly is that not democratic?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jul 10th, 2006 at 08:52:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Democracy is the worst possible system, except for all the others". Winston Churchill (of course he was a politician).

It is all very well asserting that representative democracy is not working well, but what is the alternative.

The problem seems to be that being an effective politician requires professional skills which distance the representative from the electorate. In normal circumstances party loyalty is more important to the politician than incoherant and contradictory public opinion.

In a strong party system, like that of the UK, the party itself insulates the representative from the electorate. He or she will stand and fall purely by the standing of the party unless the local election is extremely close or there are special circumstances like a personal scandal.

On the other hand trying to make the representative more responsive to the voters by things like term limits produces inexperienced legislators, who become dependent on lobbyists. I understand this is the Californian experience of term limits for the legislature.

I think it is a genuine problem in political theory. The system seems to have worked better in the past. What factors have made representative democracy become less effective? Or was the golden age just an optical illusion and it is the historic role of public figures to be despised?

by Gary J on Sun Jul 9th, 2006 at 07:39:34 PM EST
 Lesson # 2 -- Object lessons in bad faith argumentation

 step 1)
Leave the discussion, ignoring your opponents' most probing and trenchant questions, when you find your argument stymied by hard fact;

step 2] then, return to the dispute later in other venues and occasions, reiterating the same points which you'd previously advanced while leaving ignored, unanswered, your opponents' hanging queries;

 step 3) repeat steps 1) and 2) at will. Toss in remarks which raise points as though they were germane to the point at hand, but which are, instead, a diversion from the points immediately under discussion and which lend themselves to continuing to ignore these points.

example :


What, exactly are you complaining about?
The Constitution was submitted to a public referendum. Voters said no. The Constitution is dead. How exactly is that not democratic?

http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2006/7/8/103255/7202#15



"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge
by proximity1 on Mon Jul 10th, 2006 at 10:04:34 AM EST


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