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.
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.