Ode to the peoples of Europe


Picture of Jaap Hoeksma
Jaap Hoeksma

Philosopher of law and author of the book 'The European Union: a democratic union of democratic states'

The peoples of Europe have achieved a historic feat! 75 years after the end of the Second World War they have created a new legal and democratic order among themselves. Obviously, European democracy, which has resulted from their combined effort to prevent the renewed outbreak of war, is still young and in need of improvement. The Conference on the Future of Europe offers a timely opportunity to acknowledge how far we have come and to prepare the Union for the next stage in its existence. Although the delay due to the corona crisis is entirely justified, the Conference should get started at the earliest opportunity!

The first task for the EU is now to come to terms with its own democratic credentials. The determination to lay the foundations for “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”, expressed in the preamble to the Treaty of Rome of 1957 and repeated ever after, has neither resulted in the creation of a European state, as radical federalists envisaged, nor in the establishment of a free trade association, as proposed by former British prime minister David Cameron and the Brexiteers. The novelty of the Lisbon Treaty is, instead, that it construes the EU as a democracy without turning the Union into a state. As this construction is unprecedented in the history of mankind, the EU will have to rethink the very concept of democracy.

States have to remain democratic during EU membership

By virtue of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU’s system of governance may be described as a dual democracy. Both the EU and its member states have to meet stringent standards of democracy and human rights. These values are at the core of the EU, listed in Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU). The value of democracy finds expression in provisions throughout the Lisbon Treaty, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which forms an integral part of the Treaty.

Article 49 TEU prescribes that European states, wishing to accede to the Union, must respect the values contained in Article 2, including the values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. So, states have to be democratic in order to become a member of the Union.

Article 7 TEU ensures the continuation of respect for these values after accession. In case there is a clear risk of a serious breach of these values by a member state, the European Council may take action in order to guarantee continued respect for these values. So, states have to remain democratic during EU membership.

The functioning of the European Union proper as a representative democracy is based upon the provisions of Title II TEU. According to Article 10 TEU citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament. Article 14 mirrors this principle by stipulating that the European Parliament shall be composed of representatives of the Union’s citizens. Title II also contains provisions on participatory democracy – notably in the form of the European Citizens Initiative  – and on the involvement of the national parliaments in the good functioning of the Union.

Democratic processes of this kind can be made transparent through the use of symbols

Processes like the political transformation of a continent take time and commitment. Democratic processes of this kind can be made transparent through the use of symbols. The decision of the European Council to present the Communities as a “Union of democratic states”, in 1973, significantly contributed to the public awareness of their own and distinct character. The subsequent evolution in the process of European integration can be symbolised half a century onward by describing the present EU as a ‘Union of democratic states and citizens, which constitutes an autonomous democracy’.

It will therefore be most appropriate for the Conference to advise the Council to adapt the previous Declaration on European Identity to today’s realities. The peoples of Europe may pride themselves for having transformed the old, divided and devastated continent into the first democratic regional organisation in the world.

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