From Common Market to Common Democracy

Guest blog by Jaap Hoeksma, Philosopher of Law, Director of Euroknow and Creator of the Boardgame Eurocracy.

Almost twenty five years after its foundation in 1992 the EU has established itself as a new polity in international law with an own and distinct model of governance. Contrary to the expectations of the signatories of the Maastricht Treaty the EU has neither become a state nor a free trade zone. The EU is not a State because sovereignty in the polity remains with the member States. According to the EU Court of Justice the EU is even 'by its very nature precluded from being regarded as a State'. It is equally impossible for the EU to be portrayed as a Union of States, since it is also composed of citizens. The citizens of the member States are ipso facto citizens of the Union too. As the European Union is the only international organisation, which has citizens, it seems reasonable to define the EU as a Union of Citizens and Member States or, for that matter, as a Union of States and Citizens. The distinctive hallmarks of the EU in comparison with regular international organisations are its internal market, its autonomous legal order, its single currency and - increasingly - its common democracy. On the eve of its 25th anniversary, the EU may therefore present itself as a 'polity of States and citizens, which is based upon an internal market, possesses a single currency and functions as a common democracy'.

In his long-awaited speech on Europe of January 2013, the British Prime Minister David Cameron formulated a number of demands that should be met in order to enable him to campaign for prolongation of the UK's membership of the EU in the in-out referendum, which he promised the British electorate. On the conceptual terrain, Mr Cameron notably suggested that the phrase 'ever closer Union' should be deleted from future EU treaties. As his speech has triggered the series of blogs on the nature of the EU, which the present author has posted on this website and which form the basis of his soon to be published book 'From Common Market to Common Democracy', it seems reasonable to investigate here at this juncture, whether the other member states and the EU are well-advised to go along with the British demand and to replace the disputed phrase with a more contemporary one.

Twenty five years is a relatively short period in the history of States. The current President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker even attended the Maastricht conference as a young Luxembourgian minister of Finance. He will therefore recall from personal experience that Cameron's predecessor John Major persistently reiterated during the meeting that the phrase 'ever closer Union' should be included in the Treaty on European Union. On return to the UK, Mr Major was hailed by the conservative press as the hero who fought off the F-word. His continental colleagues may therefore ask the current British Prime Minister to explain this change of heart and to inquire whether he has an alternative in mind.

In the eyes of the present author, the phrase 'ever closer Union' is certainly not sacrosanct. It has served the EU and its predecessors as a compromise formula and time may have come to replace it with a more meaningful one. Taking into account that the EU has not become a federal State during the first 25 years of its existence, but has rather been evolving from a common market to a common democracy, it may be suggested that the phrase ever closer Union has become outdated. It has not paved the way for the emergence of a federal European State, as many British voters may have feared. Instead, it has facilitated the evolution of the EU into a polity of States and citizens, which aspires to function as a common democracy. Seen in this perspective, there is ample reason to replace the phrase 'ever closer Union' with the term 'common democracy''. Such a substitution will not only allay British fears that the EU is poised to become a federal State, but it will also give the Union, its member States and its citizens a new sense purpose and direction.

This blog results in the proposal to read the second sentence of article 1 of a future Treaty on European Union as follows:

"This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating a common democracy among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizens."

The book From Common Market to Common Democracy  will be presented in the Peace Palace Library on 4 March forthcoming and will be available to lenders immediately afterwards.

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