Guest blog by Jaap Hoeksma, Philosopher of Law, Director of Euroknow and Creator of the Boardgame Eurocracy. Hoeksma is author of the EU-monograph: From Common Market to Common Democracy, lendable at the library.

In January 2013, the then PM of the UK David Cameron delivered a speech on Europe in which he announced his decision to give the people a say on British membership of the EU. His address, which triggered a series of blogs on this website about the nature of the EU, contained a remarkable dichotomy. On the one hand, he portrayed the EU as an undemocratic organisation, while, on the other hand, he expressed his support for a continuation of British membership. The underlying question as to why the political leader of a democratic state should wish to transfer sovereignty to an undemocratic organisation was not lost on the opponents of continued membership of the EU. In the ensuing debate, the EU proved to be unable to defend itself against the accusations of its opponents that it forms a ‘Fourth Reich’, a modern Leviathan or even the reincarnation of the medieval Golem of Prague. No wonder, then, that a majority of the British voters decided to leave the EU.

In reaction to the Brexit the European Commission decided to initiate a EU-wide debate about the future of Europe. It published a White Paper and European citizens were asked to give their view on the 5 modes of cooperation between states, which the Commission proposed. Rather unexpectedly, the Commission used the ensuing debate for forging a breakthrough in the age-old debate about the nature of the EU. Whereas his predecessors Delors and Barroso used to portray the EU as an ‘Unidentified Political Object’ or as a ‘non-Imperial Empire’, EC President Juncker described the EU as a ‘Union of states and citizens’. This description forms the basis of the proposals for further democratisation of the EU, which Juncker proposed in his State of the Union of 13 September 2017, including a personal union between the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission as well as the introduction of transnational voting lists.

Far from being ‘visionary’, Mr Juncker’s qualification is firmly anchored in the Lisbon Treaty. This treaty, which came to replace the ill-fated Constitution for Europe in 2009, speaks in numerous articles both of ‘the EU and its citizens’ and of ‘the EU and its member states’. Actually, the Lisbon Treaty constructs the EU as a democracy without turning the Union into a state. President Juncker corroborates this conclusion by arguing that, although the EU is not a state, the Union has to meet stringent criteria of the rule of law.

A plausible answer to the question as to why it should have taken the EU so long to arrive at a proper self-description, is that the Union forms a new phenomenon in international law and - relations. Indeed, many scholars, lawyers and political theorists alike, were convinced that an international organisation of states and citizens simply could not exist. They studied the EU merely through the lens of states and diplomats. From that angle, however, citizens cannot be accounted for. By qualifying the EU as a Union of States and citizens Juncker replaces the old, so-called Westphalian paradigm with the civilian perspective of democracy and the rule of law. For the citizens it is obvious that, if two or more democratic states agree to share the exercise of sovereignty in a number of fields in order to attain common goals, the organisation they establish for this purpose, should be democratic too. In their view it is not sufficient for the EU to pride itself as the largest organisation of democratic states in the world. They want the EU also to function as a democracy of its own. If anything good is to come out of Brexit, it may be the realisation that the EU shall be democratic or cease to exist.

Anti-European parties have been campaigning over the last years in various member states with the slogan that European Union and democracy are irreconcilable concepts. The reply, which EC-President Juncker has given in his State of the Union, is that these ideas are inextricably intertwined. After all, the EU is the only international organisation in the world, which entitles its citizens to participate both in the national democracies of their home countries and in the common democracy of their Union. Notwithstanding the fact that the European Union has continuously been on the brink of collapse during the Multiple Crisis Decade of 2005 to 2016, the perils of international politics have not prevented the EU from reaching its constitutional haven as a Union of states and citizens.

All EU blogs by Jaap Hoeksma

Library special: BREXIT

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