Letter: Democracy in a confederal Europe

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The Independent Online
Democracy in a confederal Europe

Sir: Your leading article has to be welcomed, given the current Europhobia emanating from most of the British press. It should also be welcomed because it breaks through the sterile choice between "Europe as free-trade area" and "Federal Europe". I have never believed that the federal models of the US or Germany could simply be transplanted to the complex collection of differing languages, histories and political systems that make up today's European Union. Nor can Europe simply be a free-trade area loosely governed by a European version of the World Trade Organisation. The European Union is a unique body. Your essay recognises this point.

However, I would like to address two points.

You argue for the democratic renewal of the EU by redefining the powers of the European Commission (which I welcome), strengthening the role of the Council and freezing the influence of the European Parliament. However, this would not achieve the democratic renewal you seek. Unless all national parliaments have the same powers to scrutinise and control their ministers' actions in Council (which they clearly do not) then centralising decision-making in the Council will only make it even more of an unaccountable body than it already is. Similarly, national parliaments will, quite rightly, only judge the actions of their ministers in the context of domestic politics. Instead, the powers of the European Parliament, as the only body capable of holding the Council accountable at a European level and the only body democratically elected at a European level, should be increased.

Second, you argue that social policy should not be a core function of the EU. But just as Britain is bound to Europe historically, culturally and economically, so is she bound by the common experiences of the labour and trade-union movements. Out of these arose a unique social model in the form of the welfare state and social partnership that has allowed Western European societies to enjoy unparalleled wealth and social cohesion. Now all European societies are experiencing the same threats to this social model. Instead of divesting the European Union of its powers in the social field, we should be using the common experience to find common solutions for a new form of welfare politics in the 21st century.

I hope your essay has signalled the first step in the fight back for rational debate and argument over the politics of European union.

NICHOLAS CROOK

Brussels

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