By Lorenzo Marsili and Niccolò Milanese
While the European Council meets in Brussels to decide on future treaties for still greater financial control, 200 meters away from the Council, in the European Parliament, European Alternatives and partners launch a year-long and bottom-up process demanding a radically democratic Europe and responding to the Fiscal Pact with the development a citizen-led Citizen Pact. The pamphlet “Towards a Transnational Democracy for Europe” tries to start to outline the bases for such a transnational Citizen Pact.
For the agenda and more information click here
Here’s an extract summarizing the key points. To read the full text, you can download the pamphlet here.
The financial and economic crisis, of which we have heard so much discussion since 2007-8, is only one aspect of a whole series of underlying political trends which have been apparent for much longer: a crisis of (in)equality and of increased precarity of the workforce, a human rights crisis, a demographic crisis, an ecological crisis, a crisis in civil liberties, and above all a crisis in democracy.
The insistence of political leaders in maintaining a state of “crisis” – a state of exception – for the economy, is also part of a strategy to maintain the cover of a separation between economic issues and wider social issues, which gives the crisis an appearance of technicality and delegitimises the expression of political passions and systemic alternatives, while at the same time “legitimising” a whole series of stealth political and social reforms which go under the banner of “austerity”.
Austerity politics is a consequence of democratic failure in Europe and the centralisation of decision-making powers in unaccountable institutions, beginning with the European Council. A pretence of national sovereignty is maintained in the “intergovernmental” method of the Council, while in reality it is a cover for the strongest players to dictate the agenda, and ensures that the common interest of Europeans – and the institutions charged with maintaining the common European interest – are continually undermined by competitive negotiations.
We do not have the luxury of deciding whether we want or do not want a reform of the European institutional architecture: there is already a quasi-constitutional process happening at the European level in which the citizens are barely having any say because they are effectively divided in national constituencies, set against one another.
Whilst the President of the European Council, the ECB, the Eurogroup and the Commission are working on proposals for treaty change, which will be mostly of fiscal disciplinary nature, the citizens have little or no opportunity to exercise their citizenship and articulate their priorities or alternatives at a European level. As if the Fiscal Compact, which traps many Europeans into enduring poverty, was not enough, new treaties are looming that will focus even more on fiscal elements at their core.
Citizens are presented with two perspectives to confront this process. On the one hand they are given the option of supporting deeper integration of the EU on the basis of competition, deregulation and liberalization with no increase in democracy. On the other hand there is the proposal of the disintegration of the European Union and a strengthening of the nation state.
Democracy from below
Social movements reacting to the economic crisis need to open up a third space and develop a proposal for radical democracy in Europe, demanding the development of clear models of both representative and participatory democracy to reinforce the political agency of citizens, to empower them to take part in political processes, and to restore democratic control and oversight over financial markets and capital. These objectives can only be obtained by taking the continental scale as our horizon for action.
Such a proposal for a democratic institutional infrastructure cannot be developed by a small number of experts or technocrats, but must be a broad and collaborative constitutional process involving as many citizens as possible. Such a process will allow Europeans to fully enforce their citizenship and take part in inspiring historic project of creating democracy at a continental scale.
To initiate this process we propose that there should be:
Part 1: Citizen Pact – a process from below
A process of coordinated debate and discussion of a new institutional structure for Europe through all social movements and the enlargement of such debate and discussion to the as many citizens as possible through a cycle of meetings, discussions and debates organised in town-halls, schools, universities, cultural spaces and other local venues throughout Europe, with coordination and exchange between these different cities and citizens. This process would be accompanied by a multilingual space of online debate and discussion of a new institutional structure for Europe to allow for the participation of the maximum of citizens, also employing the latest online participatory techniques.
We think the discussions should focus on these three questions:
How to ensure a democratic decision-making at a European level in which the interests of people throughout the continent, and the consequences of European decisions for other people affected, are taken into account and the common interest is guaranteed through a just, accountable and transparent process?
How to ensure the maximum possibilities for direct citizen involvement in political decision making, as an expression of European citizenship and the best guarantee of common interest?
Which economical, political, and social issues are best approached at European level and what legislative competences should democratic transnational institutions have in these areas?
Beyond just a drafting of a new constitutional proposal, such process would itself be an experiment of transnational participation and a testament of the possibility of understanding and practicing European democracy on new bases.
Part 2: Campaigning for democratic reform
As part of the first process, a roadmap should be developed by a plurality of actors from across Europe representing different social movements, general interest organisations, NGOs and others to define a process whereby the citizens’ proposals drafted in the Citizen Pact can be agreed upon and a strategy for institutional implementation devised.
Many of the changes proposed by such a participative process may require treaty change of the European Union, and therefore unanimity of the member states. We do not think that treaty requirements should prevent European citizens from initiating processes of change and then adopting various strategies for enacting those changes: the important first step would be to establish transnational movements of citizens for a democratic infrastructure for Europe, and then as a second step to adopt strategies depending on legal procedures for forcing the institutional change to be adopted. Leaving all initiative for treaty change to member states, or, worse, just some powerful member-states, is no longer an acceptable option, and reinforces the impression that the only options available are either to submit to the authority of the leaders of the most powerful member states or to abandon all European integration: we think a third alternative is available whereby citizens themselves propose a genuine European democracy.
A positive program for the triumph of politics in Europe rests on our collective capacity to redesign institutions of democracy which can effectively act on our common concerns, projects and problems. Those institutions must be built at a European level, where a vacuum left by the citizens is currently being exploited by other forces. The opportunity is to be taken now.