There is no denying that the Brexit decision is a blow to the EU. There is a real risk now that the 27 EU countries will start pursuing national interests at the expense of the common EU interest. If they do, everyone will lose.
The 27 EU states need to act resolutely to strengthen EU wide democracy, to ensure respect for EU rules, and to show that the EU can do business efficiently with the rest of the world.
The European Union is not a monolith. It is a voluntary Union of 28 states, with no independent tax raising power.
It operates on the basis of rules, which its 28 members must freely respect. If they fail to do so, the EU ceases to mean anything.
These rules are made under the authority of the EU’s Treaties, which have been ratified by all member states, and the Treaties can only be amended if all 28 states agree.
The more members the EU has, the harder it becomes, by a form of geometric progression, for the EU to amend its Treaties.
A club that has no power to change it basic rules will eventually fossilize and die.
The EU’s 28 members are, in theory, sovereign equals, regardless of differences in population or wealth. But voting weights do recognise differences in size, on all issues where unanimity is not required.
The EU makes trade deals on behalf of its members, using the extra bargaining power that its size gives it. But because it negotiates on behalf of 28 states, not just one, it can be harder for the EU to finalise a deal that it would be for one state, negotiating alone.
In the case of some Trade deals, it is sufficient for them to be ratified by the European Parliament alone.
In others, all 28 national parliaments must ratify too. In these cases, the EU has much more difficulty being an effective trade negotiator.
RESPECT FOR RULES BY MEMBER STATES IS AN EXISTENTIAL NECESSITY FOR THE UNION TO SURVIVE
If one or more member states get into a habit of failing to respect EU rules or directives, the EU ceases to be operational, particularly if the states failing to respect the rules are bigger states.
Recently France has threatened to flout an existing EU directive because efforts to amend it, in a direction France wanted, are being blocked by the national parliaments of 11 EU states. In response the French Prime Minister, Michel Valls, is threatening not to implement the existing directive, which would completely undermine EU rulemaking.
Michel Valls said
“If it is not possible to convince … France will not apply this directive.”
That is a direct threat to the EU from a founding state. It is really dangerous
COMPROMISES BETWEEN NATIONAL INTERESTS NEEDED IF EU IS TO DO TRADE DEALS
Likewise, if it becomes too difficult for the EU to complete trade agreements because a few states within the EU hold up the agreement in order to advance a national interest, then the EU’s utility as a trade negotiator fades away.
This was an argument advanced by some of those who favoured Brexit, namely that the UK could negotiate its own deals more easily outside the EU, without having to wait for 27 other countries to agree. That thesis will be put to the test soon.
Commission has conceded, under pressure from national government facing early elections, that the Trade deal with Canada must, not only be ratified by the European Parliament and the 28 government, but by the 28 national parliaments as well. This is a risky decision.
If the EU’s deal with Canada fails because one or two national parliaments fail to ratify it, years of work by Canadian and EU negotiators will go down the drain. Other countries will begin to doubt if negotiating with the EU is worth their time. The Brexit advocates will have won part of their argument.
A lot more is at stake here than the content of the agreement with Canada.
TREATY CHANGE MUST ALSO BE POSSIBLE
It has become accepted wisdom in every EU capital now that Treaty change is off the agenda. This is because of
+The requirement to have a referendum in Ireland on a Treaty change involving a transfer of sovereignty
+ the voluntary decisions of France and the Netherlands to have referenda on certain EU matters, in the Netherlands case even on a minor agreement with Ukraine.
+ the expectation that a Treaty change would be preceded by a cumbersome Convention.
The net result of all of this is that the EU will not consider Treaty changes, even ones that might make it more democratic.
If that remains the case, the EU will eventually freeze up, because it will not be able to respond to new circumstances, and its member states will have to look to other, less democratic or transparent institutions than the EU, to advance their collective interests. One could even see NATO being called into service for more broadly defined “security “ purposes.
Some may argue that Treaty change in general is not urgent. I agree there is no need for a comprehensive review of the Treaties, so soon after the Lisbon Treaty came into force.
But a Treaty change to respond to concerns that emerged in the UK referendum campaign, for example changes to make the EU more visibly democratic and accountable , should be possible.
For example, Treaty changes could be envisaged to
- Have the President of the European Commission be elected directly, in a two round election, by the entire electorate of the EU. Have the President of the Euro group be similarly elected by the Euro zone countries
- Give National Parliaments of the EU, if a minimum number agree, a power to require the Commission to put forward, for consideration, a legislative proposal within the EU competence in the Treaties.
- National Parliaments already can delay EU legislation, so why not allow them make a positive proposal?