Magazine article Newsweek International

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It!

Magazine article Newsweek International

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It!

Article excerpt

From the United States in 1787 to Eastern Europe in 1989, new constitutions have almost always come in response to crisis. Yet nothing threatens the European Union today. The single market is a success. The single currency is a reality. Enlargement proceeds apace, as does coordination of defense, police and immigration policies. The EU is here to stay and, many believe, poised to become a full-fledged "superstate" supplanting the traditional nation-states of Europe.

Now comes the drive for a European constitution. The case for it can be summarized in a word: democracy. Many Europeans view the EU as a distant, unaccountable technocracy. Only the relatively weak European Parliament is directly elected. At the powerful European Commission in Brussels, Eurocrats rule. Often diplomats and civil servants, not politicians, represent the member governments, and their meetings are often secret. One needn't be an anti-globalist or a Tory Euro-skeptic to have misgivings about such an unusual system of governance. Yet in dealing with this so-called democratic deficit, is the answer to be found among more radical solutions proposed so far: direct election of the commission, more majority voting, perhaps the creation of Pan- European political parties or maybe a new chamber to represent national parliamentarians?

No. And the reason is that there is, in fact, little, if any, democratic deficit in Europe. Here's why:

* Despite the hyperbole, the EU is no technocratic superstate. Its de facto constitution, the (revised) Treaty of Rome, strictly limits its powers. Brussels has no autonomous police or military. It employs fewer officials than a modest European city, and EU regulations must ultimately be reformulated and administered by national authorities. And while European officials enjoy exceptional autonomy on a narrow range of issues--central banking, constitutional adjudication, antitrust prosecution, oversight of certain safety regulations and international-trade negotiations--such functions arguably should be left to technocrats. In most countries, they are.

* The EU has almost no power to tax and spend. Policies that voters care about most--social welfare, pensions, education, infrastructural investment--remain almost exclusively in the hands of national governments. EU spending is capped at 3 percent of national levels, and there is no prospect for more. Without fiscal discretion, politics in Brussels remains much cleaner than in most EU member states. If "taxation without representation" defines tyranny, as James Otis and other Americans held 200 years ago, then European institutions with so few fiscal means can hardly be criticized. …

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