Tuesday, 16 January 2007

EU threatening parliamentary democracy

Germany’s state of parliamentary democracy is under threat from the European Union which is slowly taking away all the national parliament’s powers, the country’s ex-president has said.

In an article for newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Roman Herzog pointed out that between 1999 and 2004, 84 percent of the legal acts in Germany stemmed from Brussels.

“EU policies suffer to an alarming degree from a lack of democracy and a de facto suspension of the separation of powers.”

“By far the biggest part of the current laws in Germany are agreed by the council of ministers [member states representation in Brussels] and not the German parliament,” Mr Herzog wrote in a paper with Lüder Gerken, director of the Freiburg-based Centre for European Policy.

“And each regulation that the German government adopts in the council of ministers, has to be transplanted by the Bundestag [parliament] into German law.”

The article continues by noting that Germany’s own constitution foresees the parliament as the “central actor in the shaping of the political community. Therefore the question has to be raised of whether Germany can still unreservedly be called a parliamentary democracy.”

The authors also complain that the EU constitution, over which there are currently renewed talks about its revival, will not solve this problem, nor that of the democratic deficit within the EU itself.

As a solution, the article suggests the European Parliament should be turned into a proper legislative assembly – calling this an “urgent requirement.”

It also says that the council of ministers should have two chambers for when it is making law. The second chamber’s function would be to check that the EU was not over-stepping its competences.

Another major innovation the EU needs, according to the paper, is a clear cut and definitive list of what the powers of the EU are and what the powers of member states are – this was something rejected at the time by the drafters of the constitution because they feared it would put a halt to the EU’s evolution.
It suggests the current “mixing of competences” in the constitution will only allow an “even more dynamic appropriation of responsibilities [for the EU].”

Critical point
Mr Herzog’s words come at a critical point in the EU constitution debate and for Germany itself.

Berlin took over the six-month EU presidency in January and has said it wants to work out a timetable for getting the rejected constitution back on track with chancellor Angela Merkel indicating that she wants to keep as much of the text as possible.

But the comment from the former constitutional judge and president of the bloc’s biggest member state between 1994 and 1999 is not an isolated event.

German parliamentarians themselves have also started to complain about not being consulted enough on what their government agrees in Brussels.

In addition, the final technical step for Germany’s ratification of the EU constitution is being held up due to a similar complaint.

Although both houses of parliament have overwhelmingly approved the document, Germany’s president Horst K√∂hler has refused to sign it off until the country’s constitutional court rules on whether the charter is taking too much power from the national parliament, after a centre-right MP filed a legal complaint in 2005.

By Honor Mahony
This article first appeared on EUObserver