On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, the EU seems to be besieged by problems, challenges and disasters. Recently, leading proponents of the EU expressed the belief that their Union is tormented by a modern version of the biblical plagues of Egypt. However, the EU will be well-advised to use the occasion for taking a long, hard look at itself. Notably, the way in which the EU presents itself on the Europaserver is indicative for its lack of self-confidence.
Guest blog by Jaap Hoeksma, Philosopher of Law, Director of Euroknow and Creator of the Boardgame Eurocracy. Hoeksma is author of the EU-monograph: From Common Market to Common Democracy, lendable at the Library
On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, the EU seems to be besieged by problems, challenges and disasters. Recently, leading proponents of the EU expressed the belief that their Union is tormented by a modern version of the biblical plagues of Egypt. However, the EU will be well-advised to use the occasion for taking a long, hard look at itself. Notably, the way in which the EU presents itself on the Europaserver http://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/eu-in-brief_en, is indicative for its poor self-assessment.
In the 60 years, which have passed since the conclusion of the Treaties of Rome, the EU has achieved remarkable results. In particular, it has established itself as a new kind of international organisation with a distinct form of democratic governance. Now, the EU has to come to terms with these achievements. As the White Paper on the Future of the Europe, which the European Commission published on 1 March 2017, does not contain critical reflections concerning the nature of the Union, this blogger has drafted a new self-presentation for the EU as a gift on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. It is intended to replace the current, outdated text on the Europaserver and to boost the morale of the EU.
The EU in brief
The European Union is a Union of states and citizens, which functions on a democratic footing. The EU has an internal market, an autonomous legal order, a directly elected parliament and –for member states of the euro area- a single currency.
The EU was created in the aftermath of the Second World War with the aim to ensure peace among its member states. The first step was to share the exercise of sovereignty in the fields of coal and steel in order to make the renewed outbreak of war impossible. Having succeeded in their initial goal, the participating states decided to broaden their cooperation to the whole of the economy. The European Economic Community (EEC), which came into being in 1958, consisted of six countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and The Netherlands) and was open to all democratic states of Europe. After the first enlargement in 1973 with three new member-states, the EEC presented itself to the outside world as a Union of democratic states.
From economic to democratic union
While the number of member states grew to twelve in the 1980’s, the number of areas under the competence of the Community increased as well. These fields varied from climate, environment, education and health to external relations and security, justice and migration. The creation of the EU by virtue of the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht formed the beginning of the democratisation of the Union. The major innovation of the new treaty consisted of the introduction of EU citizenship: it stipulates that each citizen of a member state is a citizen of the Union as well. Moreover, the Maastricht Treaty laid the foundations for the introduction of a single currency by 1999.
Obviously, citizens are indispensable for democracies. They are the soul of the institutions. Once EU citizenship had been established, the process of democratisation of the Union proceeded rapidly. The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam proclaimed that democracy is also a value of the EU proper, thereby bridging the gap between the requirements for membership of the Union and the functioning of the Union as such. In addition, the preamble to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, adopted in 2000, states in plain and simple terms that the EU is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. As the Charter forms integral part of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, the principles of democracy and the rule of law are solidly enshrined in the legal foundations of the EU.
The Lisbon Treaty construes the EU as a democracy without turning the Union into a state. It symbolises the democratic aspirations of the EU by enabling the citizens to participate both in the national democracies of their countries and in the common democracy of the Union. Thus, the EU may be defined as ‘a Union of states and citizens, which is based upon the shared exercise of sovereignty, which has an internal market as well as an autonomous legal order, a directly elected parliament and –for members of the euro area- a single currency and which functions on a democratic footing.’
Changes and challenges
In the first decades of its existence, the EU has not only undergone major changes, but has also been facing enormous challenges. On the one hand, the Union has enlarged from 12 to 28 member states but, on the other hand, the majority of the voters in the United Kingdom have decided in a referendum in 2016 to withdraw from the Union.
The euro-crisis, which erupted after the fall of an American bank in 2008, posed a major challenge. By sharing sufficient additional exercise of sovereignty the member states of the euro area demonstrated their determination to act as the ‘joint sovereign’ behind the euro and to maintain it as a currency beyond the state.
Over the years, the EU and its member states have proven that it is possible to share the exercise of sovereignty without losing statehood. It has also been established beyond doubt that like-minded states can enjoy the benefits of a single currency without having to become a federal state. Consequently, the EU has established itself as a new kind of international organisation with a distinct form of democratic governance.
The fact that the EU has found its form as a Union of states and citizens does not imply that the present political challenges will disappear overnight. On the contrary, throughout the 21st century, Europe will be facing huge and unprecedented problems. Divided, the separate states will not be able to live up to these challenges. United in the EU, however, they may emerge as a reliable global partner and create optimal conditions for the prosperity and wellbeing of the citizens.
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