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I am not opposed to a real bicameral parliament for Europe. However, this kind of institution means the transformation of the EU into a federal system. As far as I know, there is, so far, little support among European citizens for such a solution. Until there is a majority of Europeans willing to go for it, we have to deal with a the hybrid system we've got. That doesn't mean it cannot be improved.

For me, like for Migeru, the first improvement should be to give more power to the European Parliament. That's the reason why, along with the Charter of Fundamental Rights, made me support the Constitutional Treaty.

Another way to improve democracy in the EU should be to work on the relationship between the European level and the national/local level. At the moment, they are very much disconnected form each other, and it is true both for the institutions/administrations and the civil society organisations.

Paradoxically, it is probably because the European Union is not bureaucratic enough (Solveig!)... As Migeru mentioned it, given the size of the EU (now ~500 millions of citizens), the European Commission has a surprising low number of agents (you could almost drown them in a big bathtub... well, maybe a swimming pool!). What is less known is that it's also true for the civil society organisations like the trade unions, the employers organisations and the NGOs as well as the national representations: their Brussels-based teams are very small. For example, in the European permanent secretariat of the European Trade-Unions Confederation, there is at the most one or two team members coming from a given country, and some countries have no permanent member in the team. Ditto for Business Europe and UEAPME (the employer's organisations), let alone the NGOs.

These teams are usually very knowledgeable about the functioning of the European institutions and they have developed a high level of competence in working together. however, their small size has an important consequence: each person in these small teams has a very heavy workload (meeting MEP, preparing dossiers, participating in negotiations, attending commissions and work groups, informing/training new member states representatives...) and thus they have no time left to play the essential role of go-between with their colleagues at national and local levels in order to share their knowledge and disseminate information. The result is the existence of a micro-society which is very efficient (yes!), but disconnected from the national and local level. And I think it is true also for the European political parties and for the MEP who are really involved in the parliament (unlike most of the French ones!).

And here is the vicious circle: given the high level of skills and knowledge of these people, and the necessary cost/time to acquire them, and given the depth of their commitment, the turn-over is very low, so there is little dissemination of knowledge/information through "shuttle" effect. And this problem would remain even if we had a bicameral system.

Even if I think  they should be reinforced, I don't think the solution is to develop huge Brussels-based teams. In my opinion, the solution requires to work at several levels:

  • to set-up awareness-raising and educational programmes to improve the European citizens knowledge of European institutions,

  • to organise ambitious training/exchange schemes bringing together counterparts from several countries to work on a common issue, both monopartite (trade-unionists with trade-unionists) and multipartite (employers, trade-unionists, elected representatives, NGOs representatives...). If ambitious enough, this would produce a significant number of Europe-knowledgeable/skilled people among national and local actors in each member state and, thus, create a pool which would facilitate and improve the turn-over. Such schemes already exist but, so far, they address a very limited number of persons, thus they are not significant enough.

  • to foster and support the creation of European networks in which stakeholders cooperate on common projects and through that, come to share experiences and point of views,

  • to set-up Europe-wide political organisations and parties which develop Europe-wide political programs and campaign together on common issues,

  • to encourage and facilitate the development of European media (newspapers, TV channels, Radios, Internet portals, Blogs(!)...). By the way, this should have been a major strategy for "Le Monde", instead of taking over local French newspapers...

Where do we start?

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 08:34:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is my view of this - the Brussels world is one of extremely competent, knowledgeable (and also, it should be noted, genuinely non-nationalistic) people. Of course, it was explicitly modelled on the French civil service when it had the pick of the brightest graduates, and it has an even wider pool to select from...

As to what to do, I'd suggest - get ET noticed!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 08:49:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not opposed to a real bicameral parliament for Europe. However, this kind of institution means the transformation of the EU into a federal system. As far as I know, there is, so far, little support among European citizens for such a solution. Until there is a majority of Europeans willing to go for it, we have to deal with a the hybrid system we've got.

I do not know if there is such resitance to a straightforward bicameral parliament. I have the impression that the parliament is the most trusted part of the EU structure, so increasing parlamentarian power (in two chambers) should be popular. I have more the impression that governments constituting the Council is unwilling to give up their powers. Is there any polls around that could give indications?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 08:50:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What would the second house in bicameral parliament represent? How would you appoint it?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 08:52:08 AM EST
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How I would appoint it? Well first I would place my good friend Jocke there, he is a nice bloke and deserves a break. Then I would...

Oh, that was not what you were asking. So what are you asking, how it should be structured to be popular (among the populations of Europe) or how it should be structured to satisfy my visions of Europe (una grande et democratica)?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 09:01:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes? Both?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 09:02:38 AM EST
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Without polls I do not know what would be acceptable. I imagine that the easiest to get accepted (among the populations) would be to change the Council into a directly elected body of senators, with current voting procedures.

For EU constitution I would choose (in order of descending preferability):

  • Swiss style decisionmaking. Any decisions can be overturned by a european referendum with swiss style thresholds of collecting signatures to get a referendum. The construction of the parliament is of lesser importance in this case.
  • Elected bicameral parliament. Any variant that gives a proportionally elected lower house most of the power is fine with me.
  • Single chamber parliament, proportionally elected.

And I would prefer any of those over the present system.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 09:17:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
has to represent the countries.

So either it's a representative of the then current government of the country, or it's a new class of representatives that would be elected specifically for that purpose.

I suspect that the latter would create all sorts of power sharing conundrums, so the first one is more practical - and is what is happening already in effect via the Council.

Alternatively, you may consider that the real second chamber is the COREPER, which I'll let you google...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 10:04:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But the COREPER is not an elected body neither are its members elected in their country. It is part of the Executive.

While we are at it, I think we should also discuss the role of the European Economic and Social Committee and of the Committee of the Regions...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 10:15:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that practically everyone here is agrees that the second house should have a smaller number of representatives, which be the same for every country. Policy area-dependent approval thresholds should be such that a law approved by both chambers would correspond to the double majority, as agreed in the new treaty.

I don't  know whether the second chamber should discuss laws for those realms of policy were there will be veto power for individual countries. Since veto is not certain, and since this would not be a senate like the US or any other federation, I suggest that on those matters there should not be head counting; just two outcomes: approved or not approved.

The issue is its composition. Lets see its requirements:

  • National governments do want to keep control, and many of us want to them to keep control.

  • Government control must be explicit, in order to retain accountability. Also voting must be discriminated by person, and its records must be publicly available immediately after session.

  • On the other hand, heads of government and its ministers need to stay close to its power base.

I suggest that the members of this second chamber should be constituted by the head of government, together with 2 ministers of his choice, depending on the issues under discussion, who would gather during a small period - the first working week (5 days) - of each month. The agenda would still be prepared by permanent representatives.
That would be a smooth transition, the number of representative would be manageable, and would fit the psyche of government heads - who need some one to boss around.
by findmeaDoorIntoSummer on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 05:27:54 PM EST
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Correction: two representatives per country - the head of government plus a minister, or whatever the former decides.
by findmeaDoorIntoSummer on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 05:34:30 PM EST
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In other words, the Council as currently configured, plus "voting must be discriminated by person, and its records must be publicly available immediately after session".

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 06:04:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In terms of composition, yes. What is the problem of choosing government members as representatives?

Lack of commitment is the reason that came to mind. Making them hold sessions during one week, in the same place - Brussels -, instead of week end marathons here and there, is an adequate display of the everyday business of negotiations between sovereign, yet hardly independent, countries.

I just cannot see how government heads would let go any of its powers to someone else of its own nationality. Can you?
One week for europe and three for strictly your own country seems a good compromise. you don't realise the full magnitude of this change.
... Actually, I think the EU is already much more than what we are taken to realise.

(what follows may be off topic. I just assume that you have federalism in mind)
I've nothing against federalism, except that is a higher concentration of power. I distrust large countries. They are prone to destructive policies, home and abroad.
May be a european federation is better. Let's make different errors, better errors, said Samuel Beckett.
At the national level, I've nothing to lose. However, I've the EU to lose. I remember Jacques Delors - "the european community is a slow animal, better that it goes in the right direction".
In fact, federalism is the only subject which makes me feel pleasant about mortality: cannot imagine the ability to decide for futures generations on this subject.

by findmeaDoorIntoSummer on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 07:13:27 PM EST
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It would be nice to enforce a specially dedicated member of the government for the job. National PMs and ministers tend to miss the importance of the council (brings them too little press) : Sarkozy when he was Finance Minister almost never went to the Finance sessions of the council, for example.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 07:19:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Generally it is the Minister of Foreign Relations that goes to the "general affairs" council meetings.

I do think it is a good idea that important, specialised parts of the portfolio are segregated and that the respective ministers attend.

Of course, each National government could have a "minister for European Affairs" (this could well be "European and Foreign Affairs" in charge of attending all EU councils. But, at the end of the day, sometimes the head of state or government has to be the one at the meeting to agree to the big decisions.

So, like I said, the current configuration is probably the correct one. The issue is, can the Council be expected to operate under roll-call votes all the time, rather than secret votes? The European Parliament already publishes voting records for every vote that it conducts.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 11th, 2007 at 03:09:21 AM EST
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