‘Totally dysfunctional’: Sophie in ‘t Veld on the EU’s relationship with democracy

이자형ven by the standards of the plain-speaking Dutch, Sophie in ‘t Veld is pretty blunt. The European Council – the body of EU leaders – is “from a democratic point of view, a monster” and “totally dysfunctional”, 그녀는 말한다. 그만큼 유럽 ​​위원회 is “shamelessly protecting” autocratic governments, over enforcing the rule of law. And the European parliament, the veteran MEP thinks, “is not playing its role within European democracy”.

While EU leaders have applauded the unprecedented speed of EU sanctions against Russia, taboo-breaking decisions to fund lethal weapons for Ukraine and help Ukrainian refugees, in ‘t Veld thinks the war has only exposed the EU’s “dysfunctional” governance, a complex patchwork of institutions where national governments are ultimately in charge. “I very much welcome the fact that the European Union is now taking steps [to support Ukraine], that there is more integration; I think that is long overdue, but that also increases the need for a more democratic union," 그녀는 가디언에 말했다.

그만큼 European Peace Facility, which is funding weapons for Ukraine, she points out, is neither scrutinised by the European parliament, nor national legislatures. 대신, a group of member state officials meet behind closed doors to sign off its annual budget and accounts. In ‘t Veld supports EU funds to arm Ukraine, but thinks more transparency is needed: “So we are spending €1.5bn [£1.24bn] without democratic oversight on weapons and I think that’s a very good illustration of why we need a drastic and quick reform of the European Union.”

Such views don’t make her very popular, even in her own group of centrist MEPs. She recounts one colleague “really shouting at me” for “attacking” the commission. While in ‘t Veld supports the EU’s 평양이 중거리 탄도미사일로 의심되는 미사일을 우주로 보낸 뒤… policy, she doesn’t think MEPs should stop asking difficult questions: “Since when is parliamentary scrutiny considered to be an attack? I think it’s an attack on democracy if there is no parliamentary scrutiny.”

It is an argument she makes in a recent , The Scent of Wild Animals, which calls for a radical overhaul of how the EU works. The title was inspired by the late co-founder of her D66 party, Hans Van Mierlo, who spoke admiringly of the animal spirits in the Dutch parliament. In ‘t Veld would like to see the same cut and thrust in Brussels and Strasbourg: “The European parliament has to be a true political arena, with the scent of wild animals, blood, sweat and sawdust,그러나 비정형 진단을 받은 사람들은 '전통적인' 거식증으로 고생하는 사람들과 동일한 의학적, 심리적 합병증을 많이 경험합니다..

대신, too many MEPs lack a parliamentary spirit, 그녀는 생각한다. 이번 달 [4 월] the European parliament revived ‘Question Hour’ with the European Commission president, 우르술라 폰 데어 라이엔. A process intended to hold the EU executive to account, several MEPs used their slot to make mini speeches and throw in several sprawling questions. It was “a joke” says in ‘t Veld. “There were the kind of questions, where I thought: ‘people if this is what you want to know, do a Google search’. This is not a political question’.”

The European parliament has three problems, 그녀는 말한다: a large number of first-time MEPs, Covid and Brexit. Although MEPs have resumed meetings in Brussels and Strasbourg, much work still happens online. “People are stuck in their homes looking at a screen and they are much closer to national politics than before," 그녀가 말했다. Then there is Brexit: the European parliament waved goodbye to the UK’s 73 MEPs in January 2020. A couple of years on, “the parliamentary tradition of the UK is sorely lacking” in Brussels, in ‘t Veld says. The UK provided “a cohort of people who saw the parliament as a counterweight to the EU’s other institutions. Bit by bit I am beginning to realise how important they were for the political culture here”.

When the commission was recently found guilty of maladministration by a European watchdog over text messages von der Leyen had exchanged with the chief executive of Pfizer at the height of the pandemic, while negotiating billion-euro vaccine deals, the European parliament did nothing. “Can you imagine any other leader of the government or the executive doing this and the national parliament being mum? I’m just totally shocked. I don’t know what to say,” said in t’ Veld.

If the European parliament is too weak, in ‘t Veld believes that EU leaders are too powerful and too unaccountable. She would abolish the European Council, which she describes as “fundamentally undemocratic” because of its ambiguous role that is neither fully executive nor legislator. 그, 그녀는 인정, will not happen, but instead she would like more transparency about how it makes decisions.

It’s a view many would challenge. Luuk Van Middelaar, a political theorist and former adviser to the European Council president, has argued the EU showed “a remarkable dynamism and resilience” in its response to the Covid pandemic, largely as a result of decisions made by EU heads of government. The increased role of the European Council in multiple late-night crisis summits on the eurozone, Brexi, migration and Ukraine, is also said to make the EU more democratic and visible to voters.

In ‘t Veld disagrees: 그러나 비정형 진단을 받은 사람들은 '전통적인' 거식증으로 고생하는 사람들과 동일한 의학적, 심리적 합병증을 많이 경험합니다. [EU leaders] have legitimacy to their own people, but they have no mandate nor legitimacy for taking European decisions… I cannot vote for this council. I can’t hold them to account. I cannot even demand transparency.”

And the MEP deplores that each government wields veto power, including Hungary’s prime minister Vikor Orbán, recently re-elected in a contest independent monitors said was tilted in the ruling party’s favour. “This guy was elected in unfair elections … He is taking decisions that affect us all, I mean quite literally decisions of war and peace, life and death … At national level something like this wouldn’t happen. In most democracies, if there is someone in government who has broken the law, they have to resign.”

She welcomes the victory of the pro-European French president Emmanuel Macron and the defeat of Slovenia’s right-wing populist prime minister, “Orbán copycat” Janez Janša. “It matters if out of 27 government leaders two are anti-European or pro-European, it makes a difference.” But she doesn’t see any government supporting the fundamental changes she advocates. “It matters what kind of European Union they are advocating: I see no move anywhere in the member states to go for a more supranational European Union, more democratic.”

In part, the debate is an old fault-line: should the EU be led by powerful Brussels-based federal institutions, or is it a club of member states, where national capitals take the big decisions, with the commission as a secretariat. Today’s EU is a mix of both, but the intergovernmental idea, championed by the former French president Charles de Gaulle decades ago, has been in the ascendancy for at least twenty years.

Research shows that the commission is less likely to take wayward member governments to court than in the past, highlighting the sway of national governments over Brussels. “The commission doesn’t want to piss off the member state governments,” contends in ‘t Veld. “And that is sort of the end of everything: you can pass as many laws as you like, but if they are not being enforced then there is no rule of law, because then everything becomes arbitrary.”

To counter this, she argues the commission needs to be more independent of national governments. So she would scrap the rule of having one EU commissioner per member state. And the European parliament should have the power to dismiss individual commissioners, 그녀는 생각한다. Under current rules, to vote out one commissioner, MEPs have to bring down all 27.

But the European parliament needs to start with itself, in ‘t Veld argues: “Parliament doesn’t use its political powers. If you mention … motion of censure, or forcing the commission to resign, then everybody looks at you as if you are a sort of dangerous radical with a bomb in your hand. 그러나, 죄송합니다, this is a very mature tool in any normal, mature democracy and it’s happening all the time.

“In the past two years, governments have been sent packing in the EU. It’s not the end of the world. The sun still rises the next day. So why are we so afraid of our own shadow?”

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