How Joschka Fischer is trying to rescue the nation-state

Joschka Fischer’s recent speech at the Humboldt University of Berlin marks an opening of an important debate concerning the basis on which the future European Union should be organised. Fischer’s speech contains a number of suggestions, of which some are old and some new. From the European Parliament’s perspective, it seems, however, that some of his ideas seem more feasible than others. Furthermore, he does not seem to fully recognise the need to bring the citizen into the process.[:] Fischer’s idea of a federal Europe is of utmost importance in order to reduce the democratic deficit that prevails in today’s European Union. But why does he want to re-nationalise the European Parliament? This would be a step back in particular in view of the ongoing effort of the European Parliament to create European political parties and a European-wide public sphere. Joschka Fischer’s ideas on a two-chamber European Parliament are somewhat related to an older idea favoured by France, namely to gain official status for COSAC, which brings together members of national parliaments. But Joschka Fischer goes even further with his efforts to rescue the nation-state. In his vision, there would be a double-representation of Member States: One chamber would consist of elected members who are also members of their national parliaments, and the second chamber, the Senate, should represent federal entities.

The directly-elected Members of the European Parliament do not think that they are less legitimised than national parliamentarians in representing citizens. In order to build a European democracy, it is not necessary to bring members of national parliaments to the European Parliament. Double mandates should not be allowed. Being a MEP is a full-time job, so is being a member of any national parliament. In fact, the colleagues who have both mandates are rarely seen in Brussels or Strasbourg. The national parliaments and the European Parliament should not be seen as competitors, but as partners, which both work to enhance the parliamentary dimension of the integration process. One may ask whether the role envisaged for national parliaments by Joschka Fischer is the only solution to overcome the current democratic deficit? In my opinion, the role of the national parliaments is to control and supervise the work of their respective governments and thus the Council of Ministers. The democratic deficit could be significantly reduced, if all EU-governments would be made more accountable to their parliaments when they act as legislators in the Council of Ministers. In Finland, Denmark and Austria, the system of parliamentary control works already quite satisfactorily. The ministers even have to gain a mandate from the parliament in order to act in the Council of Ministers.The situation is quite opposite in some other Member States, such as Germany and France, in which the national parliaments, and thus the public, are not even sufficiently informed about the doings and wrongdoings of their governments on a European level. Why not try to remedy this democratic deficit first? In fact, the European Union is already a two-sided track, conciliating between European and national interests. The national governments and supranational institutions (the European Parliament and the Commission) meet in co-decision which became the main legislative procedure with the Amsterdam Treaty.

As regards the future European government, the European Parliament believes that the Commission should be turned into a political government, in whose nomination the European Parliament must be closely involved with. This trend was reinforced after the latest European elections in June 1999, when Mr Prodi had to accommodate between national interests and political realities, on the one hand, and the balance of power between the political groups of the European Parliament, on the other. As a result, the Commission now enjoys a more political status in the eyes of the Parliament than the previous Commission did. There is also better accountability of the Commission. As a citizen of a federal country, Joschka Fischer knows well how democracy works on different levels: at local, regional, national and European levels. Following the German model, our goal should indeed be a system based on decentralised federalism, in which regions and local authorities have their own important contribution to make. In this light, it is utmostly worrying that some of the larger Members States are still quite centralist. This is true in particular in Spain and France, in which the voice of regions still needs to be strengthened. It is inevitable that regions will demand for more competencies in the future, also in a global context. Indonesia and the Philippines are extreme examples of countries, in which far-going federalism with the guaranteed rights for minorities and ethnic groups may be the only solution to keep the state together. In fact, we need a decision-making system based on the notion of global federalism, where the voice of an individual is heard through his or her region, state, and finally larger units in order to balance the globalisation of market forces.

What about the citizen who is not really present in Joschka Fischer’s speech? The “visionary energy” of Monnet or Schuman alone is not enough to convince today’s citizens that the European project is meaningful to their lives. The justification has to be found in today’s realities and re-discovered every day. The citizen has to become the main factor behind the integration process, something the traditional “Monnet method” did not provide for. Otherwise the EU cannot claim more powers which may be needed in order to tame the blind globalisation process. We have to empower citizens with real possibilities to influence the Union’s decision-making process. In this context, it is imperative that we increase also the direct political rights of citizens. It should be considered whether we could use referenda, also binding referenda, more frequently, and whether we could provide citizens with legislative initiative powers by incorporating citizens’ initiatives into the Treaty, as proposed by the Italian and Austrian governments during the last Intergovernmental Conference. As Joschka Fischer acknowledges, the future European constitution can only be based on our common values such as human and civil rights and democracy. The ongoing debate on Austria provides the Union with such building blocks by focusing our attention on values which all Europeans by and large share. I am referring here to the fundamental rights of citizens. Joschka Fischer has apparently not followed the ongoing constitutional process which he himself was launching as German Foreign Minister during last year’s European summit in Cologne. The Charter of Fundamental Rights, now in the making and once adopted and legally binding, will mark a radical transfer from an intergovernmental towards a civic approach. For the first time, it will be acknowledged that also citizens, not just states, have rights. The method now used is revolutionary, involving the European Parliament and all national parliaments.

The future constitution cannot be based on a new Treaty adopted only by certain Member States which choose to go ahead without others. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec once said that those who are ahead of their time must wait for others in very uncomfortable places…The impatience of Joschka Fischer and many others is understandable, but maybe flexibility and the so-called reinforced cooperation in the joint institutional framework will be the way forward. For instance, an environmentally and socially sustainable tax reform is likely to be possible only on the selective basis. The unwilling Member States shall not anymore hold the others as their hostages. The Green/EFA Group in the European Parliament is grateful that Joschka Fischer has raised our attention to fundamental questions of democracy beyond the very limited discussion on the Amsterdam left-overs which is now taking place in the current Intergovernmental Conference. My Group would like to invite Joschka Fischer to the European Parliament to present his views to Members of this house.

Strasbourg, 17 May 2000