As news commentators focus on whether Greece should leave the eurozone, Martin Schulz, sees the European Union in a democratic crisis.
In a speech at Humboldt University in Berlin last Thursday (May 24th), he warned that European democracy faces challenges from various sides.
As financial markets shook Europe, he heavily criticised EU leaders' rush to deliver short term responses, summit after summit, bypassing elected assemblies.
“When the crisis came to Europe in 2008, the executive authorities had drawn a noteworthy conclusion: As markets needed a quick and determined signal, parliaments had to pause,” he said.
To counter the weakening of legislative authorities, Schulz called for a “restart of European democracy” within the existing treaties. While more competencies are transferred to Brussels, Schulz argued that it was crucial for the EU institutions to mirror the distribution of power in the member states.
“This is the real democratic deficit! With a full right of initiative of the European Parliament, we could correct this," he said, referring to a right for MEPs to directly propose legislation, something they are currently unable to do.
There is no need to change the existing treaties, Schulz argued, adding that the European Commission could simply commit to act upon parliamentary initiatives.
According to Euractiv Germany, the Union must make the decision-making process more transparent so that a genuine European public sphere can emerge. Schulz mentioned the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which had led to a Europe-wide petition signed by 2.5 million people, asking for ACTA to be rejected. Schulz insisted that such initiative has triggered a more public and open-ended debate, so that the European Parliament could come to an appropriate decision.
The President of the EU Assembly pleaded for a stronger culture of controversial debates at European level. He said he wants to turn the European Parliament, which was widely seen as a “consensus machine”, into a “place for dispute” to make sure its policies become more visible.
The Parliament’s president also called for “institutional clarity,” which would be necessary “in the medium turn”: the Commission as a European government, the European Parliament as a first chamber, and the Council as a second chamber.
Schulz pointed out that his vision would not turn the EU into a “United States of Europe”. Instead he spoke of “supranational sovereignty,” the accumulation of national sovereignties so as to regain political options for future action. German Finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble went even further recently during the acceptance speech for the Charlemagne Prize when he argued in favour of a directly-elected European Commission president.
Schulz spoke only a day after European leaders met for an informal summit in Brussels. While the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, also attended the meeting, Schulz was asked to leave after the first course “Mr Draghi is invited, while I am uninvited. I do not think that the representation of the European people will put up with that in the long run”, he declared during a press conference.
After his inauguration earlier this year, Schulz announced that he would not accept to be relegated to a mere figurehead. Instead, he wanted to take part in EU leaders' meetings despite not being invited. EU heads of state and government are expected to discuss plans for deeper economic integration during their meeting at the end of June.