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Heathcoat-Amory: A Europe of Presidents

Speech to the European Convention

The Convention has reached a critical stage - can we deliver the Laeken mandate to create a democratic EU 'closer to its citizens'?

There have been many calls for stronger institutions; indeed, many speakers have asked for all EU institutions to be made stronger. But if we are serious, we have to consider their relative powers and not be afraid to rank them. Otherwise we are simply creating a Europe of presidents and politicians: more titles, more status, more powers ... and an even bigger gap between rulers and the ruled.

Besides, in a democratic system the strength of an institution depends not only on its legal powers, but also on its political reputation and the allegiance felt towards it by the public.

The EU faces some very difficult issues, such as low economic growth, low productivity and high unemployment. Curing them will require difficult decisions. To succeed, the institutions concerned cannot rely on legal powers; they need popular support and this is not found at EU level.

The EU level most discussed in this debate has been the French-German plan for a double presidency (one for the Council; one for the Commission). It is unfortunate that this proposal has come not from our own deliberations but from outside. The Convention is turning into an Intergovernmental Conference.

The plan is itself the result of compromise. Some speakers have picked out the bits they like and ignored the rest. I see it as a package and I find it unacceptable.

The relationship between the institutions is not defined and there is no clear job specification for the two presidents proposed. They will both be indirectly elected but the link between the ordinary voter and the successful candidate will be a long one and it will hardly be a popular election. However, both presidents will claim a popular mandate and there will therefore be a built-in conflict and confusion.

The result will be a top-heavy structure, further removed from the public. Instead of this institutional bargaining, let us apply some political science and first principles.

Democratic institutions require a common public understanding or 'demos'. The conditions for this were first described by the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville. These conditions are absent in the EU, even before enlargement further dilutes it.

The only European demos is found in national electorates and we therefore need to build upwards from those. I support the points made by Gisela Stuart about the need to give further powers to national parliaments.

Also, it is not defensible for the European Commission to have a monopoly of initiative. It means that directives and regulations are conceived in mystery, entirely disconnected from the needs and requests of voters or their parliaments. I support those other speakers who have suggested that the Commission should be elected by national parliaments.

Finally, let us think of how the results of our deliberations should be decided and endorsed or rejected. I call for national referendums in as many states as possible, if possible on the same day, perhaps to coincide with the EP elections of 2004. If the proposed EU constitution is in the name of the people, let the people decide.

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