Sat, Mar 02, 2002 - Page 9 News List

Europe faces fundamental dilemma

The continent could benefit from centralizing foreign and defense policies, but a drastic redesign of the EU constitution would be needed for centralization to work

By Guido Tabellini

ILLUSTRATION: YUSHA

There is widespread agreement that the EU would benefit from further centralization of internal security and of elements of foreign and defense policy. According to the last Euro-barometer survey last year, 73 percent of EU citizens support a common defense and security policy, and two Europeans out of three believe that the EU should have one common foreign policy. This high support for centralization of tasks in these areas contrasts with the still lukewarm overall support for the EU as a whole: only 48 percent support their country's membership in the EU.

But does the EU possess the necessary institutions to make these further steps in integration possible? This is one of the most difficult but relevant questions to be addressed by the convention that will debate Europe's constitution beginning this month.

In other policy areas, European integration has meant much more than just policy coordination. Transfer of power from EU mem-ber states has always been accompanied by institution building, tailoring the institution to the specific policy area over which integration was needed. A remarkable feature of this process of integration so far is that it has preserved important dimensions of accountability and control.

But it is important to appreciate the particular way in which accountability for EU decisions has been preserved and how it differs from political accountability in a representative democracy. In a representative democracy, elections are the ultimate instrument for holding politicians accountable. Citizens delegate decisions to representatives (governments, legislators). If citizens are not satisfied with the decisions they take, that delegation is not renewed: the previous majority loses the election and is replaced by a new government or a new parliamentary majority.

political Accountability

This mechanism cannot work in the EU, at least not under the current European constitution. Govern-ments are the key decision makers in the Council of the EU. But they are accountable to citizens at home, in national elections, and they are primarily judged for their domestic performance, not for EU decisions. Other EU policymaking bodies -- the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission -- are appointed, not elected.

Accountability in the EU has, instead, been achieved through methods that are typical of bureaucratic control, not of politics. Transfer of power to an EU body has generally been accompanied by a clear operational definition of the policy goals.

EU policymakers (the ECB, the European Commission, the majority in the Council) generally have a narrowly defined "mission" -- price stability, enforcing the single mar-ket, holding prices of agricultural commodities stable. This has two advantages: it limits discretion by the EU policymakers and, hence, ensures that transfer of power is not abused; it also facilitates post-transfer accountability and control.

The European Parliament, the media and the Council can blame or approve of the way in which EU decision-making power has been used. Since EU policymakers have a narrow mandate and their decisions are often inspired by external technical criteria, they can be held accountable for their behavior despite the absence of elections.

This method of bureaucratic control has (so far) worked well in the EU. It can fruitfully be extended to internal security, where it is possible to define a precise mission for EU policymakers, exploiting the Commission and designing appropriate technical guidelines to achieve clearly defined operational goals.

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