A British and a Bulgarian view
Should the EU take over powers from the national governments – or should it certainly not? This was one of the questions discussed in an English-language group at the Bulgarian My!Europe conference earlier this month. The relationship between EU and national governments looked quite different from a British and a Bulgarian perspective.
The following is the group report by Irene Lewis, UK:
This group consisted of three Bulgarians and one Briton.
The questions discussed were:
C1 How can we ensure that there is a clear relation between the way citizens vote and the composition of the Commission?
C3: Should the EU decide how we develop an ‘ever deeper’ cooperation in the EU? Or should we have the whole system turned upside down? How? Should we propose e.g. that national parliaments are the ones that decide which powers to delegate to EU institutions?
The questions were considered both separately and together by the group.
Most of the discussions and suggestions were made by the Bulgarian members. In view of the result of the recent referendum in UK in favour of that country’s leaving the EU, the Briton was somewhat diffident about making recommendations but contributed a number of observations.
C1: Commissioners to be chosen by EP
It was argued strongly that the Commissioners should be chosen by the European Parliament so that the Commissioners would not be responsible to their own government but to that Parliament.
As much as possible should be done to make MEPs more directly responsible to their electors. To this end systems which place too much power into the hands of party leaders should not be allowed.
This was in part the result of the observation made by the Briton that in the UK elections for the European Parliament, voters vote for the party, not the candidate. The MEPs then actually elected depend not only on the number of votes cast, but also on where a candidate is placed on the party list. Voters and candidates do not necessarily feel any direct connection with each other.
It was pointed out that some Europeans have more confidence in their own government and would need some convincing that it should have less power in the European Commission and the European Parliament more.
One suggestion was that there should be much more information available, in an attractive way, about all the things that the EU does. While the EU, through its Parliament, is the obvious body to undertake this, it was also argued that NGOs (Sonnenberg is a good example) could be very helpful as they would have more credibility in such a matter.
C3 "Ever deeper", different in the UK and in Bulgaria
It was argued very strongly that Bulgarian politics are immensely corrupt, and that power is invisible so that whoever is in government, control remains in the hands of unelected forces and there is no sense of person responsibility to the citizens on the part of state officials.
To date, the Bulgarian government has been playing games with the EU. It does not carry out its requirements as a member state and keeps any reports from the EU away from public knowledge. Bulgarian people have seen little benefit from the EU so far; all the advantages have gone to the elite.
In this state of affairs it would be better to have the EU impose, monitor and sanction strict rules on governments, rather than keep ultimate power in the hands of the national government.
The Briton pointed out that this would be going too far in the UK even for many who support the EU.
As a matter of national security, vital services, water for example, should be in public hands and each country should have a minimum military force at its disposal.
Much more needs to be done so that people know what the EU stands for. All nations have their national narrative, which is widely know and celebrated but not the EU; yet there is one that embodies both events and values.