The Laeken Declaration

Our last post looked at how the Lisbon Treaty represented a constitution in disguise, sneakily introduced because voters who were asked didn’t want one and others weren’t asked in case they too rejected it. The plan was agreed by the EU Council during its meeting at Laeken in 2001 and they would not be defied. Of course they would have preferred explicit, popular support so they declared how successful and democratic the Union was, perhaps in anticipation of popular doubt.

Robert Burns

“The best laid plans o’ Mice an’ Men,

Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e ius nought but grief an’ pain,

For promis’d joy!

The EU has a problem—the lingering defects of the ‘old’ Europe should wither as the Continent becomes more integrated but citizens require an enlightened elite to lead them towards its primary goal of a single, unified state.

By the turn of the millennium, despite the steady accretion of powers, the leaders believed a new impetus was required. In December 2001 the Council met at Laeken, a district of Brussels. Clearly if you mean to unite a continent under one flag, with one anthem, one army, a single currency and a supreme court you really need a constitution too and this was the key objective of the meeting, which established a Convention to prepare “a Constitution for European citizens” under the chairmanship of former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing.

When it was drafted most national governments and parliaments were ready to adopt this constitution but some had to gain their citizens’ explicit approval or had promised to ask for it. Although the Spanish people agreed (on a low turnout), the referendums in France and The Netherlands resulted in clear rejections so that others, including the UK and Ireland, abandoned plans to consult their voters.

The EU is forever ‘consulting’ citizens but it never seems to make much difference, the plan for supra-nationhood must not be stalled [1]. In this case the constitutional draft was imposed by other means – the Lisbon Treaty. The Commission commissioned the draft at Laeken but because some national constitutions required voter consent for constitutional change the Declaration set about trying to convince them—it failed, perhaps the following explains why.

The Laeken Declaration The full document can be downloaded [2], (quotations from it are in red).

The Summit held in Brussels on 3 October 2001 established important guidelines for the practical implementation of the strategic partnership between the Union and Russia: elaborating the concept of a Common European Economic Area…

Although a constitution was the principal issue discussed at the meeting it concluded with a Declaration that focused on justifying the Project’s aims and achievements.

A Common European Economic Area has not been realised and now Russia is regarded as an opponent, except when Germany needs extra gas.

An EU Constitution

The European Council meeting in Laeken on 14 and 15 December 2001 has provided fresh impetus to increase the momentum of its integration.

The aim of the Lisbon strategy is to enable the Union to regain the conditions for full employment.

This declaration and the prospects it opens mark a decisive step for the citizen towards a simpler Union, one that is stronger in the pursuit of its essential objectives…

Efforts to surmount the problems arising from differences between legal systems should continue…

The “Lisbon strategy” referred to here was the goal to approve a constitution by a planned Council meeting in Portugal. The emphasis on “the momentum of its integration” points up the main objective since the formation of the EU and its predecessors.

It is difficult to see how they might “regain the conditions for full employment” when the average EU unemployment level tends to be high, possibly in part because of inflexible employment legislation, and it is unequal between states. What has been done in the past 20 years to address the issue?

Citizens are given few opportunities to step “towards a simpler Union”. The objectives, and the required strength, are all with the Union itself; citizens on the whole are ignored. Indeed “the citizen”, in the singular, emphasises the disdain in which the people are held; and is it just simpler now to impose controls from Brussels? Perhaps “a simpler Union” was the aim but it has not been achieved – ask the many unemployed young people.

The differences between the legal systems of the UK and most of the EU were a significant factor in Brexit.

A financially safe, sound and dynamic Union

The euro area now represents a pole of stability for those countries participating in it by protecting them from speculation and financial turmoil. It is strengthening the internal market and contributing to the maintenance of healthy fundamental figures, fostering sustainable growth. The euro is also helping to bring the citizens of the Union closer together by giving visible, concrete expression to the European design.

…we will take stock of our progress towards the Lisbon strategic goal of becoming the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, with full employment and increased levels of social cohesion, by 2010…

As a result of mutual solidarity and fair distribution of the benefits of economic development, moreover, the standard of living in the Union’s weaker regions has increased enormously and they have made good much of the disadvantage they were at.

Many of the despised citizenry accept such nonsense as “a pole of stability” without observing the contradictory reality. The second paragraph is more propaganda, unrealised in practice. Where are the knowledge-based companies today? There are few in the EU, especially now the UK has left. Unemployment has been rife in many countries (not Germany) and there are ‘populists’, of both right and left, in France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Sweden, Netherlands, Hungary, at least.

In fact the reverse has happened since and it wasn’t even true at the time; both “mutual solidarity” and “fair distribution” are denied by current behaviour, and the rest is mere propaganda. Unification, the main objective—in the form of ever closer union—is now nearer still, but what does it mean in practice?

The European Council welcomes the political agreement between the Council and the European Parliament on the Directive on informing and consulting workers…

This, “informing and consulting”, puts workers in their ‘proper’ place, and the Parliament also [1]. These consultations take place with ‘selected’ citizens but we don’t know how they are chosen, whether they are representative or merely reliable.

Peace, political union, economic disparity

The debilitating effects of two bloody wars and the weakening of Europe’s position in the world brought a growing realisation that only peace and concerted action could make the dream of a strong, unified Europe come true.

In the beginning, it [the Union] was more of an economic and technical collaboration. Twenty years ago, with the first direct elections to the European Parliament, the Community’s democratic legitimacy, which until then had lain with the Council alone, was considerably strengthened. Over the last ten years, construction of a political union has begun and cooperation been established on social policy, employment, asylum, immigration, police, justice, foreign policy and a common security and defence policy… The unification of Europe is near.

Certainly war-weary citizens had a desire for peace but “a dream of a strong, unified Europe”? The EU in its treaties tells us that “a strong, unified Europe” is needed to produce peace; it’s a chicken and egg dilemma. Or maybe they mean you can’t have one without the other—like love and marriage according to Sinatra. It’s not true in either case, as we often see in practice, but Frank’s song might suit the EU agenda better than Ludwig’s (which features ‘peace and Union’ instead of ‘love and marriage’ of course).

Much of the political union has now come into being, moving the EU ever closer to its ideological conclusion—to create a federal government for its part of Europe. Attributing “democratic legitimacy” to the European Parliament, let alone to the Council, is arguable at best.

Democracy, values and simplicity

The European Union’s one boundary is democracy and human rights. The Union is open only to countries which uphold basic values such as free elections, respect for minorities and respect for the rule of law.

Within the Union, the European institutions must be brought closer to its citizens. Citizens undoubtedly support the Union’s broad aims, but they do not always see a connection between those goals and the Union’s everyday action. They want the European institutions to be less unwieldy and rigid and, above all, more efficient and open.

The EU’s physical boundary is clear (and within Europe, not bounding Europe, which is a ‘short-cut’ they often use as propaganda to deceive us). EU “respect for minorities” is suspect, particularly if these are taken to be citizens of Eastern and Southern European states. Citizens of Greece have been notably disrespected, though the lack of democracy disrespects all EU citizens.

If it “must be brought closer to its citizens” that remains undelivered twenty years later; it is wishful thinking at best, but put out to persuade us to buy into the fiction.

Democracy versus consultation

Citizens also want results in the fields of employment and combating poverty and social exclusion, as well as in the field of economic and social cohesion. They want a common approach on…all transnational issues which they instinctively sense can only be tackled by working together.

At the same time, citizens also feel that the Union is behaving too bureaucratically in numerous other areas. In coordinating the economic, financial and fiscal environment, the basic issue should continue to be proper operation of the internal market and the single currency, without this jeopardising Member States’ individuality. National and regional differences frequently stem from history or tradition. They can be enriching. In other words, what citizens understand by “good governance” is opening up fresh opportunities, not imposing further red tape. What they expect is more results, better responses to practical issues and not a European superstate or European institutions inveigling their way into every nook and cranny of life.

Many also feel that the Union should involve itself more with their particular concerns, instead of intervening, in every detail, in matters by their nature better left to Member States’ and regions’ elected representatives…More importantly, however, they feel that deals are all too often cut out of their sight and they want better democratic scrutiny.

How does the EU know what its citizens want, since they rarely ask and take little notice when they do? Perhaps by voting for the Union’s proto-government and by referendums they would learn the truths —which they would hate because these usually interfere with their plans for more integration. And where are the claimed results “in the fields of employment and combating poverty”? Working together may be a good idea but it is a long way from being realised.

EU leaders are fond of telling us what we want but mostly what they say we want is actually what they want. And “citizens also feel” is not what the leaders feel, which is that apart from a few bumps all is going well, and the red tape seems limitless.

The last part almost recognises some reality, although it is attributed to ‘many’, but not EU leaders and sycophants, who believe that all is as it should be.

In short, citizens are calling for…an approach that provides concrete results in terms of more jobs, better quality of life, less crime, decent education and better health care. There can be no doubt that this will require Europe to undergo renewal and reform.

Yes, but it hasn’t happened and there is no reason to believe that it ever will, in this Union. The EU is not the same as “Europe” and real reform is not on the agenda, just “more Europe”.

Perhaps they want citizens to accept a side order of democracy by consulting rather than voting. But who gets to be consulted and are their views acted upon? Does questioning (polling) equate with what people really think, as when they can elect or dismiss their national government?

Subsidiarity

Lastly, there is the question of how to ensure that a redefined division of competence does not lead to a creeping expansion of the competence of the Union or to encroachment upon the exclusive areas of competence of the Member States…

Successive amendments to the Treaty have on each occasion resulted in a proliferation of instruments, and directives have gradually evolved towards more and more detailed legislation.

Such “creeping expansion” is what has been experienced ever since. Some Council members do sense that the Union is becoming ever more cumbersome but seem unwilling or unable to counteract the trend.

Democracy and a Constitution

The European Union derives its legitimacy from the democratic values it projects, the aims it pursues and the powers and instruments it possesses. However, the European project also derives its legitimacy from democratic, transparent and efficient institutions. The national parliaments also contribute towards the legitimacy of the European project.

The question ultimately arises as to whether this simplification and reorganisation might not lead in the long run to the adoption of a constitutional text in the Union.

The EU, quite deliberately and skilfully, “projects” democratic values, but it doesn’t hold them in practice, or act on them; the purpose of claiming these values is to obscure the truth that the EU is not democratic in a meaningful sense.

The Declaration poses many good questions (on page 23 in particular) but chooses not to answer them.

The ideals expressed in the Laeken Declaration are rarely, if ever, represented in the actions of the Union [3]; but they did lead to a proposed constitution which, when it was rejected by French and Netherlands citizens, was reformulated as the Lisbon Treaties [4]. The rate of improvement for several decades has been rather modest, probably because the EU gets more and more encrusted with growth-destroying regulation.

[1] Citizens’ Initiative and We Need to Talk About EU

[2] https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/20950/68827.pdf

[3] Aspirations and Outcomes for more on the Laeken Declaration.)

[4] Treaties: Examined in detail


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