COFOE, Panel 2 recommendations

I am tracking the CoFoE and the Citizens Panel 2 on Democracy and the Rule of Law has just reported, making 39 recommendations. Why are names of EU bodies always so long? Here are my notes on these recommendations. …

Citizens Panel 2 on Democracy and the Rule of Law have made 39 recommendations.

Ensuring rights and non-discrimination

These include recommendations on Equality at Work, inc subsidies to companies meeting quotas (R1) and corporate provision of child care and play facilities (R2). Another group of recommendations is called “Protecting human rights and the rights of nature and animals”, which includes recommendations on standards on farm animal welfare (R3), agricultural product import taxes (R4) and a standards level playing field, and a refocus of farm subsidies toward ecological sustainability and low prices (R6).

They recommend guarantees of media independence (R5[ see also R12]) and the strengthening of privacy protection/enforcement. (R7-9). I need to return to these, they are after all a specialist subject, my feeling on first review is that these are naive and unactionable. What they seem to object to is the Commission’s lack of appetite for enforcement, and the EDPSB’s lack of desire for a massive disruptive bust-up where the battle field will be EU/US  cross border data flows. I believe there is a majority on the EDPSB for stronger enforcement and greater privacy, but some of the Supervisors follow the UK lead of adopting a pro-business, pro-monetisation approach.

Protecting democracy and the rule of law

In a series of recommendations, called “Protecting Democracy and the rule of law”, they make the following recommendation,

10. “We recommend that the conditionality regulation (2020/2092, adopted on 16 December 2020) is amended so that it applies to all breaches of the rule of law rather than only to breaches affecting the EU budget”

which they explain with the following comment,

The conditionality regulation allows for the suspension of EU funds to Member States breaching the rule of law. However, under the current formulation it only applies to breaches that affect, or risk affecting, the EU budget. Furthermore, the current phrasing of the conditionality regulation is self-protective of the EU’s budget and of the EU’s institutions rather than the citizens of the Member States concerned. Therefore, we recommend changing the current text of the regulation so that it covers all violations of the rule of law.

It seems quite clear, but I decided to see if more was said. The two areas of concern in the UK popular discourse is financial probity and the current disputes with Poland & Hungary

Are the stories of financial probity spread by Farage and the Leave campaigners true? I can find little evidence on google,  this article states that the Accounts have been signed off for the last 14 years, meaning that the last failure was in 2006, during the first Barroso Commission. Although a report from eucrim.eu is less sanguine, reporting once again a high error rate (4.9%)  and several ( less than 1.5%) potential frauds from the ECA audit sample.  (These numbers don’t seem high to me.) It wouldn’t surprise me if this i.e. fear of theft and fraud was just more Brexiteer bollocks.

On the rule of law issues, the EU is in dispute with the Polish and Hungarian governments over the issues of judicial independence, anti-LGBT policies and in the case of Hungary personal corruption particularly in the handling of EU grants; it’s probably very similar to the way in which the Tories have directed public money aimed at alleviating the impact of the pandemic to companies owned by donor with no track record  or capability of delivery. Although in Hungary, the steps towards an authoritarian executive is designed.

These are key issues which for the EU to survive it needs to win. It would seem sensible to arm the EU with financial sanctions although I thought that this was the purpose of Regulation No 2092/2020. My feeling is that these problems will require political sanction i.e. loss or suspension of voting rights and a political campaign in those countries. The EPP needs to own its problems, although Fidesz has left them, and PiS is also outside the EPP coalition.

See also my article on Subsidiarity and Proportionality which points the TEU and Article 7 which is the sanctions clause in the Treaty,.

The panel also recommends that an annual citizens monitoring conference is held on the Commission’s annual report on the rule of Law. This would be good, although means would need to be designed to ensure that the Parliament was also engaged. This should be supported.

Their proposed reform of Media Ownership laws (recommendation 12) is pretty good, but under-estimates the role of language in creating a diversified markets. Perhaps some guarantees on the independence of state players and stronger reputation management laws are part of the answer. They call out fake news as a threat to democracy.

Security

On security, (R13 & 14) the first recommendation  is on cyber-security. They recommend more of the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) and that it works for citizens not the member state governments. In the UK (& the USA) we have the problem that the agency responsible for spying on citizens is also responsible for defending them against foreign state, commercial interests and criminal enterprises. This is a clear conflict of interests. The panel also call for a stronger defence of democracy although make no proposals.  Perhaps its time to ask the Germans & Iberians for their opinion although I am of the view that even in politics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and while Germany, Spain and Portugal are recovering from fascism, Hungary and Poland are recovering from Stalinism, both groups of countries seem better at opposing their past then welcoming democracy.

Reforming the EU

The Institutions

They recommend renaming the Council and Commission (R15), and introducing a common election law with trans national parties (R16).

15. “We recommend changing the names of EU institutions to clarify their functions. For example, the Council of the European Union could be called the Senate of the European Union. The European Commission could be called the Executive Commission of the European Union”.

To me this epitomises the juvenile and ill researched nature of the process. Maximum offence to those states and citizens that want a slower journey to political union, and zero benefit. Even if the renaming represented the political reality, it is unnecessary. (It also to my mind is based on a misunderstanding of the role of the Commission and its President, although the monopoly on legislative initiative currently held by the Commission, might be shared with the Parliament. This was a popular proposal on the digital platform; it’s a missed opportunity.) It also borrows too much from the US constitutions political theory, which while in many ways admirable, still has some highly undesirable features, such as the, as developed not designed, all powerful Presidency, the undemocratic Senate and FPTP. There are too many powerless minorities in the USA and together they make such a large number that the state is ungovernable. This is a problem shared by France, the UK & Turkey.

Transnational slates/parties (R16)? What’s not to like? I think we/they may be ready for this. It’ll cause some problems in some of the countries with legacy imperial citizenship laws but with good will these can be resolved. They call for harmonised electoral conditions (voting age, election date, requirements for electoral districts, candidates, political parties and their financing). They don’t mention remote or early voting which they should. They propose a transition period for the introduction of such laws. They also fail to mention protections for regional parties, who in the 9th Parliament have joined in with one of the other’s depending on their orientation, either joining the European Free Alliance which works with the Greens, or the far-right Identity and Democracy group. Given the ubiquity of the centre parties, i.e. the EPP, PES and Renew, which are capable of running pan-European slates, maybe this is design feature, if so it must be resisted. Regional parties need to be represented.

What’s interesting is that they make no recommendation for changing the means of election/appointment of the President of the Commission. This is a set back for the federalists, union maximalists and for Renew. (There are a number of MEPs, including within the PES who also wanted the Spitzenkandidat process to be reinvigorated. The citizens panel do not, it seems, agree.)

Decision Making

They propose an EU run fact checking service, available via an online platform. Is this a Ministry of Truth or an EU run public service news organisation? NB I find the EU web site impossible to use or find anything. Is this because I have been trained on US sites or that they do something wrong. I think this is unlikely to go very far as the news corporations, their lobbyists and their politician allies will oppose this. It maybe what is needed is a common duty to tell the truth or a pan-European Leveson style press regulator and pan-European reputation regulation laws. A directive might be the answer, mandating a regulatory regime, like the GDPR which mandates and independent data processing supervisor.

They do however recommend the establishment of binding EU referendums R18, called by the European Parliament. I am of the view that this needs to be rejected. Political science states that political decisions can be taken using systems that work for consensus and those that resolve a polarity. The latter creates a loser community which in the case of an entity of more than 400m people could be as many as 200m. Political systems cannot survive this. My view is that this is unlikely ever to be a good idea, but it’s certainly premature. The democratic legitimacy of the EU is based on the democratic consent of the member states. It’ll take more time to build a Union of peoples. I would add that a referendum atomises and isolates people, citizen’s assemblies must do the opposite. This might also be the recommendation that one can hang the need for intra-state subsidiarity.

They recommend a digital platform for collecting views on the affairs of the EU. This is harmless but I ask if better cannot be done. Part of the answer to the problems they identify of ignorance and apathy need to be solved by political parties and civic society organisations and even a citizens’ assemblies. Having said it’s harmless, great care would be needed to ensure it is representative of the views of both the majority and minority. The CoFoE’s digital platform is not well used, and less so by women. Private sector sites such as steemit and digg have both been taken over by whales and thus become useless to most.

They ask (R20) that the Council Veto be re-examined. This is no surprise.

Closer Integration

There are three proposals, all relating to macro-economic and fiscal policy. I am in favour of them, but it’s interesting that a population, returning a right wing majority directly to the Parliament and indirectly to the Commission and Council have come up with these proposals.

They are, #21 which talks of full employment through an investment programme, which would have broader goals then Horizon and the Regional Fund, 22, talks of Regional Policy, and an economic equality goal or baseline,  and 23 which proposes [more] corporation tax and social expenditure; it is unclear if this is to be EU tax. (I note that Horizon and possibly the Regional Funds required member state government backing, this is not just a question of will in the EU.)

I think these are incredibly positive and we need to see if similar proposals come from the “Stronger economy, social justice, jobs, education, culture, sport, digital transformation” panel.

Building European identity

Education and Democracy

They propose pan-European education about the EU & Democracy (R24). NB If delivered to pre-University ages, this would be an extension of competency, unless it was delivered through a Directive. They also propose investment in and use of AI enhanced translation software (R25) and that a verifiable information source from the EU institutions is made available via mobile phones. (R26). Is the mobile phone aspect, really a top 40 priority although this is the second time that trust worthy news and information has been mentioned as being needed.

Values and Identity

Subsidised exchanges, R27, countering fake news, although it mentions specific laws and agencies, R28, increase and improve consultation with citizens, although does not mention the citizen’s initiatives, nor the CoFoE itself, this recommendation could be the hook on which a campaign to embed a permanent citizens assembly could be hung although so is R39.

In recommendation, R30, they propose a funded  educational component in  a common migrant welcome programmes,

30. “We recommend that European identity and values (ie. rule of law, democracy and solidarity) should receive a special place within the migrants’ integration process. Possible measures could include creating programmes or supporting already existing (local) programmes, to encourage social interactions between migrants and EU citizens or involving companies in the programmes supporting the integration of migrants. At the same time, similar programmes should be initiated in order to create awareness among EU citizens about migration-related issues”.

They explain,

This recommendation is important because social interaction programmes can support migrants in their new life and enable non-migrants to have insight in the daily life of migrants. If migrants live in ghettos, there is no possibility to integrate them into the society of the country and of the EU. A common policy is needed because once migrants enter EU territory, they can go to every country within the EU. Local initiatives should be supported because local governments will use the funds more effectively in comparison to national level.

This might be worrying as there is no explicit mention of multiculturalism although given it’s one of the axiomatic assumptions of the EU, perhaps I am worrying unnecessarily. Certainly an assumption of responsibility by the EU and the consequent dynamics in migration policy might be good but the current consensus amongst member states  would seem an unhappy place to start. This may be the start of a positive (or negative) domino effect impacting common borders, migration resettlement, and citizenship policies.

We should note that some state education systems in liberal democracies are stymied by the need to recognise citizens rights to freedom of belief.

Information about the EU

Three recommendations in this section, 31, a truthful yet free media, 32, another proposal on online connection to the EU politicians and 33, jargon free and digital connection for EU comms. This latter recommendation makes the mistake of assuming that the youth are more connected digitally, and may fail to understand that the use of tech. in this way  gives power to the platform engineers, check out about Facebook and the Brexit referendum. There is much evidence, from the UK and Estonia that youth’s disaffection with politics is not based on laziness or digital connectivity.

Strengthening citizen participation

Citizen participation

34, independent citizen observer, is this the basis for a citizens assembly, possibly, possibly not, the key to the assemblies would be neighbourliness, community and debate, this could be done well or badly

35 they recommend looking at renewing the constitution and avoiding conflict with the member states by starting from the common platform of Human Rights and Democracy; this is weakened in usefulness by setting no goals apart from renaming the council and expanding the competencies into education & economic management.

R36 talks about responsible representation and the alienation of youth from formal politics, it actually is unactionable. I am of the view that an anti-populist proposal to increase the size of the parliament is needed to allow MEPs to develop a better relationship with their constituents. In a larger Parliament, the ratio between the voter and the MEP will reduce.

R37 the promotion of citizens’ participation in the EU via the member states, R38 that the EU creates and implements programmes for schools about what is being done in the EU in terms of the existing mechanisms of participation. Both these are pious proposals, and R38 would involve the increasing of the EU’s competencies into school age education. It’s possible that some maybe even many countries require better education on how to be citizens in a democracy, as i write this, I am sure that the UK would benefit from it.

R39 is for Citizen’s Assemblies

39. “We recommend that the European Union holds Citizen’s Assemblies. We strongly recommend that they are developed through a legally binding and compulsory law or regulation. The citizens’ assemblies should be held every 12-18 months. Participation of the citizens should not be mandatory but incentivised, while organised on the basis of limited mandates. Participants must be selected randomly, with representativity criteria, also not representing any organisation of any kind, nor being called to participate because of their professional role when being assembly members. If needed, there will be support of experts so that assembly members have enough information for deliberation. Decision-making will be in the hands of citizens. The EU must ensure the commitment of politicians to citizens’ decisions taken in Citizens’ Assemblies. In case citizens’ proposals are ignored or explicitly rejected, EU institutions must be accountable for it, justifying the reasons why this decision was made”.

They comment

We recommend the implementation of Citizens’ Assemblies because we want that citizens feel closer to EU institutions and that they contribute directly to decision-making hand to hand with politicians, increasing the feeling of belonging and direct efficacy. Furthermore, we want political parties and their electoral programs to be accountable to citizens.


The final session of Citizen’s Panel 2 was held in Florence at the European University Institute, and that is what the featured image illustrates.

Featured Image: Senfsaat, CC 2010 BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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