Tag Archives: European Parliament

European Parliament to EU Governments: ‘Ban nukes in 2017!’

Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm, 29 October 2016

Brussels/Strasbourg. European Union’s legislature takes clear stance on upcoming negotiations on international treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons: the EU’s Member States should “support the convening” and “participate constructively” to its negotiation.

Non-proliferation we can agree on. The EU scored a major foreign policy success in brokering the talks between Iran and six major world powers on the dismantling of parts of its nuclear programme. It is less vocal on the nuclear weapons of the other countries pictured here.

Non-proliferation we can agree on. The EU scored a major foreign policy success in brokering the talks between Iran and six major world powers on the dismantling of parts of its nuclear programme. It is less vocal on the nuclear weapons of the other countries pictured here.

Even as the EU expands its foreign policy machinery and acquires new powers to represent its Member States at the United Nations, it has been oddly silent on one of the most exciting topics at this year’s UN General Assembly meetings.

Its silence on nuclear disarmament and the humanitarian-led push to ban nuclear weapons, is even more striking if one considers the EU’s status as “civilian super-power” and the world’s largest provider of humanitarian assistance.

So what is its stance on the last weapons of mass destruction not yet subject to a universal treaty prohibition? In two words, embarrassingly reactionary. On the occasion of the 2015 NPT Review Conference, when 185 countries joined statements entitled “Humanitarian Initiative” or “Humanitarian Consequences Group”, the EU’s representative was unable even to utter the word “humanitarian”, positioning the EU on the outer fringe of the nuclear discourse.

Nuke watchers will not be surprised to hear that a veto is to blame for this diplomatic blunder. The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council is the Council formation composed of foreign affairs ministers, which formulates EU foreign policy – if they can reach unanimity. France’s reticence in particular left the EU with only one option to show that it cares about nuclear disarmament: ensuring highest-level attendance and sending Federica Mogherini, the EU’s “Foreign Minister” and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Council, to deliver the EU statement in person. Ms Mogherini is known to be a longstanding supporter of nuclear disarmament.

With the Council and by extension the European Commission’s foreign affairs apparatus deadlocked, attention turned to the European Parliament. Freed from formal obligations in foreign policy matters, the European Parliament – like most national parliaments – finds it easier to ‘do the right thing’ and put moral considerations above so-called ‘realist’ constraints, e.g. the claim that NATO states cannot be leaders on disarmament matters, having to move at the speed of the slowest members.

Alas, after progressive resolutions reinforcing the global calls for complete nuclear disarmament in years past, the 2014-19 legislature had so far remained silent on the matter. Leading up to the 2015 debacle, the parliament declined to pass a resolution to call for a progressive EU position, in spite of efforts to the contrary. Ms Mogherini voiced her dismay in the next plenary session.

As the Humanitarian Initiative unfolded into a movement to negotiate a treaty prohibition of nuclear weapons, parliamentarians took notice, however. Unlike the majority of the EU’s governments, who appear to prioritise NATO cohesion over their moral convictions, the European Parliament took a clear stance last Thursday. With impeccable timing, on the same day as the start of voting in the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee tasked with disarmament matters, the EU’s Parliament:

  • “Welcomes the recommendation to the UN General Assembly … to convene a conference in 2017 … to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons”
  • “Invites the EU Member States to support the convening of such a conference in 2017 and to participate constructively in its proceedings”
  • “Invites VP/HR Federica Mogherini and the European External Action Service to contribute constructively to the proceedings of the 2017 negotiating conference”

In a particularly encouraging development, almost all of the EU’s centre-right and conservative parties also voted in favour of this language. While their governments at home are almost the only countries globally to oppose a Ban Treaty, except for the nuclear-armed themselves, the people’s representatives took a view that much closer mirrors what surveys have been showing for a long time: we reject nuclear weapons, and will not want to entrust our “security” to a deterrence gamble that has failed far too often to guarantee 100% reliability. Even while condemning Russia’s nuclear sabre-rattling, the resolution sends a clear signal of de-escalation. No nuclear warfare in Europe, please.

Nobody said banning nuclear weapons was easy: otherwise, it would have happened decades ago. Banning nuclear weapons takes courage, or, as President Obama would say, it takes a “moral revolution”. Let’s ban the worst weapons of all under international law, and help his successors to overcome obstacles in taking more decisive steps to reduce investment, posture and numbers.

Nuclear disarmament is a process, after all, not a black-and-white dichotomy. A ban helps.

@leo_axt

 

Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm (Voltaire Promotion) has followed nonproliferation and disarmament diplomacy since 2010. After a stint as disarmament envoy for the Republic of Nauru, he co-founded the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in Germany. Today he is in Brussels for ICAN and Transparency International.

 

We need a Eurozone Parliament

I was happy to read Wolfgang Schauble’s recent commentaries on the necessity to create a Eurozone Parliament. I would add, it should possibly be a democratic chamber set up as part of a Eurozone government, possibly less dysfunctional than the EU’s.

The German finance minister is essentially saying is that we need a whole new institutional infrastructure to govern the Eurozone in a) an efficient way and b) a democratic (better, legitimate) way.  Continue reading

What’s new in Europe in 2014?

 If 2013 was the European Year of Citizens, 2014 is the year where over 500 millions of European citizens will elect our representatives in the European Parliament and, for the first time, also the President of the European Commission. However, we will see new developments in Europe before the elections of May.

What’s new from 1 January 2014?

Already from the first day of 2014, the Eurozone welcomes Latvia, whose national currency is replaced by the Euro.

Also since the beginning of the year, restrictions to Romanian and Bulgarian citizens expire after a period with transitory measures imposed by some Member States after their EU accession in 2007.

In the field of education, the Erasmus+ programme entries into force, with a budget of 14.000 million euros for the period 2014-2020, allowing four million young Europeans to study abroad.

Greece will be protagonist during the first semester of 2014, not only due to the difficult economic situation of the country and the social unrest, but also because Greece takes over the Presidency of the Council of the EU between January and July, the last country of the trio of Presidencies (Ireland, Lithuania and Greece). Italy will take over the Presidency from July to December.

European agenda in 2014

From January to June, the Greek Presidency will not only meet the objectives of growth, employment, cohesion and other topics concerning the Eurozone. Migrations management, mobility and sea policies will also be some priorities. Relaunching the EU Maritime Policy in all its aspects, and without being confined to issues of growth and development, is an important aim of the Presidency in order to adopt in the European Council of June a EU Maritime Strategy, and highlighting the dimensions of security and growth.

In January, the EU will start the EU accession negotiations with Serbia after having obtained the status of candidate in 2012. Albania might receive the status of candidate in June. In that case, Albania would join other candidates which are already negotiating (Iceland, Montenegro and Turkey) or are waiting for the beginning of the negotiations (Macedonia and Serbia). Moreover, 2014 marks the tenth anniversary of the biggest enlargement of the EU, the enlargement to ten States of Central and Eastern Europe.

The European Union will continue dealing with issues that, even if they are not always present in the media, they directly affect the daily life of Europeans. I refer to issues such as the right of ensuring mobility through all Member States to study or to work abroad; the protection of our rights as European citizens against the airlines abuse when we travel by plane; the protection of our privacy when we use internet; the fight against criminal actions; among many other issues that will be present in the European Parliament in 2014.

From 1 November 2014, the new “dual majority” system is established in the Council of the EU for adopting decisions, abolishing the old system of vote weighting. From then on, a qualified majority is achieved with the 55% of  Member States representing at least 65% of the population of the EU. If the Council does not act on a proposal from the Commission, the majority should cover at least 72% of Member States representing at least 65% of the population. In any case, until 31 March 2017, any State may request that a decision is taken according to the previous system of vote weighting adopted in Nice.

Also in November, the new single supervisory mechanism (SSM) enters into force, and the European Central Bank (ECB), instead of the national authorities, will supervise the biggest 130 banks of the Eurozone. This is the first step towards the banking union, but there is still a long way to achieve it. The adoption of a single resolution mechanism and a deposit guarantee system are also needed for the banking union. The Presidency of the Council will negotiate with the European Parliament the regulation of this single resolution mechanism with the aim of adopting it by the end of this legislative term in May.

It is necessary to highlight the institutional changes in the EU in 2014. In addition to the European Parliament and the European Commission, including the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, also the President of the European Council will be renewed.

Why these European Parliament elections are different?

Why the European Parliament elections of 2014 are more important than ever? In addition to the election of the Members of the EP, for the first time in history each European political party will put forward a candidate for President of the European Commission, who will be directly elected through the vote of all European citizens. Therefore, the EU does not only increase its democratic legitimacy, but also becomes more politicized. This should allow the discussion about the diverse European issues and candidates will be able to take part of debates to explain their projects for Europe.

The elections will also be different because all Europeans will elect our representatives in a European Parliament more powerful than ever after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, with more competences and more responsibility.

But I would like to highlight a fundamental challenge that the EU must face in 2014 and, above all, regarding the 2014 elections: facing the increase of euroscepticism and populism, a consequence of the growing citizens’ unrest. In 2014, we have to inform more and better about Europe, to bring the debate on Europe to the media that we follow every day,  and to make understand that European issues affect all of us. Summing up, we have to explain the reality of Europe. However, this is not only the task of the European institutions or the Member States. It is also our responsibility, of all Europeans, because the European Union is not something we can leave aside. The EU is always moving and it depends on us to shape it. There are lots of thing to do in 2014. Let’s start right now.

May 2014 European elections: why should it be different this time?

I recently sat by chance in a plane with a College of Europe alumnus of my own promotion (Copernicus) who happens to work at the European Parliament (EP). After exchanging news of common friends I told him about a paper I recently wrote on how to tackle youth absenteeism in the elections to the European Parliament. When he asked me to summarise my conclusions and recommendations he was shocked by my remark that national leaders should publicly debate the main policy decisions in the EP. He interrupted me to say “Luis, that’s already done, national leaders and the chairman of the European Council come to the EP before and after the Councils”. Even though this is not exactly what I meant, I think that the anecdote is telling about the lack of visibility of the EP. If someone teaching and researching on European politics vaguely remembers about the EP in holding the European Council to account, there are high chances that the general public is not aware of the role of the Parliament in the EU. Continue reading

What if…

European elections are still a few months away, yet most commentators are already speculating on who, amongst the current Brussels “mandarins”, is going to be elected (but it’s safer to say “appointed”) in the EU top posts. However, and once discounted the increased loss of relevance of certain European institutions, there is in Brussels a worrying tendency to disregard the multiplying signs of rising extremisms that could – if the result confirms the early polls – change the face of the Parliament and, more in general, of European politics.

Politicians in the European capital seem to completely disregard signals coming from electorates all around Europe: a circumstance that is even more discomforting given that – this time – political parties will be accountable for their choices of candidate for President of the Commission. Recent surveys and electoral tests have shown strong hints that a solid performance from the so-called “populist parties” is likely: in the recent German elections, the AFD party clinched almost 5% and nearly made it to the Bundestag (and all odds go in the direction of an increase next spring), while the French “Front National” might possibly be the first party in the country with almost 25% consensus (and it recently won a second round election in a small city, defeating an alliance of UMP and PS voters). In Italy, the 5Star Movement also enjoys a similar backing (20-25%), while the UKIP in England as well as the Spanish extreme left are on the rise as well. Austrians “liberals” (who appear to be not so liberal after all…) also deserve close attention, amid their recent score in the country’s political elections, as does Golden Dawn, boosted by criminal accusations that determine, as usual in these cases, an aura of martyrdom very popular with its most fervent supporters.

On the other hand, for “traditional” parties it’s “business as usual”: there is very little preoccupation and even less talk of a possible major defeat. The line of reasoning is always the same – “we’ll pull it through”. But what if, this time, so-called “populist” parties make an amazing performance or, even worse, the group is currently known as the EFD becomes the biggest one within the EP?

Not much in policy terms, I suspect: the “Euro-skeptic” formations are very diverse and pursue different policies in their countries. In the EP, they are very much united only by their loathe for the European construction and by their desire to revert to nation states, while coherent and solid policymaking – even in the direction of a “deregulation” or “re-nationalization” of EU competences – will hardly be their top priority.

However, the political meaning of such display of power can be enormous for the Union, just at the time when it tries to move forward with some decisive changes towards supranationalism (not federalism, which is a completely different matter). It will push traditional parties “towards the extremes”, in search of the lost consensus, it will rise awareness that citizens do not want “more integration” and it will once and for all wipe out the neo-functionalist idea that a “shift of loyalty” towards the center would, sooner or later, occur. In fact, if anything, citizens’ “loyalty” is shifting back to nation states.

Ironically, all this will happen in the first European elections in history where participation will – most likely – be higher than in the previous one.

All in all, talks of democratic deficit and increased legitimacy of European institutions as well as the emphasis on the importance of the upcoming vote are dangerous for traditional parties – as they increase the reject for them amongst European voters – and should be cut very short. In a rare moment of truth, an MEP once told me that the only “federal” organ of the EU is today the European Central Bank, which has not been elected and whose “independence” – a circumstance that has allowed it to take decisions based on the interests of the Eurozone as a whole – is currently considered by many countries as a mistake.

When, a few months ago, I wrote that European federalism is today an illusion and that Barroso was either delusional or completely phony in publicly affirming how close the objective was (again, whose objective?), I was branded as a “Euroskeptic”. They even interviewed me to prove that “College of Europe graduates were turning agains the European construction”. What I was instead trying to say is that there is amongst European voters only one element of consensus:  EU (and the Eurozone) work well when they don’t have the arrogance to claim some sort of political legitimacy, or state plans to build a “federalist” (again, with what public support?) union.

I also meant to say how dangerous it is to mention an ambitious “democratic” idea when there is total lack of public support for it: it’s as if an untalented football player communicated to the opposing team’s defense his intention to score an inverted kick. At best, he has made his intentions public to his opponents; at worst, he has motivated them to be even more cautious about his moves. In both cases, given his lack of talent, he is going to embarrass himself.

The overwhelming majority of politicians in Brussels are notoriously unknown amongst European voters: given their (lack of) ability to take the stage, we could only hope for the sake of the Union’s future that it stays this way.

Alfonso Ricciardelli