Supranationalism | Legitimacy | Elections | Constitution | Federalism | Referendums

The existing EU constitutional structure is not one which the electorates of the Member States would all have entered into willingly. This is for a number of reasons: outside the context of accession terms, most electorates have never had a chance to vote on the EU/EC/EEC constitutional structures.

Consent for constitutional changes

There has been, I think, one single election in a Member State, where people have had a serious direct choice about European integration, and that was the Maltese general election which settled the inconclusive referendum they’d just tried to hold on EU accession. In the generality if not totality of other cases, integration has been an issue but as part of a broader manifesto for a doomed party and would not have been the determinant of many people’s votes: e.g., the Labour manifesto of 1983 in the UK, or the Tories in 2001. Non-mainstream minor or extremist / terrorist-front parties can’t really count here.

Once your State is a Member, which may not have happened by contested election or referendum, you basically don’t get a choice on constitutional matters, unless you’re from one of a very small number of Member States: Ireland and Denmark frequently consult the electorate on constitutional changes, and there have been two referendums in France, and one each in the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Luxembourg and Spain.

Belgium, Portugal, Italy (which had a referendum on a non-live issue, once), Germany and Greece have basically never let the voters near the question, and Finland, Austria and the port 2004 accession countries have only had accession referendums (arguably the UK should number with these).

The absence of basic democratic scrutiny and formal consent for the evolving EU constitution has meant that it contains provisions which no-one would ever have voted for. Because it is believed to be necessary for some policies to be hardwired into a constitution as a prerequisite for the electorate agreeing to bound by it (an event which has never happened in the UK), an EU statutory constitution may not be possible with the democratic consent of all Member States, as some will want free trade and others will want a constitutional guarantee aganist free trade, or abortion, or the proper labelling of fatal poisons or whatever happens to rouse the passions.

We are at a position where there is a Europhile majority in all Member State legislatures, yet a Eurosceptic majority in some Member State electorates, who are on most other issues properly represented. It seems unlikely that European integration can proceed from now on on the basis of defiance of the electorate by national legislators or the Luxembourg Court, having legal rather than political/moral legitimacy.


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