Thursday, May 25, 2006

The mechanics of enlargement

Via this (EU Referendum), I came across this, a letter to the Daily Telegraph letter by a Tory MEP (odious but not unintelligent according to the first source, but I personally couldn't comment) pointing out the possible consequences of the emergence of Montenegro as a sovereign state in Europe, for which membership of the European Union is held out as a possibility under the EU's stabilisation and association process for Southeastern Europe. The correspondent argues:

If countries in the western Balkans, such as Montenegro and Kosovo (also demanding sovereignty), not to mention future possible extension to tiny EEA states such as Iceland and Liechtenstein, join an enlarged EU under the current Nice formula, each with its own commissioner, minimum of six MEPs and disproportionate votes in the Council of Ministers, this will cause a serious political imbalance unfavourable to large member states such as Britain.

Well for starters, much of this is wrong, and it is disappointing for an MEP to show himself so ill-informed about the mechanics of enlargement. After all, although EU Referendum persists in calling it the Toy Parliament, the European Parliament does wield considerable legislative power in the EU, and I would be happier if I felt its members, whether from the UK or elsewhere, were well informed.

The general point about enlargement is that it requires an accession treaty, which itself amends the EC Treaty and must be ratified by all Member States, as well as the acceding state. Every accession treaty has necessitated institutional adjustment, and the more recent ones greater adjustment than ever before (and thus one should not take for granted what the post-enlargement institutional settlement might be), but the interesting point about the Treaty of Nice was the extent to which it pre-empted accession negotiations by means of a pre-determination of what the institutional outcomes of the accession negotiations would be for the 12 states which started accession talks in the late 1990s (with 10 having acceded in 2004). Nice contains some interesting points on institutions which are insufficiently taken into account in much debate. The most important concerns the size of the Commission. Article 4(2) of the Protocol on Enlargement provides that when the number of Member States is 27 (i.e. probably 1 January 2007 assuming Bulgaria and Romania accede as scheduled), Article 213 of the EC Treaty is amended to read:

The number of Members of the Commission shall be less than the number of Member States. The Members of the Commission shall be chosen according to a rotation system based on the principle of equality, the implementing arrangements for which shall be adopted by the Council, acting unanimously.

We are not told how many Commissioners there will be, just that there will be fewer than 27. Perhaps the Council may resolve it should be less than 25, which it is at present. Who knows? But it is worth pointing out that nothing should be taken for granted about the institutions in post-2007 phase of enlargement. In fact, although I have no firm reference for this point, I do recall hearing Jack Straw, as Foreign Secretary, say on the Today Programme in the aftermath of the French and Dutch referendums on the Constitutional Treaty, that the Member States might choose to include most of the Constitutional Treaty's institutional reforms, such as changing the system for calculating a qualified majority, via a future accession treaty (such as the one with Croatia, which is the next one which is likely to be negotiated).

Now the other question which arises, is whether such an accession treaty should be put before the national electorates in the existing Member States for approval (as opposed to the acceding states where accession referendums have become commonplace). If it were put before those electorates, would that be on the basis of the "constitutional" significance of further enlargements (which is presumably what has motivated the amendment to the French constitution to require future accessions after but not including the anticipated Croatian accession to be put to referendum), or on the basis of the "constitutional" signifiance of institutional changes which change the balance of powers either amongst the various institutions, or amongst the Member States so far as they are represented in those institutions.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Transparency in the Council of Ministers

Bit by bit, piece by piece, the Council of Ministers is opening its deliberations to the public. But goodness me, it's a painful process. The background, up to December 2005, is explained here, in an Information Note prepared by the Council secretariat (Word Doc). In December 2005, in one of the more unexpected outcomes of the UK Presidency, the Council adopted conclusions (pdf file) promising to stretch closer to the limits the existing possibilities of legislating in public, but without changing the existing rules of procedure. I reported on these developments in broadly positive terms for the young federalists' organisation, JEF, in March 2006, although they felt that they did not go far enough and represented a sham rather than true transparency. Now EUObserver again reports an initiative under the Austrian Presidency for further transparency, as part of the draft Conclusions for the June 2006 European Council meeting, which it has seen in advance of their publication.

One of the problems with all the documents about transparency and legislating in public in the Council of Ministers is that they themselves are wholly lacking in transparency. As far as the general public is concerned, if they care at all, the absence of a public legislature within the EU (apart from the European Parliament) is an obvious lacuna, which no amount of fine distinctions between initial discussions, subsequent policy debate and final deliberations and votes can correct. Furthermore, it is equally obvious to those who do manage to penetrate behind opaque language that most of the important discussions will continue to be held behind closed doors (e.g. in the highly sensitive justice and home affairs field which is not yet subject to co-decision between Council and Parliament).

In October 2004, by signing the Constitutional Treaty, the Member States accepted Article I-24(6) CT which provides that:

‘The Council shall meet in public when it deliberates and votes on a draft legislative act. To this end, each Council meeting shall be divided into two parts, dealing respectively with deliberations on Union legislative acts and non-legislative acts.’

Instituting greater transparency in Council decision-making is not illegitimate cherry-picking of the outcomes of the Constitutional Treaty, which undermines national democracy because it runs counter to the rejection of the CT by the French and Dutch voters in 2005. On the contrary, it is a fundamental imperative of legitimate government. Unless citizens can know and understand the public reasons exchanged by Member States in their deliberations, they can never fully understand the acts adopted, whether legislative or non-legislative. Knowing and understanding will not necessarily make citizens more content about what the EU is doing, or more accepting of the supranational level of governance generally, but it will at least mean that there is less scope for the type of ill-informed debate which seems to dominate most media outputs on the EU, its institutions and its policies and politics.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bulgarian and Romanian Accession

Over on Bondbloke, I've written a post on the free movement of labour and Bulgarian and Romanian Accession.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Europa website domain name change

Via the EU law blog I learned that the Europa website is migrating to the .eu domain name, from the domain name. Details (with apparent reassurance about the longer term availability of links to the domain) are in a press release here. After reading the post, I obviously went over and roadtested the europa website, and the various bits and various subsites, on the Commission and the Parliament sites in particular which I had saved in favourites for research use. There appears to be no consistency - but then who ever expected that on europa. In some cases, there is automatic redirection to a .eu url. Sometimes the old url still appears to work (for how long?). And sometimes the subsite is just dead. As a parrot. Disappeared. Unavailable. Extincto.

For someone who is just in the process of finishing a textbook on EU economic and social law, this is infuriating beyond belief, because each chapter contains key websites substantiating the material in the chapter. It's fine if the new domain url is available or even if the old one is dead and we can search out the new one. But what if the old url still appears to work, and there is no equivalent in .eu. It's all very well going to print in the next couple of months with this textbook. Maybe the urls are working now. But it will be mighty embarassing if they disappear within months of the book being published. So...that's perhaps where the back up website that many publishers provide, not to mention the blog might come in useful. Now...there is some food for thought on the interaction between pedagogy and blogging.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The seat of the European Parliament

Gosh the posts are piling up thick and fast on this blog now...*smiles knowingly*

Actually, this is just a quickie to point you in the direction of an online petition here (via) calling for the European Parliament to have just one seat, rather than for its members and staff to indulge in the ridiculous performance of packing up everything and decamping to Strasbourg for a plenary session in an otherwise unused building, every few weeks...

This is an interesting case, though. Perhaps by signing the petition, you would be approving the practice of "cherry-picking", that is picking out those bits of the Constitutional Treaty which you most approve of and pushing them forward for early adoption. For the proposal refers explicitly to Article I-47 of the Constitutional Treaty on participatory democracy. The whole thing is worth citing, but it is paragraph four on petitions which is most pertinent:

1. The institutions shall, by appropriate means, give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their views in all areas of Union action.

2. The institutions shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society.

3. The Commission shall carry out broad consultations with parties concerned in order to ensure that the Union's actions are coherent and transparent.

4. Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Constitution. European laws shall determine the provisions for the procedures and conditions required for such a citizens' initiative, including the minimum number of Member States from which such citizens must come.

From my reading of the site, the proposers are some way off the desired 1 million signatures, but you have to start somewhere don't you?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

EU enlargement and A8 migration

This weekend has brought some amusement for those following the complex question of A8 migration to the UK, with an expose in the Sunday Times of the practices of Roger Knapman, MEP and UKIP leader and someone officially against EU enlargement because of its immigration consequences, who enthusiastically hires Polish workers to complete the renovation of his house in Devon (via).

"Over the past 11 months they have been working 10 hours a day, six days a week, while living dormitory-style in Knapman’s attic. His son’s company claims east Europeans are up to 50% cheaper than their British counterparts."

And also "better workers" - happy to do long hours for low pay.

Nice work by the Sunday Times to expose such hypocrisy.

Over at the Observer, the ubiquitous subject of Polish migration to the UK is covered from two important perspectives: that of the sending state, where there is increasing desperation about the haemorrhaging of skilled and talented workers, and the consequences in relation to the rebuilding of Poland's own economy; and that of the migrants themselves - plumbers, construction workers, DJs, although some do concede that their opportunities in the labour market have hardly been sparkling.

Most this seems unbearably upbeat, at least for the migrants. But a darker side was also revealed in the papers, and other reports, this week. A report from Barking, new far right capital of the UK, noted that particularly vitriolic racism is now reserved for the new white migrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Reporting the views of an elderly white resident, one woman said:

"She said they told her that they had no problem with black people and that it was the eastern Europeans - the Poles and the Kosovans - that they were against. She gave me the leaflet. The headline was something like Keep Britain White. I realised then that they were going to have a lot of people fooled."

This confirms fears highlighted by protests and attacks on Eastern European migrants in Northern Ireland earlier this year.

And, building on those reports in the Observer today which refer to the deskilling of many migrants, who take jobs in the UK which are far below their acquired skill level, it is worth looking at the detail available in a Joseph Rowntree funded report (downloadable from here) from the Oxford migration centre COMPAS, which focuses particularly on the experience of those whose status changed on 1 May 2004, from either illegal migrant or migrant on a work permit, to lawful EU migrant enjoying freedom of movement. Revealing diaries from the migrants reprinted in the report belie the "official" version of happy smiling migrant Poles and others, willing to do long hours for low wages.

Here are a few snippets:

"Catering is such ungrateful and tiresome work, requiring so much physical effort and no intellectual effort… It is a big physical effort which definitely is not proportional to the payment. And in general this job is very dulling on a long term basis – burning one out intellectually I would say."
Polish female hospitality worker aged 28

"I am more and more nervous because of the fact that I am not able to get a job according to my education and skills and I still work manually which brings me down pretty much. Every day my mind is occupied by money! What is the fastest way to earn? I have no problem with manual work but I would like to use my brains and skills to earn money."
Slovak male former au pair

And the message is? Many, most, perhaps all of the residents of the UK have, in recent years, benefitted from the influx of low wage labour, which has picked the fruit, repaired the plumbing, and made the capuccinos. Maybe we should just be shrugging our shoulders and saying: it's the market. Perhaps that will be Roger Knapman's explanation for his hypocrisy. Or maybe we should recognise the situation for what it is: complex, in terms of its impacts upon both the migrants and the "host" communities.