European Council & Cyprus; Living the Pre-Lisbon Dream

The World



In what can be described as a blunder of significant proportions, an eminent financial collapse led the government of Cyprus with the consent/ push (some discussion here) of the Council to support a bail-out package that included a one-off tax ranging between just under 7% to up to 9.9% on bank deposits.  The proposed measures have been met with resistance from the Cypriot public and anger across Europe.  What is interesting to note is that this anger seems to stem from political frustration rather than just technical disagreement.  Moreover the culprits this time are more isolated (at least at the EU level) than before, following the failed ratification of the EU budget by the EP last week.

It appears that what has outraged publics across Europe is the way the plan was made, proposed, packaged and sent to the island of Aphrodite for voting.  This comes as a result of a longstanding attitude of the European Council and National Governments that refuse to accept two points; i) the Lisbon Treaty has given the European Parliament and National Parliaments considerable policymaking powers in order to work against the democratic deficit of the EU; ii) the European public is really angry with the EU and National governments as decisions made regarding the crisis take place via intergovernmental processes with little input from elected representatives or the public itself.

Legitimacy Issues

The discussion on the EU’s democratic deficit is a long one; the final remarks of which are yet to be seen (if such a discussion can/ is supposed to have a final point).  However to sum it up decisions made by policymakers require a balance between input & output legitimacy.  Input legitimacy is linked to the consultation process: how broad the discussion around a future policy/ law is.  Output legitimacy is tied to the quality of the policy.  In the first case, civil society, citizens, relevant policy stake holders must provide their opinion during the process.  In the second case good quality of specialized information is necessary in order to reach an optimum solution.

Though discussion can go into what is a specialist or a civil society group the overall theoretical framework stands.  It is understandable that more technical policy will demand more technical information and perhaps requires more output rather than input legitimacy in its mix e.g. nuclear reactor decommissioning.  Perhaps refusing input from citizens is sensible on some issues. Who want to raise taxes on themselves except for the Danish? However to refuse input even from Members of National & European Parliament for a decision that covers both levels of government is taking it too far.  Especially when it is done consistently; a series of measures have been implemented across the EU to combat the crisis with minimal account of what the public, elected representatives or organized groups think. To add insult to injury the excuse has been that little input is necessary to protect the market from fidgeting; which has most definitely not been the case.

European Council; Wakey Wakey

Pre-Lisbon Treaty the Commission would put forward a proposal the Council would discuss/ debate/ make amendments and pass it down to the European Parliament for what essentially was comments.  Post-Lisbon the co-decision procedure, a process where all three institutes and in particular the EP and Council need to agree over amendments or (after three attempts) the proposal is cancelled, applies to almost all policy areas.  The same applies to the MFF which the EP correctly refused to ratify last week, as it essentially provided less money to an EU that is doing evermore.  Thus, we are now in an awkward position where the Council and National governments do not want to wake up and realise that elected representatives (elections coming up in 2014) actually have direct say in many areas.  In other words they are policymaking in a different year (inertia, it hits you when you least expect it).  Further input at least from elected representatives, would allow for some smoothening of the situation; or from a pure political perspective draw some public anger off National governments. 

The proposal for the bail-out package for Cyprus has been a bad one primarily for political reasons rather than technical ones; and turned down by its Parliament.  Cypriots will have to face the music one way or another; going after small accounts was definitely a bad idea but that can be altered.  Moreover, for a country with such a disproportionately large financial sector this idea does have some basis.  However the way the decision was made and supplied is what has really angered the EU public and Cypriots who naturally feel left out of a “union” as they are now threatened.  The fault lies in national governments meeting in Brussels who refuse to accept that their decisions need to be come as a result of broader consultation.  Finally, as further decisions of this type are to take place perhaps one EU institution should re-asses its position.


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