March 17, 2009

The EU Commission on democracy

This interview on BBC Newsnight – is a modern classic. The EU Commissions vice president Margot Wallström tries to explain why ignoring the Irish no to the new EU Treaty is the right and democratic thing to do...

Below you will find a transcript, whith the quotes that ought to haunt Ms Wallström...

GE = Gavin Esler, BBC Newsnight
MW = Margot Wallström

GE: ...and I'm joined now from Brussels by Margot Wallström, vice president of the European Commission. And your boss, José Manuel Barroso said that the treaty isn't dead, the treaty is alive. Can you explain to voters what they have to do to kill it?

MW: (3s pause) I think, first of all, if we are serious about democracy I think we have to understand why the Irish people voted no. That must be, sort of, the first stage, and this is what the Irish, and what we will contribute to, to do until the heads of states and governments meet.

GE: Presumably they voted no because they don't like the treaty, but you boss is saying...

MW: Well, you don't know that!

GE: ...will go on. I'm just asking you: what would they have to do not to have it?

MW: I think you just have to find out and that the Irish government will make the analysis and we will also, through the Eurobarometer, try to find out more.

GE: ...but are there anything?

MW: ...exactly as we did after the French and the Dutch votes as well. And the answers were very different actually, if you compare what the voters in France and in the Netherlands said, so thats the...

GE: Well they said no! ... but is there anything voters could do...

MW: ...first stage and then they'll have to discuss what to do.

GE: But is there anything voters could do to get rid of this treaty? a democracy?

MW: In a democracy, then you listen to the concerns, and you see is there anything we can do to meet those concerns? What, exactly, was it that they were worried about and made them say no?

GE: ...but you see...

MW: And the political leaders have invested so much political capital and time and energy to try to get a new machinery, to make the EU work better. So ofcourse they will not give up easily. They will try to find...

GE: ...right...

MW: ...a way forward because we need to make it more democratic and more open... and more effective.

GE: ...but do you see, the fundamental problem here is that many voters throughout Europe think that the EU is an undemocratic imposition. And they don't object to membership of the EU, they just object to the way it's been run and things are imposed on them. And when voters say no you say we gonna go on and on and try find a way to make you say yes.

MW: No. I think that what we have done here is ofcourse that member states decide themselves on how they want ratify a new treaty. All the leaders have ofcourse signed up to this particular treaty and in Ireland, according to the national constitution, they have to have a referendum. And if there is 18 member states having said yes...

GE: Without asking the voters!

MW: ...and one member state said no, then I think all member states will want to have a say in all of this and ofcourse you have to analyze why there was a no. Is there anything we can remedy? Is there anything that can be corrected? And that analasis has to take place first of all.

GE: But to go back to the point: for the voters, the only voters that have had a say on this treaty. The only ones, the Irish voters. Very intelligent, very well informed people. Quite a big turnout. They said no and yet the process still goes on. So therefore... That is absolutely what people mean by the democratic deficit.

MW: But lets leave it to the leaders to discuss whats to do in a situation like this. And remember, the problems, they have not gone away because the Irish have said no. The problems of a european union with a democratic deficit, with a number of new challenges, with 27 member states and not 12, and with a machinery that was designed for 12 and not 27 the problems have not gone away. And this is still what we expect our political leaders to tackle. If we want to be effective fighting climate change or dealing with high oil prices then we better equip the European Union to do that. Effectively and more democraticly. And that was the starting point of this whole discussion and I think thats where we have to focus our efforts right now.

GE: Ok. Margot Wallström, thank you very much for joining us from Brussels.

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