Great Britain will hold a referendum on the EU in 2017. This is a good thing, but the rest of us Europeans should be given a chance to express our views in a referendum as well.
The EU rapidly evolving towards an ever larger superstate under insufficient democratic control. The British referendum opens a window of opportunity to do something about this. We need a new basic treaty for the EU to replace the current Lisbon Treaty. The new treaty needs to be adopted in a referendum, to give it democratic legitimacy.
The Pirate Party does not have a ready-made proposal for what this new treaty should look like. Instead, we have a proposal for how it should be adopted to get democratic legitimacy. If we can agree on the rules of the game first, it will get easier to have a constructive discussion about the contents of the new treaty later.
We propose the following process for adopting a new basic treaty for the EU:
- A proposal for a new treaty is drafted, and all EU citizens get to vote in a referendum if they think that the new treaty is good enough to serve as the foundation for the EU in the future. The referendum should be held on the same day all over the EU according to the principle of one citizen, one vote, regardless of which member state they live in. Holding a common referendum in this way reduces the risk that the process is held hostage by any member state for purely nationalistic motives.
- Once the new treaty has been adopted in the big pan-European referendum, each country will decide if they want to be members of the EU according to the new treaty. This decision can be made either in the national parliament or by a national referendum. Countries that don’t want to remain members can take a step back, and just have a free trade agreement with the EU, like Norway or Switzerland have today.
If we can agree from the outset that this is how the new treaty will be adopted, the treaty will automatically have to live up to certain minimum standards.
It will have to be understandable, so that citizens can know what they are voting on in the referendum. It will have to be democratic, so that citizens want it. And it will have to respect the subsidiarity principle and not move more power than necessary to Brussels, so that the member states will want to be part of the new EU.
Who drafts the treaty will be of less importance with this procedure. No matter who does the drafting, the rules for adopting the new treaty will ensure that it is understandable, democratic, and only gives the EU as much power as people really want it to have. Any proposal that fails to live up to this is doomed to be rejected by the citizens and/or member states anyway, so even presenting it would just be a waste of time.
Hopefully, there will be many different proposals from different political parties and other actors. Then we could have a broad debate about what kind of EU we want in the future.
Britain will have its in-or-out referendum in 2017. The EU has until then to shape up, if it wants Britain to remain a member. But this is a good thing for all European citizens, not just the Brits. In the rest of Europe we are an additional 450 million citizens who also want a more democratic EU. To get this, we need a new treaty.
It is excellent that prime minister Cameron and Great Britain has put pressure on the EU by giving a date for the British referendum. That gives us a concrete timeline to work with, and opens a window of opportunity for reforming the EU to make it more democratic, more transparent, and generally more sensible.
The first step towards such a new treaty would be to decide that it will have to be adopted in two steps, first in an EU-wide referendum, and then by each of the member states that want to remain a member. This will ensure that the new treaty has proper democratic legitimacy, and is acceptable to a majority of the citizens.
It will also set the stage for a proper discussion about what we want the EU to be — and not to be. This is a discussion that we really need, and which is long overdue. The plans for a British EU referendum in 2017 has opened a window of opportunity for all of Europe.
This is an opportunity we must seize.
This article was originally published at MEP Christian Engström’s blog.