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The European Parliament, Heart of European Democracy?
European Union - 10/05/2018
On 10 May, the Robert Schuman Foundation organised, in partnership with the Antall Jozsef knowledge Centre, a seminar in Budapest entitled "The European Parliament, the heart of European democracy". This project is supported by the European Parliament and is structured around three conferences held in Budapest, Warsaw and Strasbourg. In front of an audience of 80 people, students, experts and members of the diplomatic corps, the conference was held at the Danube Palace.

As a preamble, Janos Martonyi, former Foreign Minister, and Zita Gurmai, Member of Parliament and former Member of the European Parliament, stressed the importance of the values common to the European Union but also the challenges of continental unity.

These challenges were discussed at the first round table, recalling that values were evolving and not fixed, whereas the European Union is based on a normative body.

The second session was attended by Balazc Molnar, Minister for European Affairs, and Professors Zrzsebet Kaponyi and Laszlo Boros. They exchanged on the democratic legitimacy of the European Parliament, the transnational lists but also Parliament's power with the Spitzencandidat process. The clarification of European issues with the exit of the United Kingdom offers a welcome opportunity for clarification on the future of the common project. However, the members of the panel warned about the differentiated risk while recognising the phenomenon of several speeds in the construction of Europe.

In conclusion, the speakers agreed that European citizens must take over European issues in order to avoid fostering mistrust towards the Community institutions.

The third and final conference of this cycle will take place in Strasbourg on 12 June.

Speakers: János MARTONYI (Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary); Zita GURMAI (Representative, Hungarian National Assembly); Ágoston Sámuel MRÁZ (CEO, Nézőpont Group); Boglárka KOLLER (Dean, National University of Public Service, Faculty of International and European Studies); Gertrúd KENDERNAY-NAGYIDAI (Foreign Advisor, European People's Party); Noémi KORÁNYI (Executive Director, Danube Institute); Balázs MOLNÁR (Deputy Minister of State for European Union Affairs); Erzsébet KARDOSNÉ KAPONYI (Professor, Corvinus University Budapest); László BOROS (Professor, Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Social Sciences); Charles de MARCILLY (Head of Brussels Office, Robert Schuman Foundation).

The conference opened with a keynote address delivered by Mr János Martonyi, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, who, as an opening statement, mentioned that the European Union was and continues to be a beautiful idea, with which many people, including himself, had fallen in love, but this love had become more mature, wiser, and prudent over time, yet it had never faded away. The beautiful idea of unity, born centuries ago, was transformed into reality through a series of political decisions that created the rules, i.e. the treaties of the European Union, and the institutions necessary to make the whole concept work. Later on, however, these institutions started to evolve on their own, which was actually the goal of the so-called community method that gave them the right to make decisions in an independent way. Although, this method was perfectly fit for economic integration, it had its shortcomings with regard to the other two dimensions of the principal idea, namely political and cultural integration. Consequently, though it also suffered several imbalances, the economic aspect went beyond all expectations, while the other two original aims were only partially achieved.

According to him, the most relevant and pertinent questions nowadays concern our (economic, geopolitical, etc.) place in the world, our relation to other great powers, and our internal and external security, i.e. our self-defence capacities. Looking at plans for the future budget, it is obvious that EU decision-makers have also detected the importance of these issues. So, the next step is to make these evident during the parliamentary elections campaign too.
Finally, he concluded his speech by pointing out that he believed that there should be not two or three, but only one Union. Though in many ways a multispeed EU is a reality today, if it were to be institutionalized, this situation would become more rigid and opaque. Consequently, it is in our best interest to not create a multilevel EU, riddled with cemented confines, because we are united, and there should be no difference among Member States.

Following, Ms Zita Gurmai, former Vice-President of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, former S&D Member of the European Parliament, emphasised the importance of European values in her opening speech. The most important ones, tolerance, justice, solidarity, are the common minimum standards of all Member States that also define its future strategy.

She underscored the importance of representative democracy, also expressed in the treaty, which means choosing EP members directly, and EC members indirectly, with every European citizen having the right to be part of the decision-making process.

Yet, there are many fields where the EU could improve. While striving towards that however, it should not miss the importance of its basic principles and plurality, as the most urgent challenges, now that these are being permanently questioned by Brexit, migration, populism, just to name a few. While scapegoating the EU can bring short-term benefits at home, in the long run, it puts the future of the EU at risk.

The European Parliament, Heart of European Democracy?

To overcome these challenges, it is also important to recognise the mistakes that have led to them. Some previous governments are also to be blamed for uttering the delusive message that EU membership would magically bring us the Western living standards overnight. They failed to emphasise that the EU was not a panacea but a possibility that needed many common efforts before it bore fruit. On the other hand, the Western elite made a similar mistake by not preparing their fellow citizens for what the appearance of Eastern workers would mean to their everyday employment. And now, there is a new elite emerging that is trying to profit from the widespread disappointment that has ensued. Therefore, the European electorate must see how their votes would influence their future and that Europeans have always been better off by joining hands.

I. Panel 1

Mr. Ágoston Sámuel Mraz gave an overview of the historic background and the first years after the creation of the European Economic Community (ECC). During the early 1960s, the EU was led by Christian Democrats, who towards the end of the decade, reconciled with the Left that had earlier distanced itself from the Communists. From then on, their big coalition has led the EU. However, based on the latest research carried out by the Nézőpont Group the 2019 European Parliament Election would end this coalition, and a new political mainstream would emerge. At the same time, Eurosceptic forces would lose ground. Speaking about European values, He said that national values differ from country to country, but there are some common ones such as the acquis communautaire—however, they are difficult to define in an exact way. He also agreed with the other panellists saying that these days we were living in a politicized Europe that resulted in a competition between the different political forces. He believes that the EU has two major political figures: Emmanuel Macron and Viktor Orbán, who do not share the same ideology, but a moment will come when they will be able to make a compromise.

Ms. Gertrúd Kendernay-Nagyidai raised the question: to what extent do 21st century values differ from those of the 20th century, and what are the common European values that every European shares? By analysing the relativisation of values stemming from Nietzsche's philosophy, she stressed that it was important for the European Union to have at least a minimum of common values, because if a community was unable to re-create its own value system, it would disintegrate. Today's crises such as Brexit, have shown that even the invisible hand of the market is unable to solve everything. Since apparently, this solution has also been drained, and a paradigm shift will be needed, which could, in the near future, force many parties to redefine their values. According to her, this should not be a problem, because the Union is a process, an ever-evolving project. In today's politicized EU, legitimacy is going through a serious crisis. Also, one of the issues is that bottom-up initiatives have no binding force, nor legal basis—this was demonstrated by the fact that from the recent, approx. 60 citizens' initiatives only one was adopted at EU level. But the crucial question is how national parliaments could become more involved in the decision-making process, in particular at a time when centralisation is more and more emphasised, and subsidiarity weakened. This also resulted in the re-politicization of the Union, as today citizens want to take a more active role in the decision-making process. She added that currently we are living the crisis of the free market solutions and many are being left behind. We must give an answer to how we can keep these divided societies together, and what conflict management methods would be acceptable to everyone.

Ms. Boglárka Koller emphasized the importance of Christian roots within the Union, but she also pointed out that by simply drawing up an inventory of our common values would not mean anything to the individual. She compared European integration to a marriage: in the beginning, after World War II, everyone wanted peace and economic prosperity. This lasted until the mid-1960s, when major crises started to loom. With the 2008 financial crisis and Brexit, for instance, these have extended into to the 21st century. She also added that the EU should deliver more concrete results in its policies, because these were the most important for the average citizens. According to her, it is an interesting paradox that the founding fathers of the EU built up welfare States based on Keynesian ideas at home, but amongst themselves—and as a result of the EU—free-market principles have been enforced. Although the Maastricht Treaty stipulates economic and financial union, in reality the economic part is still incomplete. In order to further develop it, the political pillar needs to be strengthened, since today, we face backlash from the technocratic concept established at the outset, when political aspects were not a priority. Nowadays, however, the Union is becoming more and more politicized, and anti-EU forces are able to trigger much stronger emotions than those which are pro-European. Today's EU has a number of different levels, and some politicians send out different messages in their own countries from those at the European political stage. All this confuses the populations' relationship with the EU, their EU identity, and it is possible that the EU will develop in such a direction that people no longer know exactly where they belong.

The European Parliament, Heart of European Democracy?

II. Panel 2

Mr. Charles de Marcilly in his opening speech highlighted how the EU and all the European countries are in the midst of a very sensitive stage of development. Having almost passed through the hard years of the economic crisis, the EU is facing many other challenges today. The moderator named Iran, migration, the new US administration's attitude and other issues on which EU's response is awaited. The moderator also emphasised the various security aspects that endanger the EU and trade relations, and how the new European Parliament that will be elected in May 2019 should cope with them.

The moderator raised the topic of Euroscepticism as well, and stated that today in some countries Eurosceptic parties were winning over 20% of the vote. In the EP the old main political groups on the left and right are not the only main groups anymore and for this reason new ideas are shaping the political discourse.

Mr. Balázs Molnar stated that a reform, not only of the Parliament, but of all EU institutions is necessary. He reminded us how the economic crisis had strengthened some negative aspects within the EU and had resulted in an increased support for populist and extremist parties. Therefore, the EU needs more security, mostly because the US is not ready today to take care of the European interests any more. He also explained how, in his opinion, it is an error to be tough against the UK regarding Brexit and that a more pragmatic approach is needed. He advocated an EU composed of stronger nation states, whose national interest are matters of the greatest importance and for this reason the unanimity vote within the Council is of vital importance in terms of dealing with critical issues. He also highlighted the counterproductive aspect of the transnational EP party lists proposed by French President Macron, because it is unthinkable that a citizen of one country to be forced to cast his vote for a representative with a different nationality from him. He mentioned the importance of guaranteeing and preserving the EU's four basic freedoms. If we reduce or limit the basic freedoms, it might cause serious damage to the whole integration process. He mentioned that citizens in Western Europe could not expect to live in such wealth as the previous generations had done and for this reason progress has to be achieved and a strong issue in this sense is security. He also emphasized that after Brexit, 22 seats will be redistributed to other Member States and that the number of MPs will be lowered to 700. The Deputy Minister of State warned against the plan of a multispeed European integration. There is already a group of States that might be considered as the centre and others, the periphery; and the main question is how we deal with this in the future and which reforms we should use to decrease this gap.

Mr. László Boros agreed that the EU should protect the achievements of the last 60 years, but that we should bear in mind that the integration process was started with the purpose of seeking further integration and not to stop at one point. He stated that in Hungary there is some uncertainty about the respect and acceptation of some European values. Focusing only on one point and creating a sense of anger towards EU institutions is dangerous and counterproductive. He emphasized, that serious reforms can only be implemented with the reform of all of the institutions. He stated that there are still many uncertainties within the EU and we still do not know where Macron's place in the EP will be or which side Italy will take. Also, the system of seat allocation is too disproportionate and has to be reformed: it is not fair that in Germany one seat needs 800.000 voters, while in Malta the number is 80.000. He emphasized how EU institutions should try to reduce the democratic deficit and that the yellow card procedure is a useful tool, but that the process might have to be regulated. According to him, transnational lists will not increase the distance between voters and EP, but that it will further harmonise the democratic system within the EP. Moreover, the multispeed EU already exists, and it is up to those nations outside the core to manage this situation with a more prepositive approach and with more openness.

Ms Erzsébet Kardosné-Kaponyi emphasized how the EU is in a situation as in 2014, when the heads of State were called to reform all of the institutions. According to her, Brexit is still an ongoing process in which everybody is trying to out trump the other. The UK will be weaker outside the EU and the EU without the UK will be less productive. As a lawyer she emphasized the importance of norms and she affirmed that the leading procedures are those inside the treaties. As long as we do not have a new treaty we have to follow the one in force. Only the Court has the right to settle disputes between countries and to give the correct interpretation of the treaties. She stated that now it is important to understand which direction the EU will take, whether towards a federal or confederal union. The topic of the distribution of seats is only a detail that can be discussed also at the end. The speaker mentioned the Cambridge Compromise formula according to which Hungary will receive less seats than in the current situation, but that will correct today's discrepancies between the number of seats and population. In this sense, V4 countries should work together to make their voices heard, but in a smart way. The Cohesion policy is very important for those countries trying to converge toward the centre. She affirmed that EU first needs reform before any other possible enlargement.