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June 8th, 2009, 13:55
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
Huh? About 70-80% of national legislation is drafted in Brussels these days, and (almost) all that goes through the EP. How much more meaningful do you want it to get?
taxation would do it.
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June 8th, 2009, 13:58
We'll let you know if the EU does anything important. Until then, you can pretty safely ignore it.

If you're curious, though, here's the deal in a nutshell.

(1) Supreme political power is held by the European Council. It consists of the heads of government of the member states, plus the president of the European Commission, which rotates on a six-month schedule. (That's the "European presidency" that comes up every once in a while, usually if whichever country holds it does something particularly stupid.) IOW, it's a summit meeting, and as such singularly unsuited to exercise of supreme executive power in a big political body. Its most important function is to nominate the European Commission.

(2) Executive power is vested in the European Commission. It also is the only body with the right of legislative initiative. There's one commissioner from each member state, but the Commission is nominated by the Council, and approved by Parliament; however, the Parliament doesn't have the right to call a vote of no confidence in the Commission and force re-appointments. Commissioners are not supposed to represent their country; they're supposed to cooperate for the common good of the EU. IOW, the Commission is the closest thing the EU has to a government, but it combines executive and legislative power in a weird way, it's appointed from the top down rather than the bottom up, and it doesn't operate on parliamentary principles.

(3) Legislative power is (sorta, kinda) vested in the European Parliament. Each member state has a certain number of seats, which are filled by elections in each country. In practice, the EP approves most legislation, but it can't initiate it. However, it can request that the Commission initiate legislative action on a question, it can demand modifications to legislation, and it has a raft of more or less formal roles in drafting the legislation — there's a quite a bit of wheeling and dealing involved in getting legislation through the EP. It can make things very difficult for the Commission, but can't topple it. IOW, it's yet another sort-of-but-not-really parliamentarian organ with a weird mix of formal and informal powers.

(3b) In case the Commission and Parliament can't agree, there are at least three different ways of passing legislation bypassing one or the other. These aren't used all that often, though.

And that's about it in summary. It's a mess. The reason it's a mess is that the EU sort of congealed more than it was founded — it's held together by a big stack of treaties between sovereign countries, none of which actually really want to cede any sovereignty to the supranational bodies.

And yes, it's tremendously in need of a ground-up redesign along parliamentary lines; as it is, it's opaque and distant from the electorate it's supposed to represent; when people talk about the "democracy deficit" in Europe, they usually mean the way the EU has what looks like organs of a parliamentary democracy, but the power relations, (s)election methods, and separation of powers between these organs aren't what you'd expect to find. The upside (if you can call it that) is that the system pretty much assures that any individual country has a veto over any major piece of legislation, which gives pretty strong protection for national sovereignty. The downside is that with 27 extremely diverse countries, there'll always be someone who wants to exercise that veto, which makes it plumb near impossible to legislate without either (a) doing it in secret or (b) watering the legislation down with national exceptions, transitional periods, Mountain Region Subsidies, and what have you that not much of the original intent remains.

But somehow it all manages to muddle along nevertheless.
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June 8th, 2009, 14:04
Originally Posted by Zaleukos View Post
I'll let PJ answer that, but I suspect the answer is "not all that much" Your conflict between state and national interest is similar to the growing pains of the EU though.
Yeah. The big difference is that the EU consists of big, highly developed countries with long histories of sovereignty, highly diverse legislative and political traditions, and strong national identities, which are held together by a big mess o' treaties, and which have not formally renounced any of their sovereignty, whereas the US under the Articles of Confederation consisted of a small number of sparsely populated former colonies sharing a single legislative, political, and cultural tradition, and which agreed to formally renounce some of their sovereignty in favor of the supra-national body.

From where I'm at, the Articles of Confederation would be a major step forward.
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June 8th, 2009, 14:05
Interesting. Thanks for the overview, guys. I think ignorance is always a vice, and no harm comes from knowing more. Even if the EU's most important action is deciding what flavor of ice cream will be the official flavor of Europe, it's still interesting to know about.

What are the odds of a ground-up redesign such as you are talking about? Is it one-in-a-million, barring some sort of weird unexpected event making everyone panic?

Some of the problems you outline remind me of my issues with the U.S. Senate, too, which I find odd.
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June 8th, 2009, 14:08
Originally Posted by Rithrandil View Post
Interesting. Thanks for the overview, guys. I think ignorance is always a vice, and no harm comes from knowing more. Even if the EU's most important action is deciding what flavor of ice cream will be the official flavor of Europe, it's still interesting to know about.

What are the odds of a ground-up redesign such as you are talking about? Is it one-in-a-million, barring some sort of weird unexpected event making everyone panic?
A bit better than that IMO. There's a possibility that the Lisbon treaty will pass, which will strengthen and simplify the EU legislative process somewhat; in particular, it'll make it easier to reform the system from within, without going for a plebiscite in Malta about every single item on the list. I kinda doubt there'll be a wholesale reorganization any time soon, but if things go well, there might be gradual evolution in small steps to the same effect.

You can't hurry these things, though. Europe will only be ready for genuine transnational democracy when there is a genuinely transnational European identity. I believe such an identity is emerging, but it'll take easily decades for it to crystallize enough to be reflected in political structures.

Some of the problems you outline remind me of my issues with the U.S. Senate, too, which I find odd.
There are similarities; some are simply due to the inherent difficulties in governing political units this big. One shared problem is that both political organizations have made it extremely difficult to modify the foundational structures — it's virtually impossible (in practice) to amend the American Constitution, so you have to keep coming up with all kinds of devious ways to get around it; the basic EU treaties are even more in need of reform, and the obstacle is the same — every state needs to approve the changes separately.
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June 8th, 2009, 14:11
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
And, of course, any attempt to reform the system gets blocked because there will always be at least one country out of 27 that's against it. It's a muddle.
I'm certainly not qualified for in-depth discussion of Euro politics, but taking a simplistic view from the outside: A comment like this tells me you've managed to get a UN-esque tyranny of the minority. Too many heads in the room with too many divergent agendas. Y'all really like that structure, though. Unlike our system of running full steam down the path and then 4-8 years later running full steam the opposite direction, y'all like to set the deck so nothing gets done beyond talking. Not really making a judgment on which system is better—both have their plusses and minuses.

Sorry. No pearls of wisdom in this oyster.
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June 8th, 2009, 14:13
This was a very special election for me as it was the first one I got to vote in, I was a few months too young in our latest national election.

I think the media here did a good job of really trying to explain how the union works and what the Parliament does even if it was very low intensity campaign until the last two weeks or so. That people still complain about it all being obscure and without real consequences is just lazy talk IMO. It's sad that not even half of us exercise a privilege which in my case took less that 10 minutes in summer heat and dazzling sun when I voted early some time ago.

I'm pretty interested and knowledgeable regarding Swedish politics but I gambled a bit and went for the Pirate Party. I'd describe them more as a "cluster-issue" party and their stance on mainly personal integrity but also copyright reform really matters to me. Hopefully they won't make fools of themselves (and me) once in Parliament.
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June 8th, 2009, 14:21
Originally Posted by Toaster View Post
This was a very special election for me as it was the first one I got to vote in, I was a few months too young in our latest national election.

I think the media here did a good job of really trying to explain how the union works and what the Parliament does even if it was very low intensity campaign until the last two weeks or so. That people still complain about it all being obscure and without real consequences is just lazy talk IMO. It's sad that not even half of us exercise a privilege which in my case took less that 10 minutes in summer heat and dazzling sun when I voted early some time ago.

I'm pretty interested and knowledgeable regarding Swedish politics but I gambled a bit and went for the Pirate Party. I'd describe them more as a "cluster-issue" party and their stance on mainly personal integrity but also copyright reform really matters to me. Hopefully they won't make fools of themselves (and me) once in Parliament.
I felt the same way during the 2003 California Recall election. I voted for Ahnuld!

Ahem. But no, we pretty much have the same issues in the States. Pathetically low turn out. Part me of is glad, though - I used to be involved with Rock the Vote on my campus until I realized that most of the people we signed up voted without any idea of who they were voting for. "Oh, that guy's name sounds stupid! I'm voting for the other one!"

My favorite exchange, and this is the one that made me stop supporting Rock the Vote. The Poli Sci club was lobbying the student government association for funding to take students to some event in New Hampshire where some of the primary candidates from both parties were speaking:

Idiot SGA officer #1:"Why do you want to go to New Hampshire for these speeches?"
Me:"Because we'll be able to see some of the primary candidates and the New Hampshire primary is important to the process."
Idiot SGA officer #2: "Why would anyone care about meeting the candidates? Don't we have one of these primaries too?"
My friend: "Yeah, but since New Hampshire and Iowa go first you have candidates interacting with locals much more frequently then you do anywhere else. They speak in people's homes, BBQs, etc."
Idiot SGA officer #1: "But why do you have to go to New Hampshire to see that?"
Me: "BECAUSE THEY ONLY DO IT IN NEW HAMPSHIRE!"

Needless to say this became a defining moment in my life, where I started to believe you should have to take a citizenship test (and possibly an IQ test) to be allowed to vote.
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June 8th, 2009, 14:24
Originally Posted by dteowner View Post
I'm certainly not qualified for in-depth discussion of Euro politics, but taking a simplistic view from the outside: A comment like this tells me you've managed to get a UN-esque tyranny of the minority.
Not really. It's more like a UN-esque legislative paralysis.

Too many heads in the room with too many divergent agendas. Y'all really like that structure, though.
Not all of us. I like it better than the alternatives, though; the common market, the euro, free mobility, and harmonized legislation really has made life a lot easier in lots of ways.

Unlike our system of running full steam down the path and then 4-8 years later running full steam the opposite direction, y'all like to set the deck so nothing gets done beyond talking. Not really making a judgment on which system is better—both have their plusses and minuses.
Oh, as systems of governance go, the EU one is worse, no question about it — if I had to choose between what you have and what we have now, I'd pick yours in a heartbeat.

I believe we could (and should) do a lot better than either, though, and IMO many European countries do function better at the national level than the US at the state or federal levels.
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June 8th, 2009, 14:28
Originally Posted by dteowner View Post
I'm certainly not qualified for in-depth discussion of Euro politics, but taking a simplistic view from the outside: A comment like this tells me you've managed to get a UN-esque tyranny of the minority. Too many heads in the room with too many divergent agendas. Y'all really like that structure, though. Unlike our system of running full steam down the path and then 4-8 years later running full steam the opposite direction, y'all like to set the deck so nothing gets done beyond talking. Not really making a judgment on which system is better—both have their plusses and minuses.
Sort of (removing the UN reference you nail some of the problems). National vetos were not a problem with 6 or 9 members. It was workable with 12 and 15. But now we have 27 members.

Limiting national veto powers is one of the more important items in the Lisbon treaty.

The problem with moving too much power to a directly elected body today would be that there is no European identity, and that turnout in European elections are low. Do we prefer backroom deals between governments elected with 50-90% turnout or an open process in a parliament elected by 40% of the electorate? Unless we get that turnout up and people start to look beyond national interests (the two are intertwined) it doesnt make all that much sense to let an EU-wide direct election give the mandate to run things full steam in one direction.

Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
I believe we could (and should) do a lot better than either, though, and IMO many European countries do function better at the national level than the US at the state or federal levels.
As far as federal systems go I'm partial to the German system, but maybe the Spanish one (integrating many different nations) would be a better model for Europe.
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June 8th, 2009, 14:29
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
A bit better than that IMO. There's a possibility that the Lisbon treaty will pass, which will strengthen and simplify the EU legislative process somewhat; in particular, it'll make it easier to reform the system from within, without going for a plebiscite in Malta about every single item on the list. I kinda doubt there'll be a wholesale reorganization any time soon, but if things go well, there might be gradual evolution in small steps to the same effect.
Hrm. Well, hope that happens, then.

Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
You can't hurry these things, though. Europe will only be ready for genuine transnational democracy when there is a genuinely transnational European identity. I believe such an identity is emerging, but it'll take easily decades for it to crystallize enough to be reflected in political structures.
I hope that happens. I think a unified Europe would greatly benefit not only Europe but the world in general. I think it'd also help to balance out China if they become what America was in the last half of the 20th century/beginning of this one.


Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
There are similarities; some are simply due to the inherent difficulties in governing political units this big. One shared problem is that both political organizations have made it extremely difficult to modify the foundational structures — it's virtually impossible (in practice) to amend the American Constitution, so you have to keep coming up with all kinds of devious ways to get around it; the basic EU treaties are even more in need of reform, and the obstacle is the same — every state needs to approve the changes separately.
Makes sense. I hope any change you guys make to the system makes it more democratic and responsive to the people. That is one of my problems with the U.S. Senate, by the way - my senior thesis argued that it should be apportioned according to population instead of a two-per-state basis.
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June 8th, 2009, 14:30
I get the feeling Rith, even if I can see some legitimacy issues arising after the 10% turnout election you'd get.

EDIT: At least here we get 80%+ turnout in general elections which is nice and preferable to the pretty uninitiated not voting at all IMO. Most people have some basic reason or preference for voting the way they do after all.
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June 8th, 2009, 16:07
Originally Posted by Rithrandil View Post
Makes sense. I hope any change you guys make to the system makes it more democratic and responsive to the people. That is one of my problems with the U.S. Senate, by the way - my senior thesis argued that it should be apportioned according to population instead of a two-per-state basis.
Interesting intellectual exercise, but wouldnt that practically give you a unicameral system, and is the US homogenous enough for that to work?

I've been pondering over the problem since forever and to me it seems like only the extremes "state - one vote" or "no upper house at all" make sense, and if one has an upper house it should have fairly restricted powers (maybe mostly suspensive).
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June 8th, 2009, 16:10
I think this sums up the UK vote fairly well.

I know I should care, but somehow I just don't. I voted Conservative because I quite want them to have a bit more political clout because they're going to need it to push through some tough love over the next few years.
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June 8th, 2009, 16:19
Originally Posted by Zaleukos View Post
Interesting intellectual exercise, but wouldnt that practically give you a unicameral system, and is the US homogenous enough for that to work?

I've been pondering over the problem since forever and to me it seems like only the extremes "state - one vote" or "no upper house at all" make sense, and if one has an upper house it should have fairly restricted powers (maybe mostly suspensive).
No, it'd still be bicameral. Basically it would have the exact same responsibilities, duties, privileges, etc that it does now, but the number of senators would be representative of the population of states. Senators no longer specifically represent the states - they are now directly elected by the people and there is no reason why 430k Wyoming-ans should have more impact than 35 million Californians.

The Senate serves a useful purpose - Washington described the House like a teapot - everything is hot, mercurial, quickly moving, and if you tried to drink directly from it you'd be burned. The Senate is like a teacup - it cools things down and helps moderate the House.

Anyways - I basically argued that the smaller population states had far greater control of the Senate and that this was not balanced out by the House. There are something like 36 overrepresented states in the Senate and about 14 properly represented/underepresented states. I quoted some Senator telling an NY Senator "The farm is going to win over New York City every time." I analyzed budget spending and criticized the fact that basically half of alll federal money is handed out equally to the states before need is even considered - Wyoming has the same amount of counter-terrorism funding as New York state or California.

Anyways, I pointed to the fact that most States had bicameral legislatures with the exact same makeup as the federal legislature. That is, until in Baker v. Carr the Supreme Court ruled such set ups were unconstitutional and undemcoratic, famously declaring that "Legislators represent people, not trees or lines." They said that allowing states to have Senates/upper houses based on geographical representation unfairly discriminated against urban areas. One example they used was that most of the population of Illinois lived in Chicago - represented by one state senator whereas you had empty farmland consisting of like twenty thousand guys being represented by one senator as well … and there were far more "empty farm guy senators" then "Chicago senators".

Anyways, don't mean to derail the thread on the EU. Sorry!
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June 8th, 2009, 16:52
Originally Posted by Rithrandil View Post
Anyways, don't mean to derail the thread on the EU. Sorry!
NP, knowledge doesnt hurt, and I think it is a relevant tangent compared to some of the stuffs we see on the forum. EDIT: it's not like the EP elections stir up too many feelings at any rate, so there isnt much to derail.

I just get the impression that your new senate would end up with the representation that the house should have had in the first place! That's why I thought you'd get a functionally unicameral system (if the two chambers have the same distribution of seat they'll be likely to produce fairly similar voting patterns). And then you'd end up with an elaborate system that lets the city screw the farm every time

So my question is how do you implement that senate in a way that doesnt end up with a second house? I assume the states have done so since the old setup was deemed unconstitutional

And while flawed and possibly an effect of the setup I think the spending distribution is a separate (and less interesting) issue from the democracy argument.
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June 8th, 2009, 17:01
Originally Posted by Zaleukos View Post
NP, knowledge doesnt hurt, and I think it is a relevant tangent compared to some of the stuffs we see on the forum.
True enough!
Originally Posted by Zaleukos View Post
I just get the impression that your new senate would end up with the representation that the house should have had in the first place! That's why I thought you'd get a functionally unicameral system (if the two chambers have the same distribution of seat they'll be likely to produce fairly similar voting patterns). And then you'd end up with an elaborate system that lets the city screw the farm every time


So my question is how do you implement that senate in a way that doesnt end up with a second house? I assume the states have done so since the old setup was deemed unconstitutional
I think it'd balance out. The most common profession is still farming - I think you'd see spending patterns and voting patterns that represent the actual population spread - such as the house has now. I know one state has a unicameral legislature - I forget which one, though. The others have adapted fairly well. Cities generate the most tax money and thus get a similar amount of resources, but rural areas are represented enough where they still have considerable power.

I think if you made this system apply at the federal level you'd still end up with a system that wouldn't screw the farmers - I think spending/legislation would adequately reflect the fact that urban areas are generating most of the wealth and have a higher need for these funds. Why does Wyoming need the same amount of federal highway funds as California? Why does Vermont? It goes on and on - I think such a system would actually address the needs of the people and could possibly aid in situations ranging from homeland security spending to illegal immigration to the electoral college.

Originally Posted by Zaleukos View Post
And while flawed and possibly an effect of the setup I think the spending distribution is a separate (and less interesting) issue from the democracy argument.
I consider the spending issue as part of the democracy issue, to be honest. The main argument against reforming the Senate (other then the fact it'll never happen) is because it "balances out" with the House - the spending issue proves that it doesn't, from what I researched.
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June 8th, 2009, 17:13
It is easy for us outsiders to forget how much leeway the states have. I would think a unicameral congress would be natural for many of the smaller states. I'd also argue for doing away with the electoral college for the presidential election and go by a straight national popular vote (since that office is one office representing the entire nation) as an extra balance against the small states, but THAT wont happen

Originally Posted by Rithrandil View Post
I consider the spending issue as part of the democracy issue, to be honest. The main argument against reforming the Senate (other then the fact it'll never happen) is because it "balances out" with the House - the spending issue proves that it doesn't, from what I researched.
Sure, it is an effect of the unequal representation and I dont challenge your conclusion that the balance is out of order. I just dont think it is a necessary side-effect nor that changing the representation is the only possible fix.

EDIT: But of course it's a democracy issue as well as it erodes the legitimacy of the system.
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June 9th, 2009, 13:41
Something just occurred to me.

The Left lost across the board in Europe. The Right now has momentum behind it, and will probably set the agenda (more or less) for the next few years.

The interesting thing is that for the first time in a very long time, this creates an almost perfect alignment between European and American politics.

European conservative/center-right parties are in most ways a very close match for the Democratic Party in the US. They're also strongly in favor of closer Atlantic ties. (The center-left parties, conversely, are a good deal more skeptical about these ties, and politically pretty far to the left of the Dems… well, most of 'em, anyway, and the Republicans have more in common with the European extreme-right populist parties than the center-right ones.)

It'll be interesting to see if and how the Obama administration will capitalize on this opportunity. If he's smart, he could build structures that would be difficult to dismantle even after the political stars go out of alignment.
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June 9th, 2009, 13:50
There is definitely a window of opportunity, but the EP has little to do with it. Foreign policy is the domain of the (mostly center-right) national governments.

It is also a matter of individual leaders, there is a good deal of difference between Chirac's and Sarko's attitudes towards the US in spite of them being from the same conservative party
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