CIAO DATE: 03/05

The International Spectator

Volume XXXIX, No. 2 (April - June 2004)

Editorial Note

Four articles of this issue of The International Spectator address, from various perspectives, the problem of the democratic accountability of the institutions of the European Union and, in this context, the evolving role of the European Parliament. In the first article of the core, Brendan Donnelly offers a critical view of the European Parliament’s prospects for becoming an effective driving force for European integration in the coming years and for contributing decisively to filling the European Union’s widely lamented democratic deficit. He notes that the European Parliament will continue to suffer from the unsolved conflict between federalist and intergovernmentalist visions of the EU’s institutional development. Even the European Convention, according to Donnelly, failed to address that paralysing conflict effectively, limiting itself to adopting ambiguous compromise reform proposals - including those specifically related to the European Parliament - that are inadequate to dispel, or even simply reduce, the uncertainty surrounding the future of European integration. Donnelly concludes by emphasising that the European Parliament is unlikely to break the deadlock in which the EU finds itself since the decisive impulse for a more profound reform of the Union has to come from resolute common actions by federalist-minded European leaders.

In the article that follows, Luciano Bardi discusses the role of political parties in the EU political system. He starts by examining the main features of the three components in which the presence of parties at the European level is articulated - transnational federations, parliamentary groups and national parties - and by identifying the most recent trends in their composition and activity. He underlines the growing inclusiveness and cohesion of the largest groups within the European Parliament, which may be taken as evidence of movement towards a more structured and, to some extent, more polarised, European party system. However, he also notes that the transnational federations in particular provide only a weak link between the Union’s political system and civil society. He underlines that three major developments - the new statute of European political parties, the enlargement of the Union and the constitutional treaty - will not remain without major effects on the structure and attitudes of Euro-parties, but adds that even they are unlikely to boost their role decisively.

The other two articles of the core deal more specifically with the problem of the accountability of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the role that the European Parliament can play to increase its democratic legitimacy. Udo Diedrichs notes that, although no major legal progress has been made since the Treaty of Maastricht, the EP has managed to use its limited powers skillfully to increase its influence even in the CFSP realm. As the provisions of the draft Constitutional Treaty do not provide for an upgrading, the EP will probably have to continue to seek influence in CFSP “through the back door”. The author feels that relations with national parliaments might grow in importance, leading to increasing interparliamentary contacts and perhaps to new coalitions for enhancing the legitimacy and accountability of CFSP. He suggests, among other things, that the EP define its relationship with the Foreign Minister very specifically to prevent him/her from becoming too intergovernmental in nature and that it hold regular hearings and debates with the FM to create a public arena for debate of foreign and security issues.

The article by Esther Barbé argues that accountability has not been among the main concerns determining the innovations introduced in CFSP institutions throughout the various EU reforms, including the recent draft Constitutional Treaty. Although the democratic deficit of CFSP has been repeatedly decried and put on the agenda of every Treaty reform, national governments, the crucial actors in the process of institutional reform, have made no real attempts to tackle the problem. After an overview of the evolution of the EP’s formal powers in foreign policy, Barbé concludes that, for the time being, the current trend towards a more Brusselised CFSP kept under strict intergovernmental control will continue to be at odds with the rising request of a tighter democratic control of this policy at EU level. However, recent developments, including the hot public debate on the Iraqi war, indicate that European leaders will not be able to ignore this request for long.

The Opinions section features an article by Cesare Merlini which examines the similarities and differences between societal change in the United States and the European countries. Merlini considers the main trends in such key areas of social life as religion, demography and migration, the role of women and information technology. His main thesis is that US and European societies are diverging much less, on the whole, than is often argued. On the contrary, he notes, the general direction of the changes that they have recently undergone is, in most aspects, very similar. This indicates that the current political contrasts between the two sides of the Atlantic, far from being rooted in structural social factors, as conventional wisdom suggests, are mostly the result of national leaders’ specific policy choices. One major implication of that, according to Merlini, is that the partnership between Europe and the US has maintained its potential to promote new forms of global governance and a more stable international order.

The article by Silvio Ferrari examines the Vatican’s policy in the Middle East. He notes that the Vatican’s main goal has been to safeguard the Christian presence in the area and to protect Jerusalem and the holy sites as part of a much broader approach to the Middle East question that envisages the possibility of reciprocal recognition and peaceful co-existence between Jews, Christians and Muslims. However, according to Ferrari, recent transformations in the Middle East, including the rise of Islamic radicalism and Islamic terrorism - and the reaction of the United States to the latter, most recently the invasion of Iraq - have thrown that policy into crisis. Ferrari claims that the Holy See’s traditional aversion to all military solutions to conflicts is coupled with the conviction that US hegemony must be framed in a system of international law guaranteed by the United Nations.

The article that follows is devoted to an important issue of the European debate of the last months: the future of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP). Considering the Barcelona process’ dismal record so far, Tobias Schumacher argues that a general revision of the process is highly warranted if the EMP is not to fail, like its predecessors did. Schumacher surveys those areas where immediate progress is not only possible, but relatively easy to achieve and proposes redefining the EMP’s geographic scope to transform it into a more inclusive and flexible Euro-Middle East Partnership. The article concludes with a brief discussion of the recent EU interim report entitled “An EU Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East”, which seems to follow the logic of the proposed EMEP.

In the last article of the issue, Simonetta Cheli and Jean Pierre Darnis look into the recent attempts to build a common European space policy. They examine the main factors behind the European Union’s emergence as an increasingly important actor in space, underlining, in particular, the growing relevance that space has assumed for the implementation of the concept of enlarged security strongly advocated by the EU - which emphasises the nexus between civilian and military components of the security policy - as well as for the Union’s ambitions to keep apace with, or even take the lead in, technological innovation. More generally, the space programs launched by the EU - mostly in close cooperation with the European Space Agency - can be seen, according to the authors, as a typical functionalist operation which is part and parcel of a wider effort to establish a more solid and credible European identity.