chapter  6
16 Pages

EU treaty reform and accountability


This chapter examines whether European Union (EU) citizens have a meaningful influence over the most fundamental decision taken in the Union, namely those that lay down the rules of the game. EU treaties are of crucial importance, for they define the competencies of the Union, the powers afforded to different actors and institutions, and the various procedures for making decisions. Are there any effective mechanisms for holding treaty reformers accountable? Some scholars argue that concerns over limited opportunities for citizens to

hold treaty reformers accountable are largely unfounded, since the power to revise the treaties is in the hands of member-state representatives, and the requirement of unanimity obtains. Government representatives negotiate, and changes to the treaties are ratified by national parliamentarians – and the latter are indeed subject to strong accountability mechanisms within their own state. Risse and Kleine argue, for example, that ‘EU treaty-making faces fewer problems of input legitimacy and accountability than everyday decision-making’, because ‘[m]ember states remain the “masters of the treaties” as a result of which national procedures including referendums for ratification of international treaties apply’ (Risse and Kleine 2007: 73). The negotiations for the Amsterdam and Nice treaties were generally per-

ceived as inefficient, with ‘leftovers’ that had to be passed on to subsequent intergovernmental conferences (IGCs). During the debate following the Nice summit, demands were raised for a more open, effective, and reflective process of treaty reform. In response to these demands, the European Council decided that the next IGC would be prepared by a Convention modelled on the EU Charter Convention that had worked in parallel with the 2000 IGC. The main novelty was the broader composition of this body, which included not just representatives of member-state governments and the Commission, but also members of the European Parliament (EP) and of national parliaments. Scholars have praised the European Convention for being more open, more

deliberative, and more responsive than IGCs have been; as a result, they contend, the legitimacy of the EU’s treaty-reform process has been strengthened (Shaw 2003; Pollak and Slominski 2004; Fossum and Menéndez 2005). Some observers have argued explicitly that the convention method has

Kleine 2007: In this chapter, I investigate the question of accountability in the treaty-

reform process, through a comparison of the IGC method with the convention method. In the course of this examination, it becomes clear that EU citizens have only limited opportunities to hold treaty reformers accountable, and that the convention method improves only marginally on this state of affairs. The basic problem remains: namely, that there are no electoral contests over European issues. Neither national elections nor EP elections are fought on issues relating to the future design of European integration, and EU citizens are never presented with alternative views on the issues decided at IGCs. National governments have no explicit mandates in this area, and there is no clear opposition to which the public can turn if it feels discontent with the new deals negotiated and adopted by governments on their behalf. In practice, EU citizens have no effective means for sanctioning those responsible for deciding on new treaties, even if formal mechanisms do exist for holding treaty reformers to account. This chapter proceeds in five steps. I begin with a brief discussion on dele-

gation and accountability, thereby laying the foundation for the examination to follow. I then describe the main characteristics of the treaty-reform process, and the formal differences between the IGC method and the convention method. In subsequent sections, I examine the question of accountability in relation to these two methods. I conclude by discussing my main findings and making some suggestions as to how accountability in the treaty-reform process can be strengthened.