Guest editorial by Helmut Siekmann regarding Brexit: "How a European federal state could look like" ("Börsen-Zeitung")

In an opinion piece in the "Börsen-Zeitung", Helmut Siekmann, points out that Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union does not provide for a request to withdraw from the EU. In his view, this is "juristic nonsense".

"The result of the Referendum in the United Kingdom is a wake-up call. All decision-makers of the European Union and its Member States are called upon to instantly tackle fundamental reforms of the constitution of a European Union, possibly only of a European “Continental Union”. “Instantly” means to not just begin a reform process when the negotiations on a withdrawal agreement are concluded, even if the primary law of the EU provides a period of two years in Article 50 paragraph 2 Treaty on European Union, which can even be extended by a unanimous decision of the European Council. Therefore, a final period is not stipulated. This raises concerns that the necessary rethinking and personnel changes (again) are put “on the back burner”.

It is absurd to instead exert pressure on the United Kingdom and to demand a “request” pursuant to Article 50 TEU within a few days. Despite the political questionability to exert pressure in such a situation, it is juristic nonsense. (i) Article 50 TEU does not provide for such a request. Instead, it provides that the Member State, which has decided to withdraw, has to “notify” the European Council of its intention. Similar to a termination or a withdrawal from an association it is a unilateral will which generates legal effects from within itself. It does not even require a reasoning. A request, on the other hand, can be accepted or rejected. This is a significant difference. (ii) Also, an obligation of a Member State under European law to undertake a notification pursuant to Article 50 paragraph 2 TEU can be constructed under no aspect; regardless of the internal processes in this State and its evaluation under national constitutional law. (iii) After all, the “European Union Referendum Act 2015” does not contain a provision that legally binds the British Government to the result of the Referendum. Higher-ranking law does not exist in the United Kingdom either, thus it remains within the sovereignty of the English parliament to make its own decision. Whether the parliament of Scotland or the elected representatives of the people in Northern Ireland have decision-making powers in this matter remains to be determined and could prove to be problematic.

Outlooks like “business as usual“ or “more of the same” are no convincing strategies. Especially the widespread mechanism of politicians of the Member States in the European Council and the Council of Ministers adopting measures for which the “evil” bureaucrats in Brussels are held responsible for when implementing them, has to be stopped instantly; mostly supported by a media echo, consisting of more or less randomly picked out examples for a misguided “excessive regulation” of the EU, are over and over again perpetuated with pleasure.

The bureaucrats in “Brussels“ are eagerly held responsible for all the negative and mistakes as well as shortcomings are searched for with a magnifying glass, while the great achievements of the European Union are hardly worth mentioning. Constructive proposals for necessary improvements are rare. On the other hand, despite the recognition of the achievements of the EU institutions and bodies, a certain remoteness and complacency of their officials towards dissenting opinions and subject criticism is evident. Insofar there is also room for self-criticism and improvements.

A regression of the European Union back to a simple economic community cannot be a solution. Globally, neither the EU nor the Member States have a chance to survive while maintaining the usual standards over the long-term. It is now appropriate to openly – and if need be controversially – discuss the possible nature of a future federal state on the European level. In any case, it should have a strong and capable leadership, but preferably allowing for an extensive autonomy of the countries and regions. The division of tasks and competences must be critically reviewed in detail in both ways. The principle of subsidiarity, enshrined in primary law, must be taken seriously. But first and foremost the institutions and bodies of the EU must have direct democratic legitimacy including elements of direct-democratic co-determination of the people regarding technical questions.

The frequently intransparent financial transfers and redistributions of resources have contributed to the resurgent nationalism on the left and the right of the political spectrum. This could be addressed effectively through a clever and principle-oriented order of “federal” fiscal relations (“financial compensation”) in a reformed European Union. But this is only possible if the mistakes of domestic German primary and secondary financial compensation with its misguided incentives and ongoing constitutional disputes are avoided. Not least, a return of the activities of the European Central Bank, which only has very little democratic legitimaton, to monetary policy in a narrow sense, would deprive anti-integrationist efforts of a significant part of their effectiveness. The question of whether to bail out struggling States and banking systems as well as aspects of regional, personnel, and intertemporal distribution policies have to be decided by the elected representatives of the people and not by executive institutions without democratic legitimation.

Strictly complying with established rules is especially important. This is not contradictory to the fact that the Federal Constitutional Court recently did not state an infringement of rules. The reasoning of the ruling is setting strict limits, even if the result may seem like a carte blanche at first. Accepting illegal immigration on an enormous scale ignoring demographic developments at home and abroad are grist for the mills of all, old and new, nationalists. As far as can be discerned, the attacks on the monetary system and an excessive and uncontrolled immigration are the decisive crucial issues. In this regard, there is a particular need for urgent action.

With regard to the real dangers for Europe it has to be remembered that guaranteeing external and internal security belongs to the inalienable core tasks of every State. This, in any case, includes an effective security of its external borders. Establishing a European Defense Community was one of the first steps of European integration but eventually failed because of the French National Assembly; even before the conclusion of the Treaties of Rome. With regard to the security situation it has gained new relevance."

Author: Helmut Siekmann, IMFS
Translation: Caren Wachowiak, IMFS

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