Checks and Balances in an EU Constitution

There is widespread agreement that the EU would benefit from further centralization of internal security, and of elements of foreign and defense policy. According to the last Eurobarometer survey of 2001, 73% of EU citizens support a common defense and security policy, and two Europeans out of three believe that the EU should have one common foreign policy. This high support for centralization of tasks in these areas contrasts with the still lukewarm overall support for the EU as a whole: only 48% support their country's membership in the EU.

But does the EU possess the necessary institutions to make these further steps in integration possible? This is one of the most difficult but relevant questions to be addressed by the convention that will debate Europe's constitution beginning this March.

In other policy areas, European integration has meant much more than just policy coordination. Transfer of power from EU member states has always been accompanied by institution building, tailoring the institution to the specific policy area over which integration was needed. A remarkable feature of this process of integration so far is that it has preserved important dimensions of accountability and control.

But it is important to appreciate the particular way in which accountability for EU decisions has been preserved, and how it differs from political accountability in a representative democracy. In a representative democracy, elections are the ultimate instrument for holding politicians accountable. Citizens delegate decisions to representatives (governments, legislators). If citizens are not satisfied with the decisions they take, that delegation is not renewed: the previous majority loses the election and is replaced by a new government or a new parliamentary majority.