Writing a European Citizens’ Constitution; Could we ask for more transparency in the EU?

Last weekend we celebrated 60 years of the European Union (EU), and there is no better time to consider what kind of future we want for the EU.

At the beginning of March, 150 young activists from more than 30 different countries representing various organisations gathered in Strasbourg to put in writing how a stronger and better EU could look. The European Youth Convention, using the Malik Institute’s Syntegration® method, drafted and finally adopted a 12-chapter European Citizens’ Constitution which results were presented on the 25th of March to the civil society at the March for Europe in Rome. The four-day, intensive event provided an unprecedented opportunity to officially ask EU leaders for more democratic legitimacy and accountability. The Constitution, starting with the words “United in diversity, we, the European citizens”, enhances the EU’s strengths and values as well as addresses its current issues. It does this by, for example, specifying that a common EU asylum system is needed in order to assign refugees to different states based on their capacities, or that the European Agency for Cyber Protection should be employed by the EU to protect private data of individuals and organisations.

United in diversity, we, the European citizens”

Applauding the great youth initiative in general, it is, however, interesting to look to what extent transparency and anti-corruption measures for the EU have been included into the Constitution. As a representative of Anti-Corruption International, involved in the EYC process, I believe that publicity, openness and increased transparency are essential for accountability and democratic functioning of the European Union. These issues also relate to EU citizens’ satisfaction with the system. Despite a current positive evolution towards more transparent work within the EU, the concept is still not being addressed enough in practice and there is a lot to do in terms of promoting transparency and eradicating corruption that could be done. For example, opening up the negotiations of the Council to all EU citizens (with a certain degree of secrecy where security issues are at stake).

Pleasingly, during the EYC the lack of transparency in the EU was considered as a significant issue to pay attention to. Indeed, almost half of the Constitution’s chapters mention the importance of promoting transparency, starting from the EU values and democratic principles, and ending with the EU Budget. Overall, the Constitution brings a positive shift in the level of openness and transparency in the European Union compared to the Lisbon Treaty (signed in 2007, entered into force in 2009) which could unofficially be considered as the constitutional treaty of the EU. The new Constitution goes beyond simply stating that the institutions’ work and communication with the civil society shall be transparent. It recognises the necessity of opening up the meetings of the legislative bodies to the public as well as guaranteeing ‘transparency in all lobbying activities related to European institutions’.

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THE EUROPEAN YOUTH CONVENTION CITIZENS’ CONSTITUTION

Preamble

  1. Are committed to the promotion of prosperity, solidarity, sustainability, and transparency.

Chapter I: On the Values of the European Union

  1. The European Union believes and is based on the rule of law, transparency, constructive understanding and bottom-up democracy.

Chapter VI: On the Democratic Principles of the European Union

  1. The constitution shall promote fundamental rights, democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of association, and establish a transparent governance that shall be ensured by the European institutions.
  2. There should be more transparency in the decision-making process and European institutions should be held accountable. Meetings of the legislative bodies shall be public. It also guarantees transparency in all lobbying activities related to European institutions.
  3. To ensure fairness, transparency and the democratic aspect of the European Union, the principle of checks and balances has to be ensured. To do so, the body in-charge includes members of the civil society.

Chapter VIII: On the Budget of the European Union

  1. The European Union’s budget is balanced and its management is transparent.[…]
  2. The European institutions ensure a sufficient consultation of the Public in the budgetary process. The European institutions ensure a transparent process and disclose all relevant information.

Chapter X: On the Home Affairs, Security, and Justice of the European Union

Title III: Justice

  1. The European Union ensures transparency and access to information in its decision-making process.13. The European institutions guarantee transparency in all lobbying activities related to European institutions.

The EYC also considered the concept that the level of transparency is also directly related to the degree of corruption. Thus, the Constitution includes a rather innovative anti-corruption instrument in the EU – the creation of ‘an independent and external supervisory authority of the Union’ which ‘prevents and investigates corruption’.

Chapter VII: On the Economic Principles of the European Union

  1. The European Union fights corruption and tax avoidance. It pursues harmony among fiscal systems of its Member States

Chapter X: On the Home Affairs, Security, and Justice of the European Union

Title III: Justice

  1. An independent and external supervisory authority of the European Union prevents and investigates corruption.
  2. A European Public Prosecutor is in charge of the litigations and prosecutes corruption.

Could we have asked for more anti-corruption and transparency promotion measures at this point? Possibly. On the other hand, if the current youth initiative is taken seriously by the EU officials, we could already hope to witness a beneficial change leading to a more transparent and less corrupt European Union.

The Constitution was a very significant step towards a stronger and better Europe. From the hands and hearts of young people to the ones of policy makers – now it is their turn to #FixEU.

More information about the EYC and the Constitution can be found here: http://www.youthconvention.eu/

By Ieva Duncikaite

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