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The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty
The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty
The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty
The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty
The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty
The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty
The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty
The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty
The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty
The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty
The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty
The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty
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The Relevancy of Simon Hix following the Lisbon Treaty

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Simon Hix’s What’s Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix It challenged the …

Simon Hix’s What’s Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix It challenged the
European Union (EU) to address its debilitating problems through the implementation of what he
called “limited democratic politics.” He argued that the EU could address its most serious
problems without actually passing any new treaties. Nonetheless, the EU recently passed the
Lisbon Treaty, which implements many of the changes that were central to the rejected European
Constitution. While Hix’s arguments focused on elite behavior rather than institutional reform,
the implementation of the Lisbon treaty requires us to consider in what ways and to what degrees
the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty affect Hix’s characterization of the EU’s problems and his
proposed solutions. This paper argues that the Lisbon Treaty ultimately has had little effect on
Hix’s argument because “treaty reforms alone would not necessarily change the way political
elites behave” (Hix, 138).
This paper will largely mirror the structure of Hix’s book. First, it will examine the three
problems of policy gridlock, a lack of popular legitimacy, and the democratic deficit. Second, it
will look at Hix’s proposed solutions relating to the European Parliament, the EU Council, and
the European Commission. Each of these sections will first seek to clearly establish Hix’s
argument, followed by a summary of the relevant changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty,
and concluded with an assessment of whether the Lisbon Treaty provisions have impacted Hix’s
argument, and if so, whether the impact will facilitate of complicate Hix’s desire to introduce
“limited democratic politics.”

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  • 1. GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY TAKE-HOME FINAL EXAM: THE RELEVANCY OF SIMON HIX FOLLOWING THE LISBON TREATY GEST 590: THE EUROPEAN UNION DR. JEFFREY ANDERSON BY SEAN P. MCBRIDE WASHINGTON, DC 17 DECEMBER 2009 AD MAIOREM DEI GLORIAM
  • 2. 1 Introduction Simon Hix’s What’s Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix It challenged the European Union (EU) to address its debilitating problems through the implementation of what he called “limited democratic politics.” He argued that the EU could address its most serious problems without actually passing any new treaties. Nonetheless, the EU recently passed the Lisbon Treaty, which implements many of the changes that were central to the rejected European Constitution. While Hix’s arguments focused on elite behavior rather than institutional reform, the implementation of the Lisbon treaty requires us to consider in what ways and to what degrees the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty affect Hix’s characterization of the EU’s problems and his proposed solutions. This paper argues that the Lisbon Treaty ultimately has had little effect on Hix’s argument because “treaty reforms alone would not necessarily change the way political elites behave” (Hix, 138). This paper will largely mirror the structure of Hix’s book. First, it will examine the three problems of policy gridlock, a lack of popular legitimacy, and the democratic deficit. Second, it will look at Hix’s proposed solutions relating to the European Parliament, the EU Council, and the European Commission. Each of these sections will first seek to clearly establish Hix’s argument, followed by a summary of the relevant changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty, and concluded with an assessment of whether the Lisbon Treaty provisions have impacted Hix’s argument, and if so, whether the impact will facilitate of complicate Hix’s desire to introduce “limited democratic politics.” The Impact of Lisbon on Hix’s Characterization of EU Policy Gridlock Simon Hix diagnoses the European Union with a severe case of policy gridlock. In his opinion, the cause of this gridlock is not institutional, but instead relates to shifts in the European
  • 3. 2 Union’s policy agenda from the creation of the internal market to economic reform. While the initial implementation of the internal market effectively offered net benefits of varying degrees to all European states over the alternative of having no internal market, more recent attempts to reform the generally centrist status quo in either a liberalizing or regulatory direction have had net winners and losers. The result is that different European states now desire reform in conflicting and opposite directions. The more classically-liberal Britain desires a different sort of union than the more dirigiste France. Hix thus identifies the underlying cause of the EU’s policy gridlock as “the problem of how to reform existing policies when one group of governments and parties wan policy change in one direction while another group wants policy change in the opposite direction (Hix, 48). The Lisbon Treaty aims to make the EU more efficient through a series of institutional reforms. Regarding the Council of Ministers, the treaty makes Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) the normal voting procedure, excepting the areas of tax, foreign policy, defense, and social security, which will continue to require unanimous voting. Regarding the European Council, the treaty legally establishes this entity as an official EU body headed by a President elected by a QMV of the heads of state. Regarding the Parliament, the Treaty’s reforms do not substantially seek to promote efficiency, except possibly by capping the number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) at 750 plus the President. Regarding the Commission, the Treaty potentially could eliminate the arrangement of one commissioner per member state beginning in 2014, although the European Council effectively reversed this decision following the Irish Referendum. Due to the long evolution of the proposed European Constitution into the Lisbon Treaty, Hix was well aware of the proposals being considered to make the EU more efficient when he
  • 4. 3 formulated his argument. After directly mentioning the then proposal to create a single president of the European Council, Hix countered that this and the other proposals are “rather insignificant relative to the major institutional reforms… [of] the Single European Act and the Maastrict, Amsterdam and Nice treaties” (Hix, 48). The purpose of this characterization was to emphasize his original point that institutional design had little to do with the current EU gridlock. Past treaties failed to end the gridlock by major institutional reform, inferring that the Lisbon Treaty would fail to do this as well. The Lisbon Treaty certainly creates a more majoritarian system, but it fails to tackle the underlying conflict between governments that want EU policy change in fundamentally opposing ways. The Impact of Lisbon on Hix’s Characterization of the EU’s Lack of Popular Legitimacy and Democratic Deficit Hix argues that low public support for the EU, as registered the Eurobarometer polls, represents a serious threat to European leaders. Pointing to previous efforts to increase transparency in the EU, Hix counters the assertion that lack of popular support is due to lack of knowledge about the EU. Instead, he argues that the period of affective support for the EU has ended, and in its place, European citizen now base their level of support for the EU on a rational cost-benefit analysis of personal gain. Further transparency does not necessarily make Europeans more supportive of the EU, it just makes them more aware of the costs and benefits that the union imposes on their lives. Hix argues that when Europeans consider themselves net losers or net payers under the EU framework or from EU policy, they blame the union as a whole. In contrast, when Europeans perceive themselves as net losers or net at the state level, they blame the governing coalition rather than the state as a whole. Hix explains this key difference as the result of the inability of groups of Europeans to affect the policy at the European level by voting out
  • 5. 4 governing coalitions. Because of this lack of meaningful competition for political control at the European level, Hix likens the EU to “enlightened despotism” (Hix, 68). Hix argues that this democratic deficit is the result of substantive issues, not institutional issues. He believes that the EU is institutionally and procedurally capable of being democratic, as citizens can freely run for the European Parliament and elections are free and fair. Nevertheless, he argues that MEP elections have very little impact on policy outcomes at the European level. His explanation for this phenomenon relates to the way that fact that power in the European Parliament is allotted on a proportional basis, which ensures that electoral swings have negligible impact on European policy. Using the example of the June 1999 elections, Hix points out that a large electoral swing in favor of the European People’s Party (EPP) only gained the party one committee chair and no meaningful increase in its ability to set or control the policy agenda of the European Parliament (Hix, 139). Unable to use their vote to change policies that many European voters perceive as in contrast to their interests, Europeans instead turn their frustrations against the larger framework of the European Union. The Lisbon Treaty includes numerous institutional reforms that attempt to increase the popular legitimacy and lessen the democratic deficit of the EU. Regarding the Council of Ministers, Lisbon makes all deliberations on legislative matters public. This greater transparency seeks to combat the democratic deficit by allowing citizens to track how national ministers vote on certain issues. This allows voters to hold national governing coalitions accountable for their actions on the European level. Regarding national parliaments, Lisbon clarifies the EU’s relationship with the member states as one of subsidiarity. It explicitly classifies areas where the EU is sovereign (e.g. the internal market), where the states are sovereign (e.g. education), and where the EU may act only according to the subsidiary principal of whether policy is more
  • 6. 5 effective at the European level than the state level (e.g. the environment or transportation). The treaty further lays out the mechanism through which member states can challenge EU violations of the subsidiary principal. These efforts to clarify sovereignty at the European and state levels seek to boost the EU’s popular legitimacy by placating fears that the EU represents an erosion of the sovereignty of the nation states. Regarding the European Parliament, Lisbon increases the body’s power through greater use of the co-decision procedure. In the interest of strengthening the democratically-elected body of the EU, this expansion effectively makes the European Parliament the equal of the Council of Ministers in most legislative areas. Regarding the Commission, Lisbon establishes that the Commission and the choice of the Commission President should reflect the results of MEP elections. Further changes include the Commission President’s ability to dismiss other Commissioners and the creation of citizens’ initiatives, through which petitions with one million signatures impact the agenda of the Commission. This change seeks to make the Commission, often considered the most technocratic and undemocratic element of the EU, more accountable to the political pressure of the European public. The selection of the Commission should theoretically now correlate to the popular will expressed at MEP elections, after which the President of the Commission can fire commissioners that become politically unpalatable. This more politically sensitive Commission should also address the popular concerns expressed by citizens’ initiatives. Each of these reforms significantly change the relationship between European citizens and the EU, largely attempting to counter the recent decline in political support of the EU due to charges of a democratic deficit. This Lisbon reforms alter many of Hix’s characterizations of the EU’s public legitimacy and democratic deficit. Hix argued that the Council needed greater transparency and public debate in order to allow citizens to know what governments are doing to in their name. Lisbon
  • 7. 6 accomplishes exactly that by making all legislative matters public. Lisbon’s clarification of the subsidiary relationship between the EU and the member states further seems to strengthen indirect accountability via national governments, which Hix had previously had classified as “weaker than it used to be” (Hix, 73). The principle of subsidiarity also provides national legislatures greater power in the EU, which could potentially alter Hix’s argument that national general elections are solely about national issues. As the national governments gain more power in the EU, it is conceivable that national politicians could campaign on issues related to subsidiarity. Lisbon’s creation of citizen’s initiatives counters Hix’s assertion that referendums are realistically the only opportunity that citizens have to make a choice about the EU agenda (Hix, 79). Such initiatives potentially offer European citizens a very direct means to impact policy at the European level outside of Hix’s “limited democratic politics.” Despite these numerous changes to Hix’s assessment of democratic deficit, the Lisbon treaty does not directly address his primary argument that the EU lacks the substantive norms to make the MEP elections a meaningful political battle over the direction of EU policy. Although the Lisbon Treaty strengthens the European Parliament, the methods of allocating power remain proportional under the d’Hondt method, ensuring that electoral swings will continue to have negligible impact on European-level policy. Furthermore, this emphasis on proportionality makes Lisbon’s attempt to relate the composition and leadership of the Commission to the results of the MEP elections relatively meaningless. Although this reform admirably attempts to make the Commission more democratically accountable, it will ultimately be based on proportionality, thereby ensuring that the Commission will continue to represent a centrist blend of all political factions, rather than the largest and most successful political parties. In both the European Parliament and the Commission, proportionality will prevent any single political faction from
  • 8. 7 achieving the political mandate needed to carry out a policy agenda, ensuring that the outcome of MEP elections will continue to have minimal effect on policy decisions. The Impact of Lisbon on Hix’s Proposals for the European Parliament Hix proposes two changes to make the European Parliament more responsive to elections. The first proposal was that the president of the European Parliament be elected for five years rather than two and a half. Hix argues that having two presidential terms during a single parliamentary term ensures that the two largest parties will rotate the post, thereby resulting in “horse-trading” rather than attempts to build majority coalitions (Hix, 141). The second proposal was that the d’Hondt model of allocating committee chairs (as well as other elements such as legislative rapporteurs, speaking time, etc.) proportionally be replaced with either a winners’ bonus model or a modified d’Hondt model that would privilege the largest political parties. This change would increase the importance of elections by providing the largest party influence over EU policy greater than would be allowed under a purely proportional basis. Hix argues that such a change would make the MEP elections a more important competition for determining EU policy, which would in turn provide incentives for political parties to expand their membership by actively courting voters, as well as incentives for the infotainment media to begin covering the EU political drama. The Lisbon Treaty’s reforms of the European Parliament have no impact on Hix’s proposals. Lisbon’s reforms were essentially institutional and aimed and strengthening the Parliament relative to the Council of Ministers, while Hix’s proposals were primarily substantive and aimed at raising the political stakes of MEP elections. Lisbon’s institutional strengthening of the Parliament vis-à-vis the other bodies of the EU through the expansion of co-decision will simply not make the policy decisions coming out of Parliament any more responsive to the
  • 9. 8 results of elections. Hix’s proposals thus still remain compelling for a post-Lisbon European Union. The Impact of Lisbon on Hix’s Proposals for the Council of Ministers After asserting that even the Chinese National people’s Congress is more transparent than the Council of Ministers, Hix proposes several changes to this EU body relating to transparency and the substantive building of coalitions in support of policy objectives. Regarding transparency, Hix argues that all legislative deliberations and documents of the Council of Ministers should be open and available to the public. An important corollary is that all legislative decisions should be voted on and recorded in the minutes in order to accurately record dissention and prevent false consensus formed “in the shadow of a vote” (Hix, 119). The intent behind these proposals is to allow the media and the public to pressure government to more openly compete in building alliances and passing legislative measures. Hix also proposes that Council amendment rights should be limited to coalitions of governments. Hix similarly views this measure as a means to prevent spoiling amendments and better facilitate coalition-building. Hix viewed these proposals as a means to transform the Council into “a proper and transparent legislature” (Hix, 149). In contrast to the European Parliament, the Lisbon Treaty has accomplished several of Hix’s proposals. The treaty states that “the Council shall ensure publication of the documents relating to the legislative procedures” and that the Council “shall meet in public… when considering and voting on a draft legislative act” (Official Journal of the European Council, C306/50-1). This legislation thus accomplished Hix’s proposals on fostering transparency. Hix’s proposal to limit amendments in the Council of Ministers to coalitions is not addressed in Lisbon, but it is likely that the Lisbon transparency amendments will foster this further change.
  • 10. 9 Assuming that Hix is correct in his assertion that transparency in the Council of Ministers will foster open competition in building alliances and passing legislative measures, spoiling amendments could possibly become a problem among Councilors. If that becomes the case, it is quite conceiveable that the Council would react to this development by enacting something similar to Hix’s coalition amendment. Lisbon has therefore accomplished Hix’s most important recommendations regarding the Council. The Impact of Lisbon on Hix’s Proposals for the European Commission Samuel Hix argues in favor of politicizing the European Commission. To this end, he argues that political parties should use MEP elections as a means for voters to choose between rival policy agendas. He proposes that parties or coalitions of parties should back candidates for Commission President, whom then form and publicly debate competing policy agendas. This would shape the MEP election into a decision on what direction the EU should take. Hix argues that the winning manifesto should become the Commission’s work program, guiding the allocation of portfolios. Hix believes that these steps would transform the Commission into an political body, which he argues would be better placed to make what he calls “explicitly political choices about… social and economic policies” (Hix, 163). The Lisbon Treaty fosters Hix’s proposal to transform the parliamentary elections into a decision between political agendas. The Treaty state that “representatives of the European Parliament and of the European Council will… conduct… consultations… on the backgrounds of the candidates for President of the Commission, taking account of the elections to the European Parliament” (Official Journal of the European Council, C306/254). While this does not ensure that Hix’s proposals will be carried out, the greater emphasis on the Parliament and the parliamentary elections suggests a more explicit role for politics in the selection of the
  • 11. 10 Commission President. The primacy of the European Council of heads of state naturally complicates Hix’s proposal, but the post-Lisbon framework seems to facilitate Hix’s proposal, should coalitions of national parties (backed by heads of state) agree to campaign in this manner. Conclusion Although the Lisbon Treaty accomplished or fostered many of Hix’s proposals, it ultimately does not affect his substantive argument that elite behavior must change to make the EU a more politically competitive body. Many of Lisbon’s institutional reforms suggest that the EU is becoming more of the type of political body that Hix supports. Greater linkage between the Commission President and the parliamentary elections suggests that political parties could potentially transform the elections into a democratic decision on the direction of the EU. The Council of Ministers is now more transparent and more like a normal democratic deliberative body complete with political pressure. Nevertheless, Hix’s greatest complain about proportionality remains the norm post-Lisbon. Absent a winner-takes-more system, the European elections continue to have minimal impact on the formation of policy objectives. This failure ultimately prevents the completion of Hix’s other objectives. Neither the Council nor the Commission can become truly politicized bodies if the European parliamentary elections continue to be ineffective in shaping the policy objectives of the EU. For these reasons, Hix’s main substantive arguments about elite behavior remain extremely relevant to the EU post- Lisbon. Appendix: The Impact of Lisbon on the Module Simulation The Lisbon Treaty would have substantially changed the module simulation. The Lisbon Treaty explicitly alters the mechanism for suspending accession negotiations. Under the new system, the Czech Republic could not simply table a motion calling for a moratorium on
  • 12. 11 accession negotiations. Instead, either the Commission or the newly-created High Representative for Foreign Affairs would have to table the motion in the Council to suspend previous agreements (C 306/98). This new requirement would substantially change the nature of the Council meeting, as the High Representative would effectively become the new policy entrepreneur. This new dynamic would eliminate the potential for each country to produce conflicting proposals in response to issues such as cutting off accession agreements following the coup in Turkey. Under this new system, the interests, objectives, and strategies of the Republic of Hungary would be to support the High Representative. This would reflect the pro-federalist tendencies of Hungary.

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