The launch: Giuliano Amato and democratic EU reform

J Clive Matthews
20 September 2007
Giuliano Amato

Two-time Prime Minister of Italy Giuliano Amato should, on paper, be a classic pro-EU figure. Currently serving as Interior Minister in the government of former President of the European Commission Romano Prodi, he was also Vice-President of the Convention on the Future of Europe, which from 2001-2003 drafted the text of the now semi-abandoned EU Constitution.

With the new Reform Treaty still containing the vast majority of the contents of the constitution that Amato helped to draft, you'd think he'd still be all for it - and the assumption would be that, after the shock of the French and Dutch referendums, he'd be opposed to any further referenda on the new treaty. But as it turns out, it's not quite as simple as that.

Amato has one of the most complex takes on deomcracy and the EU of any current high-profile EU politician. Pointing out that, under the new Reform Treaty, any single EU member state parliament can veto the European Parliament, the body closest to counting as truly representative of the EU as a whole, he asks whether such vetos can truly count as democratic. Why, after all, should the representatives of a tiny state like Luxembour be able to prevent the likes of France, Germany and the UK from progressing, should they so wish?

Back in January, in an article for the Financial Times, Amato rejected the Constitution that he helped to draft as the basis for future reforms. Having been rejected by French and Dutch voters, he felt, it was time to start afresh: "The starting point that could help us to regain contact with our citizens - and consequently to understand what we must do now - would be to go back to the beginning".

In the new Reform Treaty, based so heavily on the old Constitution as to be different only in legal character not effect, Amato finds no solutions to the key problems. "Another urgent task was to enhance democracy, basing majorities on the will both of the member states and their citizens, enhancing the role of the European parliament and that of national parliaments, making procedures more transparent and giving the citizens better access".

For him, as he revealed at the launch of Tomorrow's Europe, "The technique of Professor Fishkin is an essential technique to take participation seriously... [currently] we are using polls, emotional discussions, for political purposes... using citizens' emotions to support extreme ideological positons. He tries to restore rational debate where the citizens are involved not to express their emotions, but informed opinions."

While the UK remains embroiled in arguments over whether to hold a referendum on the new treaty, Amato cuts to the heart of the matter. For the EU to gain legitimacy, it must have democratic support - but the form of that support is not so important.

"The citizens may take part in different ways in public life - referendum is part of that," but "...a referendum on the new treaty is not so important. For me informed debate is much more important... In France before the referendum there was an informed debate - not so in other countries, where I would suggest more of Fishkin, less of referendum."

The key, in Amato's take, is to understand the real, rational views of the people. He has heeded the results of the French and Dutch referendums and respects them - yet acknowledges that referenda are not a perfect solution, as too many other factors can corrupt the vote (from lack of knowledge to the desire to send a political message about another matter entirely).

But can the "Fishkin technique" of deliberative polling really show us what "the people" want? Can an artificially-created microcosm represent the voice of Europe any more than an emotional referendum?

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