Is Jerzy Buzek the True Voice of EU’s Foreign Policy?

Fellow bloggers Kosmopolit and John Worth have already weighed in on the (lack of) reaction by the European Union on the events unfolding in Egypt. Their analysis of the relative inactivity of the EU’s institutions is worth reading.

What I would like to point out is that the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, was much more specific in addressing the situation in Egypt. He made a statement on Friday, 28 January, saying:

“The entire world is watching what is happening in Egypt tonight and will hold the authorities accountable for any inappropriate use of force or any innocent death. (…) I call on Egypt, as a partner country of the EU, to fully respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of their citizens.”

Now, this isn’t the first time Mr. Buzek has responded quickly with an unequivocal statement. He also addressed the violence against protesters in Belarus, specifically calling on Lukashenko to stop the violence. The High Representative remained silent on Belarus for a few days, too.

It should be clear that the High Representative cannot act before aligning positions of all Member States. It takes only one Member State – for example, Italy, to block a common position (art. 31 TEU). That is why Ashton is significantly restrained in her field of action.

It appears that Mr. Buzek’s statements are, in such situations, the only legitimate and decisive voice coming from the institutions of the European Union.



23 responses to “Is Jerzy Buzek the True Voice of EU’s Foreign Policy?

  1. I am a little confused as to what qualifies Mr Buzek to be a ‘legitimate’ voice in anything much at all. The European Parliament is elected by only 43% of eligible voters (and by less than a fifth of the electorate in Slovakia, for example) and the presidency of the body is decided between the EPP and the Socialist group, with no real competition for the position.

    • Вихър Георгиев

      The 2010 turnout for the US House of Representatives elections was 40.9%. It will be both useful and entertaining for you also to read more on the procedure for the election of Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

  2. I am not accountable for what happens in the US. If the British House of Commons were returned on a voter turnout of 40%, I should want another election within the year in order to re-establish its legitimacy.

    I would make three points:

    1) The US example (which I suspect is the product of all-too-frequent elections) does not excuse the European Parliament example.

    2) Noting the procedure in the US House of Representatives is of no use whatsoever: the House is entirely two party, whereas the EP has seven groupings and 27 non-aligned MEPs. It was a complaint from the ALDE group in 2009 that parties other than the EPP and S&D were effectively excluded from the process.

    3) Crucially, an overwhelming majority of US citizens support their state’s membership of the USA and believe that foreign policy should be the preserve of the federal government. This is not comparable with the EU, where support for membership is not high (certainly not in the UK) and where most consider foreign and defence policy to be the preserve of national governments, not the European Union.

  3. Вихър Георгиев

    Dear Brittopic,

    I can easily understand your frustration with the European Union. But this does not contribute to the lucidity of your arguments. As is typically the case with such worldviews you only need to make a point and would not bear any criticism. The two arguments you made were that low election turnout and the procedure for the election of the President of the European Parliament render him illegitimate. I have shown to you that one of oldest democracies in the world shares the same “deficits”.

    Having rebutted your arguments now I would obviously have to speculate whether the European citizens consider foreign and defence policy to be the preserve of national governments. Once this theme is covered, you will move to something else, ad infinitum. This is exhausting. I do not have time for it.

  4. Dear Вихър Георгиев

    My purpose is not to frustrate you, nor to waste your time. You have asserted that Mr Buzek is a legitimate voice of European Union institutions on the matter of Egypt. I am merely pointing out that Mr Buzek presides over an institution which does not enjoy the confidence of citizens of European countries and that he is speaking on a matter which is not deemed to be the preserve of the European Union or any of its institutions.

    I find the comparison with the USA a little odd. The EU is a not a sovereign country, its peoples do not support the organisation’s role in foreign affairs and, in any event, Mr Buzek’s comments (which are not, in themselves, offensive) cannot be deemed to be representative either of those peoples or of the national governments in the EU.

    On what basis is he a legitimate spokesman on this matter?

    • Вихър Георгиев

      You are mixing issues and misrepresenting facts once again. The British Parliament is trusted by 24% of British voters (2010), while the European Parliament is trusted by 27% in the UK (2009). On average the European Parliament is trusted by 52% of the European citizens (2009).

  5. Do you have a source for these data?

    We are not talking here about ‘trust’ measured in just a couple of opinion polls. We are talking about legitimacy. In 2010, 65% of the UK population voted in the general election, thereby endorsing the Parliament. Of course, levels of trust in politicians, governing parties and manifesto pledges is going to be lower, but this is a reflection on the participants, not the body.

    I do not understand why you think that dragging down the regard for the UK Parliament and the US Congress will satisfy your claim. Neither are comparable with the European Parliament.

    • Вихър Георгиев

      You can find all the data on the Eurobarometer website. As for comparisons, that is what we scholars do to understand a phenomenon. You obviously do not understand the notion of legitimacy. Please read this (not scan, read) before engaging in further discussions.

  6. Interesting, yet ultimately flawed comparison. As you said, the EP and Mr. Buzk in particular do not have a larger role in foreign and security policy, and can thus freely demand the political correct. Hence there have been many instances in the past where the EP has issued the most straight-forward comments on international affairs. Why can they do this? Because at the end of the day, they do not have to follow with actions on their statements.

    The High Representative however, has to reach a credible position supported by all the member states. This makes her job much harder, but definitely also a much more legitimate voice of the EU.

    PS: Nevertheless, I share the criticism that Ashton’s reactions to external challenges so far have been too timid, slow and done little to enhance the image of the EU in the world.

    • Вихър Георгиев

      I’m interested in the political activism of the EP on foreign policy, since it may precipitate further shift of foreign policy power (see this on the US Congress).

  7. There is no need whatsoever for such a patronising tone. I understand that you are frustrated at being unable to explain why it is that the president of the European Parliament should be considered a legitimate voice on foreign policy matters, but to accuse me of ignorance and of misrepresentation does nothing to enhance your argument.

    Thank you for your link to the Eurobarometer website; it is very useful. Given that you have not provided specific links to the source of your data, I have had trouble corroborating your assertions. I have, however, found the following results which, I think, undermine your key points:

    1) Refer to p111 here – the EP is trusted by 22% of British respondents, not the 27% which you have cited. Incidentally, that 22% is lower than every other country in the EU and even Turkey (to which the 27% does apply).

    2) With reference to p16 of this report, it seems that trust in the EU overall is even lower at just 20%.

    I have to admit, that I am surprised by the 24% figure with regards to trust in the British Parliament, which I found here. This is due to the British Parliament (or, rather the House of Commons) having greater accountability to the public for its decisions, as evinced by the 65% turnout.

    Your argument about legitimacy – and I understand that this is not the debate which you envisaged entering into – is also confusing. Your link to Wikipedia does not greatly help your case (I could, for example, unpick the Weber argument that the EP owes its status to rational authority and I would very much enjoy getting into Locke’s thesis on the ‘consent of the governed’, which is strikingly central to my argument). I think that it would be useful to consider Professor Vernon Bogdanor’s statement that “legitimacy depends ultimately on the individual citizen feeling that he or she is part of the polity under which he or she lives. It is most powerfully, if often unconsciously expressed by a voter whose favoured party has lost a General Election, but who takes it for granted that the government which has been elected is a legitimate one. The voter has, as it were, internalised the legitimacy of the political system, and perhaps indeed takes it for granted.”

    My contention is that, because turnout for EP elections is so low (i.e. because voters are not recognising themselves to be part of the European polity), citizens are not conferring upon the European Parliament the legitimacy with which to represent them.

    • Вихър Георгиев

      1. On the figure for the trust in the European Parliament in the UK: 22% trust in the EP vs. 24% trust in the House of Commons makes 2% margin. This is within the statistical error bands for such surveys.

      2. “This is due to the British Parliament (or, rather the House of Commons) having greater accountability to the public for its decisions, as evinced by the 65% turnout.” – you are using circular logic which is not helping your argument.

      3. The lack of a European polity is a very serious question. It goes much deeper than the EP elections turnover, and is a subject of public and scientific dispute. Your treatment of the problem is understandable given the one-sided worldview that you adhere to; however, there are many issues that merit further discussion. I will take the liberty of using my patronising tone once again and will encourage you to read this paper which discusses the various aspects of the European polity.

  8. 1) I am not the one who put his store in an opinion poll; that was you and the data which you gave appears not to be supported by the source which you have cited. I am happy for you to show me precisely where you found the information.

    2) What I am suggesting is that a lack of trust in the British Parliament and a lack of trust in the European Parliament are derived from different grievances. The fieldwork for the British survey, for example, took place just after the general election, when the Liberal Democrats reneged on their manifesto commitments and after two and a half years of a deeply unpopular government, which had presided over the expenses scandal. Whilst the reasons behind the Parliament’s unpopularity were political, I think that the lack of trust in the EP is based on a broader Euroscepticism: an understanding in the UK that the European Union does not best represent people or deliver on important areas of people’s lives. It is a much more systemic lack of trust.

    3) Thank you for the paper which you suggest, I will have a look at it when time permits. I do not think that my understanding of this matter is limited by a certain worldview, though I do not know exactly what you mean by that. I do not support the UK’s membership of the European Union and it follows that I do not consider the European Parliament or its president to be a legitimate representative of me. This is a view which is borne out by the facts relating to turnout and to the unsatisfactory way (unsatisfactory to European Parliamentarians, not to me!) in which Mr Buzek gained his position.

    One view that I do take, of which you have not convinced me otherwise, is that the EU cannot be directly compared to the UK or the USA and the EP cannot be understood in the same terms as either the British House of Commons or the US Congress.

    • Вихър Георгиев

      On 2. – you really need to sit down and think harder about why the House of Commons, one of the oldest parliamentary bodies in the world, has such a low trust rating. You may get some clues by reading this book.

      On 3. – while it is true that the EP is not directly comparable to the House of Commons or the US Congress at the present moment, these are all parliamentary bodies. I cannot overestimate the importance of this fact. As many others that adhere to the 19th century notion of souvereignty, you simply cannot imagine a structure of governance that goes beyond the nation state. That is OK. But claiming that the EP is illegitimate on the basis of your belief and understanding of “what is right” is simply not sufficient. The opinion surveys that you went through show you that many Europeans do trust the EP to a large extent. This trust contradicts your sense of mistrust in the EU and its institutions. That is also OK. But your own assessment of the EU and its institutions is deeply influenced by your ingrained mistrust. I am not aiming at convincing you in any way; that is obviously impossible. But I will not remain silent when you try to speak in the name of many European citizens that do see the benefits of the EU membership.

      Please come back when you have something new and interesting to say. This is getting tedious and circular.

  9. Perhaps it would help me to understand you better if you answered my central question: why do you think that Mr Buzek is a legitimate spokesman when the body over which he presides was returned on less than 50% of the vote?

    It is not that I cannot comprehend a supranational level of government (though I make no secret of thinking this a poor choice for the UK and, possibly, others), I am just struggling with a notion of legitimacy which does not require the active support of a majority of the populace. I understand that you think the Eurobarometer polling demonstrates this but, why then is turnout in EP elections so low and why does this not significantly undermine the European Parliament’s legitimacy in your view?

    The tedium of this debate arises from the fact that you have not accounted for your claim that Mr Buzek is legitimate. Instead, you sought to suggest that he was comparable with the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, which rather evades the question. A simple answer would end the ‘circular’ debate of which you tire.

    • Вихър Георгиев

      Dear Brittopic,

      The President of the European Parliament IS comparable to the Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Both preside over parliamentary bodies elected by popular vote, and both are elected by those bodies on the basis of certain procedures. I understand that you are able to spin your message ad infinitum, but I do not have time for this.

  10. I think that you are trying to imply some insincerity on my part; I am not trying to drag this out any longer than is necessary. I think that your comparison between the two offices is overly simplistic and I could labour the differences between the EP President and House Speaker more but, in the interests of brevity, I will not.

    If Mr Buzek’s legitimacy is not conferred by the voters (whose turnout was less than 50%), from what source is it derived?

    • Вихър Георгиев

      Dear Brittopic,

      Making a judgment on the sincerity of an anonymous blogger is an impossible task. This I leave to your conscience. On the question of legitimacy I obviously cannot penetrate your inner shell of “the European Parliament is illegitimate in all possible worlds” mantra. In any case I would be glad if you read the book that I recommended to you; it will substantially broaden your understanding of the importance of voter turnout in comparative politics.

      • I have not said that the European Parliament cannot possibly be legitimate. I have asked you from where its legitimacy is derived if its electorate do not confer it, as I believe such a low voter turnout implies.

        Am I correct in my assumption that you believe that this legitimacy is conferred by the establishment of the EP through treaty and the availability of elections to citizens of European countries?

        A simple ‘yes’ would bring a timely end to this back-and-forth.

        I have ‘bookmarked’ your reading suggestion, thank you.

      • Вихър Георгиев

        ‘No’ is the brief and simple answer. Your insistence of the 50%+1 voter turnout as a threshold for legitimacy of a parliamentary body is simplistic and unfounded by theoretical background. There are other parliaments in this world that have been elected with less than 50% voter turnout, but nobody argues about their legitimacy. I have shown to you that, indeed, the US Congress has been in that group, too. Having understood this, you went on to argue that the European Parliament is intrinsically different from the US Congress, and that a comparison cannot be made. Now you are asking me again whether low voter turnout for EP elections means by itself lack of legitimacy. Etcetera.

        It is quite obvious now that you are not here to discuss, but to attempt to get a ‘confession’ that suits your worldview. This unfortunately reminds me of the MVD methods of interrogation in the Soviet Union in the 1930s – repeating absurd questions for days until the victim succumbs. Enough is enough. Read the book, then come back. I will not continue this conversation further at the present moment.

  11. It disappoints me that you have failed to answer the very simple question at the heart of this and it offends me that you have pursued the matter in an intemperate tone. To compare my inquiry with the 1930s Soviet purging – which I have studied – is what we in the UK call “a low blow” and it is one for which I would quickly apologise if ever it came from me.

    It pleases me that you will not continue.

  12. Ah, let’s just close this damn tunnel and call it a day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s