Whereabouts of European democracy

Oh, I couldn’t avoid introducing a bit of EU politics in the blog. Two political faces made resounding comments in the last days (and both are female!): Angela Merkel (the German Chancellor) and Margot Wallström (The Vice-President of the European Commission). From different corners they both disappointed, let me explain why.

The German Chancellor has made first a resounding speech in the European Parliament last week, making her case for the revival of the European Constition and then made a strong Davos speech about globalisation. In the first, she softly announced “consultations with the national capitals” (no quoting here, only rephrasing), while in the second emphasized the need for national politicans to convince voters of the benefits that globalisation brings. While the second is becoming mainstream “The Economist” thinking (see the editorial from the last issue here) and is of course a bit lame and full of statistics, the first one contradicts her point completely. Her stand on the way forward of the Constitution is simply: let us fix the problems and let us quickly ratify the text once and for all (see Jan’s blog entry on sherpas). And there is an interesting link with globalisation – for some of the voters in France and the Netherlands thought that the Constitution was a neo-liberal project, set to put the EU on the fast-track of neo-liberal policies and thus ride globalisation with no social concerns. So, you get a rejection of the Constitution because of concerns on globalisation, but you end up discussing globalisation only, while preventing discussing the Constitution. And of course, what can the abstract discussion on globalisation really bring new? People should discuss the Constitution instead, as a tool that equips the EU to deal with it. For Merkel, it’s better to keep this a private matter for governments. A bit of reflection from her PR team would be welcome.

Now to Wallström. Many call her the human face of the Commission, many think of her as the only link the Commission has to civil society, many praise her for her brave statements on the need to change the EU’s communication and to open a dialogue with citizens. She even runs a blog. So, you might think, she might even want people to get engaged in the political process…Ok, let’s get a quote from one of her interviews (from EUPolitix):

“I do not think people should be underestimated. They know there are difficult issues and I think a very honest, open debate about the problems works..”

So, an open debate works. But a serious debate in democracies is followed by a vote. And in the case of EU, one cannot but imagine new concepts of voting, like the Euro-wide referendum (here an article I wrote recently about it). On this Margot is quoted (from EUObserver) as saying: “I don’t think this is realistic at all.” OK, so what do we do? You want to consult, lead a dialogue, but then judge a political expression by a vote as not realistic. Ok, a Euro-wide referendum might be an illusion of those that believe in trans-national democracy and new methods of political decision-making in the EU, but is still a possible alternative to a series of national referendums that we have seen in 2005. As a friend from Italy has noted after he heard her saying so: perhaps her resistance means that there in fact is a debate about it (thanks Francesco).

So, dirty business. I wish there would be an open debate about what to do with the Constitution. One lesson should have been learned by the EU institutions and our leaders: you cannot set the rules of the game without the consent of the citizens. This is the challenge for the next generation of political leaders. The rest should…well, retire.

4 thoughts on “Whereabouts of European democracy”

  1. Hi Marko,

    Again I have to say I pretty much agree with you. Having been writing my thesis about European Public Sphere where my analysis has been about the Plan- D and white paper on Communications, I´ve come to same conclusions as you.

    It´s striking how much these Commission documents preach about the importance of listening to people and dialogue, but it ignores the outcomes of any debate. Why should anyone spend their free time to participate a discussion event let´s say about the EUs future, when all you get is to say what you think, but you don´t have any guarantee that your opinion is taken forward. In the democratic systems this “forwarding” of opinions is guaranteed by a possibility to vote. In the EU this is not the case most of the time. And even if one can vote in the European parliamentary elections, it doesn´t help much if you don´t know what you are voting about. At least for me in the last elections the agenda was blurred. What are we voting about when we vote for an MEP? Which policies? What ideologies? What are the important questions in Europe at the moment where MEPs can have an impact on?

    Back to the Commission. It is unbelievably naive from the Commission to think that the democratic deficit can be fixed with good PR. Good reputation can only be achieved through real deeds. In this case this would mean real possibilities to participate and have a say, instead of organising discussion events that only EU-nerds attend.


  2. Tomáš and Dani: Welcome! Will try to keep it interesting!

    Elina: Yes, it’s one of the problems I have currently with EU politics. Most people have been made to believe that good PR and better “communication” (whatever that means) will save the EU. Well, no…

    The problem you describe is not a problem of communication, but democracy. And even if Wallström believes communication is key to democracy, I wonder how true that can be without improvements to EU’s structure – like the link to European elections you mention.

    It’s all very complex, but conly debating with people won’t save us from declining support. Some more democracy might.


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