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Enhanced democracy

In my previous post I noted that the first step to bridge the gap between individuals and the European level is the flow of coherent information. Now this one is about the second, also necessary step, which is (in one word) legitimacy.

Most of us agree that the best method in a democracy to obtain legitimacy is to buckle the elections. What if we had the opportunity to directly vote for a part of the main European officeholders? Is that a step towards a more democratic faced Union? Or, as Europe is divided by national identities, is that necessarily a useless race of ethnic polling?

Well, let’s not forget that everyone has a home town/home country. In a region, where a candidate is from people are more likely to support him rather than any others. There’s no need to fear the “ethnic poll”, because the situation is similar in Spain, Italy and in Romania too, where there are significant minorities. Of course the stronger national identities there are (in Europe), the more ethnic character the result of the balloting has. But just like democracy, elections, too, aren’t desirable just for their own sake.

The objectives have to be set and a roadmap to achieve them as well. One of the goals must be to reform the basis of the integration, because now the decision-making bargaining between Brussels and the national capitals outweight the direct connection to the European people. The EU has to stand more on the citizens, as the Union claims to be democratic. (There might be other ways out, even though I personally don’t believe in benign autocracy, but in dysfunctional democracy neither. So the only one feasible option is to change somewhat the current political image of the EU.)

How to carry out a Europe-wide election? The Union has to come out with a scheme. A possible way is to have all the presidential candidates from the same country (that would also mean a kind of national rotation), or an other way is to set up candidates from member states of similar population. I think the first scenario is more preferable, but both are executable.

Holding elections is the best way of taking the measure of how much the citizens back the European leadership. Now the election of the European Parliament has nothing to directly do with European institutions, although that would be advisable. In short, legitimacy is when citizens clearly express their support towards the leaders of Europe. Now people can only express how much they support their national political parties. This procedure won’t ensure real legitimacy. And without real legitimacy, there’s no real democracy. (Yup, sceptic readers are right: Brussels has to think about why the participation in the elections to the EP shrink occasion by occasion. See some of the possible reasons here.)

Honestly, who cares about the Comission, if only the member states have the authorization to act in the name of the citizens? This is not only a theory, but also results in practical obstacles. For example, being a “heavy weight global actor” will never be really on the agenda while falling short of prestige. (Let there be no mistake: national governments are the ones to represent the colorful national identities of Europe. There’s no possibility for a federalist Union – it’s out of the European cultural heritage of two thousand years.)

Building a wide-range social support around the European institutions requires the possibility for the citizens to take part in constructing Europe. Citizens will surely take their share in contributing something (e.g. reshaping Europe’s political image), if they feel that it’s useful doing so. This is why the European Convention was a revolutionary project, even if it failed later – although that failure was due to home affairs reasons, instead of European.

Debates on legitimacy have been on since the sixties, and now it’s time to act. Brussels and member states, bring it on.

Author :
EurActiv Network