Monday, 27 October 2008

Europe: Populism or democracy?

Ahead of the European elections in June 2009, we have seen two political trends. One the one hand, after the historic EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007 and since the beginning of the current Commission, the communitarian spirit seems to have ceded to increasing intergovernmentalism and national self-interest. The financial turmoil has accelerated both nationalistic responses and intergovernmental summiteering, with various ‘ad hoc’ initiatives thrown in for good measure. The Treaty of Lisbon would have brought some belated efficiency gains after the expansion to 27 members, but the Lisbon Treaty fails miserably in creating a European level democracy.

On the other hand, popular estrangement has increasingly favoured nationalistic and populist parties in national and sub-national elections. Referendums, purportedly on pan-European issues like the Constitutional Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty, have boosted anti-reformist and self-absorbed movements, left or right, in France, the Netherlands and Ireland.

Municipal elections in Finland are hardly hot stuff for international media generally, but the spectacular gains by the populist True Finns are the latest indication of anti-European sentiments on the rise. Although the True Finns captured less than six per cent of the vote, their swayed almost six times as many voters as four years ago.

The International Edition of Helsingin Sanomat has more:


More than ever, pan-European solutions and actions are needed to enhance our security and to regain our prosperity, but populations are increasingly rejecting the European leaders’ intergovernmentalist and functionalist project.

The group of wise persons has been expressly forbidden to even think about so called institutional issues, but today’s challenges do not call for institutional tinkering in the customary manner.

The wise persons ─ and the European leaders ─ have to look at the foundations of the European project. Without democratic legitimacy and accountability the European Union is running aground. Only a European Union based on its citizens can give us the foundations we need to weather the storms.

Ralf Grahn