Monday 23 June 2008

More on EU democracy

How long can ’Versailles’ continue oblivious of the fact that it has lost the love of the people and the respect of the intellectuals?

Roughly half of EU citizens may dream of the halcyon days of all-encompassing national level democracy, an illusion given voice and credence by anti-EU campaigners. Yes, an illusion, because the world has changed, and the European nation states are not up to the task of enhancing citizens’ security and prosperity on their own.

This, at least, should be acknowledged on the basis of the crushing pro-Lisbon votes of the ratifying parliaments after thorough deliberation.

But in addition to large segments of the populations, the European Council has managed to disillusion increasing numbers of pro-Europeans, who are free to speak their mind. Six decades of resistance against democratic legitimacy and accountability are taking their toll.

The ‘double legitimacy’ of the European Union suffers from the same flaw as other artificial qualifiers like ‘people’s democracy’, which was anything but democratic.

The only sustainable strategy to recover support and respect is to take the qualitative jump to real EU level democracy, giving the citizens the choice of changing their leaders and setting the basic course for the European Union.


Incidentally, if I counted correctly, this is my 27th post following and somehow related to the Irish referendum, the same as the number of member states.

I still believe that the substance of the Treaty of Lisbon would go some way towards an improved European Union, which is in the interest of the citizens of the EU.

But I now think that more fundamental values are at stake. Hardening resistance and growing disenchantment lead towards ultimate failure, if our leaders fail to heed the calls. Therefore the metaphor of 18th century Versailles.


The Federal Trust report by professor Vernon Bogdanor, mentioned in the preceding post, is worth careful thought. If my reading is correct, it has taken the member states and their creatures, the Council and the European Council, as inescapable, and then looked at what else can be done to improve democratic legitimacy and accountability in the European Union.

The proposed improvements would be real, although the structure of the EU would remain lopsided; perhaps not wholly unlike some early stage in Britain, when the powers of the House of Commons grew, but the Sovereign or the House of Lords remained the strong or even dominant players.

A lopsided but real democracy may be the most the citizens of the European Union can hope for in a near (or far) future, given six decades of fierce resistance from the member states' governments against any truly democratic system of European governance.


My proposal is that the (willing) governments of the European Union decide to introduce a European ‘Bill of Rights’ in conjunction with but above the Treaty of Lisbon. This means a solemn undertaking to introduce real democratic reform at the EU level. The pledge would contain the core reforms and a commitment to enact them at the earliest opportunity.

(In the United States the Constitution already laid the democratic and republican foundations of government, so the first amendment package had to address concerns about citizens’ liberties. Here Europe is behind the curve, not only by two centuries, but also qualitatively.)


Since many EU citizens still imagine that national democracy or safeguards against the general interest are viable options, the reasons for real EU level democracy would have to be thoroughly explained as well as enacted.

Possibly, this would happen in a pan-European referendum, and it would require a double majority of population and states.

In Ireland, a second referendum is possible only if the question is different, and elsewhere the prospect of real democracy would have to be understood and embraced.


In my book, the fundamental reasons for the European Union are: security and prosperity.

What is more political than security?

In other words, a future European Union able to employ all the soft and hard means of international politics is needed.

(The purpose and functioning of NATO do not cover this, although NATO remains an important transatlantic alliance. Therefore, a European Union reverting to become an economic community is not a desirable outcome for EU citizens as a whole, although some governments and electorates may not be ready for a union effective on the international stage.)

Such a fundamental European interest has to find working expressions even if some state governments and populations act as if oblivious of the fact. For them suitable arrangements have to be found, such as the European Economic Area (perhaps with some policy areas added) or a second tier EU membership.

A second split looks inevitable, too. I am afraid that the ingrained hostility of some member states to a democratic European Union is such that the only way forward is to leave them behind and institute a new citizens' union based on democratic legitimacy and accountability.


If one or two vessels belonging to a convoy cut their engines on purpose, are the rest to do likewise?

None-speed Europe lacking popular support and democratic legitimacy is not in the interest of the EU citizens.

Standing on its own, the Treaty of Lisbon is as much a problem as a solution with regard to the real issues of Europe.

Ralf Grahn


  1. I have been an active member of the Young European Federalists (Finland) for several years and a staunch pro-European. I've been aware of the democratic and other shortcomings of the EU throughout the years, but the Lisbon Treaty process and the reactions after the Irish referendum acted as a sort of wake-up call for me.

    I've been delighted to find this excellent blog, which resonates well with the utmost importance that I adhere to democracy and legitimacy as major issues for the future of the EU (additionally, of course, the blog offers a wide array of other things, too).

    There seems to exist quite a bit of disillusionment with the democratic credentials of EU leaders and the wisdom of the course of action they have chosen. I think true pro-Europeans are in the best position to act now, to honestly criticise the current politics, but without a hidden anti-EU agenda, while offering positive solutions.

  2. Lasse,

    I agree with you. There is need for the European Union, but a diiferent and better union:

    People who act for Europe, but are free to think and to speak their mind, in a positive but critical manner.


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