Thursday, 29 December 2011

Beyond economics: closing the EURO's democratic deficit

Like most Irish people I've always been broadly in favour of the EU project despite having only a vague idea of where its leading.The EU has brought economic benefits to Ireland and been a force for the liberalisation of our society. But it's always bothered me that the EU's democratic roots run so shallow; very few EU citizens have any understanding of how its institutions work, how laws are made and decisions are reached, or what any of the treaties actually mean. In Ireland, members of the EU parliament are usually elected for reasons of local politics that have nothing to do with Europe. And recent referenda have shown that the citizens of the EU have no real sense of being part of a European entity; each referendum is debated on the single basis of whether its a good economic deal for the country.

Now we see the culmination of this democratic deficit: governments will do anything to avoid a popular referendum on Europe as they know it will almost certainly be defeated. This is certainly the case in Ireland and Greece at the moment, and probably in most of Western Europe too. The EU project, worthy as it may be, does not have popular support. In fact, if not legally, it no longer has democratic legitimacy.

So while I remain broadly in favour of the EU project, we need to find a way to engage the population of Europe with its aims now - or completely remodel the EU to reflect what its citizens actually want. Whatever the hell that might be...

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