The crisis of the democratic legitimacy of the European Union is very serious, and the optimism regarding its future can hardly and scarcely be found. At the same time, the upcoming elections for the European Parliament should provide hope in its brighter future, but to the citizens the EU remains distant, complicated and “intended for” someone else’s interests. In addition, in the midst of the daily struggle with existential challenges citizens lack motivation to participate in the political life on their own turf, and let alone on some imaginary EU level. However, the possibility for the European elections to become a small, but still one of the first steps towards the reduction of the democratic deficit of the European union should not be discarded in total.
Although the democracy implies that all subjects to a decision should participate in the decision making, in reality, almost all political decisions are made by so-called political elites, and the role of the citizens is reduced to the possibility of accepting or rejecting the people who rule, through periodical elections. This is maybe the most obvious in the European Union where all mayor complaints are aimed towards its over-bureaucratisation and towards the web of various interests among which the troubles of the little man easily get lost and never make it to the agenda. Are we speaking here of the falsification of democracy and could it be reinstalled and returned to the citizens? – these questions should be an indispensible part of the discussion about its future.
In the meantime, the discussion on the possible amendments of the Treaty on the European Union are stalled, and this is where we should have expected some directions for building a truly functional Europe. Do not forget, the German chief chancellor Angela Merkel in her inaugural address to the German Parliament spoke of this topic and said that she “knows that in some countries difficulties exist in pushing for the amendments of the Treaty, but those who want more Europe, also have to be prepared to reregulate new competences…”.
Clean-handed political elites wanted
During the past several weeks, only three days after the International women’s day the European Parliament sent out a message to the female citizens of the EU that the equality does not refer to them, namely, on the March 11, at the plenary session the report on equality between women and men in the European Union got rejected . This sent the women’s rights movement back in time by 50 years, in addition there are no female candidates for the head of the European Commission. This happened in spite of the fact that one of the roles of the European Parliament is to promote and strengthen the women’s rights, equality and justice in the society, and if we add to that the limitation of the freedom of movement, we can ask ourselves where exactly in this entire story can we find a place for the citizens?
And also, we read that many citizens perceive the European Union “as Eurovision – everybody can participate, but the “big” ones hold the right of direct participation “with no real competition”, in other words, they make all the decisions anyway regardless of the participation of all members of the Union. The others are here to maintain some cohesion, although we should not be naive about this as well.” In such a context the question is what could make the ones who perceive Europe as a parody of democracy change their minds? Is it possible to develop different mechanisms of democracy at the European Union level, for example apart from the European Citizens’ Initiative in some near or far future, and then introduce direct citizens’ decision-making on the Union budget?
These issues are, of course, more far-reaching and complex and exceed the scope of a one-year electoral campaign, but even if we missed to discuss them before, now could be a good time to start. For the umpteenth time, however, it seems more important to drag out the old dusty topics, well known to all, but having noting or little to do with the current problems, and even if the links exist, the so-called elites do not initiate debates and as usual seem to be completely uninterested for any conversations. To be fair, this is not a problem reserved for Croatia only, because all campaigns of all European elections ever held were always dominated by national topics, this time around the rising eurosceptisicm just additionally worsens the situation.
Is there any cure for the growing populisms, especially the right wing ones? – we asked Bert Šalaj, the professor at the University of Zagreb Faculty of political sciences, he spoke of the radical and extreme right wing parties which are on the rise lately in several European countries: “Their rise is a consequence, first of all, of an increasingly worsened economic situation and the citizen’s growing distrust in the so-called mainstream political elites. The cure is, therefore, pretty simple, but at the same time, I’m afraid, unattainable in the short or mid-term period: the emergence of competent and clean handed political elites that will abide by the principles of liberal democracy and improve the standard of living for the citizens.”
Who shall democratise the European Union?
Is there a “hidden stash” of social capital somewhere? “Unfortunately, the crisis of the democratic legitimacy of the European Union is very serious. The democratic deficit of the European Union originates from the fact that all most important decisions are usually made behind closed doors and far from the eyes of the public, by the European political elites and appointed European Commissioners and bureaucrats. The citizens are completely marginalized in this process. Such a model, regardless of how we choose to call it – the democracy of the elites or oligarchy, is completely unacceptable, both on the national and the European Union level. At the moment, unfortunately, I do not see a serious political force on the horizon, that could advocate for the democratization at the European level”, Šalay is not an optimist.
Equally so, he is not optimistic about the EU MP elections being the first step in the democratisation of the democracy, although this possibility should not be completely discarded. The fact is, “that the elections for the European Parliament are an event of the second or even third rate political significance.” The European Parliament is the only body where we find the directly elected citizens’ representatives, however, its role in the process of formulating and adopting European public policies remains extremely insignificant.” On the other hand, the question arises, how could the results of the EU elections impact the national politics, but here also, Šalaj speaks of the significance of these elections being “merely symbolic, serving as a platform for a standoff and assuming positions for the upcoming national parliamentary elections. Similarly, the election campaign will be focused more to the local, i.e. Croatian political issues, and far less to the issues related to the future of the European Union.”
Therefore Šalaj “sees no other way the election results could impact the national policy, and no sign that the mainstream political parties and candidates have reached any awareness of the fact that the future of the European Union cannot be build solely on interests, but that a common political culture and political identity must also be considered. Exceptions exist, of course, but the influence of the politicians who are aware that this course of the EU development is completely wrong, is still not powerful enough”. Will the citizens recognise them, this is a separate topic, but hope should never be left behind, and as naive as it may sound, the truth is that we may not be so thrilled by democracy any more, but this does not mean that, to paraphrase our previous words, we should give up on our ideals. Otherwise, not much remains…
This text is one in the series “EU elections- the first step in decreasing the democratic deficit in the EU”, that, as its title states, deals with ways how the elections for the members of the European parliament (EP) can contribute to the decrease of the democratic deficit in the European Union by closing the gap between the alienated citizens and “the bureaucratized EU monster”. The project of a series of journalist papers, originally published at the non-profit portal www. gong.hr, was supported by the Ministry of Culture.
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