February 27, 2018
In the European field of studies, the term democracy comes in all shapes and sizes. Whether it is through a historical lens or questioned on matters of validity under the term deficit, it is undeniably at the core of our political sphere in western civilization. Democracy is something my generation grew up with, this generation is rightly referred to as generation; ‘wall’ (post-Berlin wall). True non-democractic states we have only encountered via news outlets. Even when someone visited an authoritarian country, it is often as a tourist with a large backpack around their shoulders trying to find themselves along with the thousands of others (me including).
Still, the topic of democracy as a value has been up for debate many times and started already in the first democracy during the antiquity and onwards. There are many angles to which you can approach a value such as democracy within the European Union. The question I ask myself often is whether the EU is democratic enough to my liking.
Institutional changes have been made over the years, with the last big one packed as the Lisbon treaty. On the praising side when analyzing the democratic worth of the European Union the Lisbon treaty has always been pointed to as evidence of the many institutional democratic changes it provided. European citizens vote for the European Parliament, and if it gets an increase in power the EU becomes more democratic. And citizens have more input through the citizens initiative. Hard to argue against.
On the criticising side, however, most often people argue on the basis of legitimacy. How can something be democratic if only a small percentage goes to the voter ballots and are actually represented in the parliament? There does seem to be a lack of demos or the people when referring to the European Union, is it than a true democracy?
Arguments for both sides are compelling, and as a supporter, to a fluctuating degree, of the European Union project, I must say that I am, as in similar cases, in the dead center when it comes to the opinion on this topic. On paper, the EU is as much of a democratic unity as can be expected from such a large supranational community. All evidence is there. Yet, when those on the right side of the political spectrum point to a lack of democracy on the basis the people’s involvement I have to agree with them just as much.
I bet many who are interested in the field of European studies are conflicted when it comes to debates such as these. Bottomline however, there is an observable pattern talking about axioms such as democracy, ideals and core values come into play. What do we prioritize, and why?
Core values are not simply explained by the left and right division of politics, never black and white. If you have read only a small summary from any western political philosopher, they point towards human nature, the metaphysics, and epistemology. This does not bring us closer to any guideline on what stance to take when talking about new European proposals concerning democratic improvements. If only there was a BuzzFeed quiz one could take to determine your personal opinion about democracy rather than what kind of cheese you are. Alas, perhaps technology in the future will determine this for us like the sorting hat in Harry Potter.
The sherpa I often use is closely related to deductive reasoning. I think of what I deem as important in a political community and from there try to formulate opinions on the specific case by case basis so there is always a foundation for my argumentation (easier said than done). But the opposite can be used just as much. The starting point with inductive reasoning will be to look at the certain topics that are up for debate, chose which stance to take and from there on accumulating all stances into one solid ideology.
A practical example, to reflect on my ideology, is the debate on transnational lists. Driven by Macron, transnational lists aim to fill the MEP seat gap left by the departure of Britain with MEPS that are not based on national affiliation. It would mean that if such an MEP would want support it does not only need to campaign in their own country but also can assemble support across Europe.
This new proposal has both positive and negative sides that are easily found. Creating ‘ free-for-all’ seats means that the candidates for these positions will be campaigning harder across Europe increasing the overall awareness for the European election and hopefully increase the voter turnout. But on the flip side of the coin, these seats might give bigger countries the advantage due to that people in general vote with a preference for those from their own country. The elitist factor is also a worrying issue, where MEPs are not tied to a country thus cannot be held accountable in future national elections.
Even in the European Parliament, there was a big divide on this issue where expected results were different from reality. Federalists voted against the list even though it would mean more power to the people and more election awareness. It shows that there is no common agreement on the foundational concept that is the democracy. Even if debating is an extremely important aspect of the political discourse, in a community such as Europe a common system of shared values is needed to keep progress going forwards.
Even if democracy is an ideal, it is worth striving for. The creation of a political community, even if cliché, should always be; for, of, by, and with the people. The European Union is criticised for it merely being a for the people-oriented organism, and I think with the current rise in nationalistic populism it is most important to give the people a stronger say or hold representatives more accountable. Involve them rather than shun them for their anti-diversity ways. The creation of the European demos should be at the top of the priority list, and transnational seats could be the right tool succeed. The technocratic informing strategy is simply not effective enough to reach a wide audience.
How this demos would look like is of course entirely dependant on the political philosophy of those newly interested voters and the election in 2019 will be determining the trajectory of the EU.Author : JR117