Friday 2 December 2011

Eurocrisis, Democratic Deficit and the Re:New Conference

Throughout the Re:New Conference references were made to that most European of monsters: Merkozy. Yesterday Sarkozy spoke, and today Merkel has spoken in the Bundestag about Europe and the Eurozone. While European integration - and a new treaty - was held up to be necessary, Merkel rejected Eurobonds as expensive and unconstitutional. At the same time, the European Parliament has passed a resolution, declaring that it should have equal powers with the Council over any new features of economic union (such as an EU Finance Minister) so that there is sufficient democratic oversight.

The same day Sarkozy, in Gaullist mode, firmly signalled that any further changes would be purely intergovernmental:

""The reform of Europe is not a march towards supra-nationality," Sarkozy said. "Europe will reform itself by pragmatically drawing the lessons of the crisis. The crisis has pushed the heads of state and government to assume greater responsibilities because ultimately they have the democratic legitimacy to take decisions."

"The integration of Europe will go the inter-governmental way because Europe needs to make strategic political choices.""

At first sight the battle between Merkozy and the EP might seem to be a foregone conclusion: the duo have sidelined the EU institutions so far in the Eurocrisis and Treaty change is itself intergovernmental, so how much power can influence can the Parliament, with falling turnout numbers, and the Commission, which has hardly been bursting with energy, bring to bear. However, intergovernmentalism favours secretive processes and large countries over transparency and smaller countries. I've written before about the faultlines dividing the European debate, and these will spur some Member States to fight for more supranationalism.

In the long run intergovernmentalism will be a mistake as is disempowers citizens and promotes a cynical them-and-us culture between the rest of us and the Paris-Berlin duopoly that is unhealthly for European politics and damaging to democracy. But it's also damaging in the short term - by going for intergovernmentalist solutions, the suspicion and anger with the Franco-German concentration of power will crystalise: should this summitry with France and Germany at the top - which has hardly worked wonders during this crisis - be not just for crises, but for life? Without QMV, Commission oversight and Parliamentary input, the majority of the Eurozone and Non-Eurozone states and citizens are threatened with the prospect of being marginalised within the EU structure. So far we've been working ad hoc, pretty much outside of the treaties. Now we're talking about committing ourselves to these governing structures by treaty.

That's not to say that the European Parliament is a great cure for this democratic deficit: though over last weekend I saw a PES that spoke like an opposition and proposed a different vision for the EU, as an opposition the PES, and other Europarties, remain too detached from citizens and even their national parties. It seems to me that supporters of a more democratic EU need to focus more energy on reforming the Europarties so that they can seriously propose new policies and debate them in public. This requires not just some autonomy on the part of the Europarties - you could argue they have autonomy at the moment since the national parties don't pay much attention to them for policy matters - but commitment from the national parties to help shape, debate and campaign on these policies.

With the PES in opposition almost everywhere in the EU, this should be easier for them to achieve. Could a basic common platform not provide a voice for the centre-left during the crisis both in Member States and at the EU level? The divisions between national parties and the protection of national party autonomy from European commitments are great and understandable, but it's hard to see how the centre-left - the opposition - can effectively put forward their own narrative and solutions if they cannot build a European coalition, even on a basic level, that can make their visions at a national level sound realistic. Given that pan-european crises of this scale are - thankfully - rare, I wouldn't expect much progress to happen in this area, which is why I hope a contest between Europarties for the Commission Presidency would push politics further along this path. But that's too long-term, and this crisis is progressing too rapidly.

I'm not a member of a political party, but if I believe in promoting democracy at a European level, then perhaps I should become one and add my voice, in whatever small way, to the need for a better European politics. Because we can't just hope that it will simply emerge to inspire a demand for it; rather those of us who want it should demand it, and demand it loudly. Despite my criticisms of the lack of policy at the PES Conference, I did see some vision there. If we want to have an inclusive EU rather than a concentrated summitry, then we'll have to strengthen our Europarties so they can represent us better.

1 comment:

  1. It is ironic that the European Parliament is thought to have a democratic deficit when the average population in a MP's district is about 50,000 less than in an average US House district. As I argue in, the US House could become more democratic by expanding to 751 seats, which we now know is viable.