Judging by these comments from the Economist’s ‘Charlemagne’, the faithful are becoming fearful:
The EU boasts of being a union of democracies. But its crisis of legitimacy is intensifying as it delves more deeply into national policies, especially in the euro zone. One problem is the evisceration of national politics: whatever citizens may vote for, southerners end up with more austerity and northerners must pay for more bail-outs. Another is that the void is not being filled by a credible European-level democracy. Ancient Greeks could more readily seek the intercession of Olympian gods than today’s citizens can hope to change policy in Brussels. A separate but related problem is that the EU struggles to maintain democratic norms among its members, as in Hungary.
Eurocrats’ reply to these conundrums is a flawed mantra: that “more Europe” must always be matched by “more European Parliament”. Directly elected since 1979, MEPs have gained many powers. This week they rejected European leaders’ arduously negotiated budget compromise. Yet falling turnouts for European elections suggest they have not won voters’ respect.
Indeed they have not. The parliament is sleazy, profoundly illiberal, and a disgrace to the ideal of European democracy. It is also increasingly powerful. Its abolition would be a giant step forward in any attempt to return real power to the peoples of Europe. And no, that’s not going to happen.
Instead, as Charlemagne notes, other schemes may be tried to cure the EU’s–to use the euphemism–democratic deficit. But none of them can get round that one awkward, incontrovertible fact: there is no European demos. And without a demos, there can be no democracy.
Part of the answer lies in strengthening national parliaments’ oversight of ministers’ actions in the EU. And part lies in making the EU more responsive to voters’ wishes. If European political groups want a bigger role, they will have to be tougher with their own; the European People’s Party, the biggest family, does not question the presence of Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi in its midst.
Fair enough on the first point. But the logic of the second is curious. As part of making itself “more responsive” to voters the European Peoples Party (a pan-EU grouping of the center-right) must purge elements within it that quite a few voters, rightly or wrongly, actually seem to, you know, like?
A return to economic growth would do much to preserve the EU’s legitimacy. If the recession and mass unemployment in the European periphery persist into next year, politics may become dangerously polarised. Forget about EU jobs. If Europe makes the leap towards a new demos—it may be one united in wanting to get rid of the euro and the bastards in Brussels.
A return to growth strong and sustainable enough to make a difference is something to be wished for. And the sooner the better. But it is a stretch to argue that more prosperous times would “preserve” the legitimacy that the EU has, in fact, long since lost. What it might do, however, is keep people quiet, but that’s something very different. As for that last sentence—the bit about “get[ting] rid of the euro and the bastards in Brussels”—what was it that someone used to say around here?
Oh yes: faster, please.
(But a northern euro will do for now).