The European Union (EU) is frequently accused of constraining and weakening national democracies. On the other hand, history teaches us that democracies are often far more likely to suffer as a result of being too small and divided among themselves than as a result of being united.
Democracy and Europe are two sister ideas. Both were born in Greece, around the 6th century BC. Both developed in the classical period, marked by the geopolitical opposition between the Europe of Greek cities and the Asia of the Persian ‘Great King’. We should remember this historical connection. It is now more vital than ever to reactivate it.
The European Union (EU) often is considered impossible to transform because it is governed by treaties that only can be revised by unanimity. While national politics, despite all the limitations of representative democracy, is an arena in which competition is arbitrated through universal suffrage, European politics often is perceived as being totally out of citizens’ control, governed through elitist, and often confidential, negotiations that are insensitive to the public’s discontent and aspirations. Are there only two choices––accept the EU as is or leave it?
Without knowing the outcome of the next European Parliament (EP) elections, or the name of the future President of the European Commission, we can already affirm that the Spitzenkandidat system has failed.
An idea is haunting Europe. In the UK, it is invoked by both Brexit opponents and supporters. In France, it is the main demand of the Yellow Vest movement. In Eastern Europe, it crystallises confrontations between governments and civil societies. Everywhere new parties, citizen movements and associations appear with the intention to defend it and work to improve it. Dating back to ancient times, it is forever young, never to be taken for granted, always in struggle. It is democracy.
The Manifesto for the Democratisation of Europe, promoted by economist Thomas Piketty and recently published in several European newspapers, is a welcome contribution to the debate on EU democratisation. Instead of waiting for elected officials to propose reforms, the citizens who signed this manifesto have decided to put an ambitious project on the table to launch a Europe-wide public debate. This is exactly the kind of bottom-up initiative that the EU needs today. Does this project respond to the aim of democratising Europe? Unfortunately, not really.
We, citizens, Europeans and democrats:
CONSIDER that the European Union is plagued more than ever by old and new evils: elitism, which confines debates and decisions to a small circle of leaders; immobilism, which increasingly hinders reform; national egoisms of all kinds, which maintain the illusion that problems can be solved by being pushed to neighbours; authoritarianism, which threatens public freedoms.
My name is Pierre Haroche and I am a co-founder of À nous la démocratie, a French-based citizens' movement dedicated to promoting direct democracy at a local, national and European level.
This blog presents our manifesto and our 3 proposals for Europe's democratic regeneration, as well as my personal views on the topic.