How to interpret the current rise of Eurosceptic opinions and parties? Multiple factors are at play:
- The economic crisis reinforces the effect of inequalities and fuels a widespread crisis of confidence in political institutions and elites, not only at a European level, but also at national levels.
- Purely national factors play a role as well, particularly in the case of the UK whose European commitment has always been minimal and ambiguous.
- However, the rise of Euroscepticism is also linked specifically to the EU. Citizens see it as an institutional body that weakens national democracies and divests them of their power to control decisions. As competences are transferred to the EU level, people are motivated to resist.
The last point raises the question of the democratisation of European institutions. Today citizens are not able to regain at a European level the democratic influence they are losing at a national level.
Citizens’ democratic influence relies on the people’s ability to impose constraining popular mandates on decision makers.
At the Member States level, elections can result in national popular mandates because of a direct link between elections and decisions:
- Political parties, which are structured at the national level, compete to promote national platforms and leaders.
- The leader and political agenda of the executive power reflect the outcome of the election.
However, at European level, there is no European popular mandate:
- The national executives represented in the EU Council are elected on the basis of national mandates. Once they negotiate in Brussels, they enter into a diplomatic logic, seeking compromises that facilitate convergence among Member States but tend to disconnect them from their nation’s citizens. Their national mandate is either diluted in a depoliticised European majority or affirmed but isolated. In both cases, ‘Brussels’ seems to decide against national democracies.
- Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected, but on the basis of national campaigns led by national parties on national issues (for or against the national government). Here too the gap between the national nature of the elections and the European nature of the decisions leads to a dilution of popular mandates, as decisions are reached through unholy alliances and back-room deals. MEPs have the choice between defending a European mainstream that is out of touch with its citizens or embodying a purely national popular mandate that condemns them to political irrelevance in Brussels.
- As for the European Commission, it is appointed by governments and the Parliament. Thus, its link with voters is even more indirect, making it appear completely undemocratic.
The main cause of Europe’s democratic crisis is, therefore, citizens’ very indirect influence at a EU level, which prevents the emergence of any European popular mandate and, therefore, of a genuine European democracy.
In order to respond to this crisis, we advance three key proposals for the radical democratisation of the EU:
1) The direct election of the European Commission by the European People;
2) The creation of a European Citizens' Assembly, whose members would be drawn by lot and would have the power to block proposals contrary to the general interest;
3) The establishment of a European referendum on popular initiative, allowing all citizens of the Union to express themselves simultaneously on a legislative issue.