The EU in microcosm

J Clive Matthews
23 October 2007

Such was the claim of the organisers of the Tomorrow's Europe poll, and the more I think about it, the more right I think they were.

Because, you see, the more I've been pondering whether or not the 362 people who attended the deliberation can truly be representative of the 500 million people who make up the EU, the more I've started to wonder just what the chances are of any "representative" body from such a large group looking anything like the group as a whole.

Earlier this year, the Guardian had a fascinating report on the lack of racial representation in the European Parliament - of 785 MEPs, only nine are non-white where, based on estimates of the non-white European population, the figure should be nearer 40. In the Tomorrow's Europe group, I spotted only two non-white faces where, based on the same estimates, in a group of 362 there should have been nearer 18.

Of course, the very concept of representative democracy relies on the idea that each and every minority demographic doesn't have to be physically represented in order to be effectively represented - resemblance is not the same as representation.

But this still leads to a problem of deciding at what level the lack of representation of a specific group becomes a problem. In the Tomorrow's Europe poll, three Maltese took part in the deliberation as opposed to two non-white people. Yet the Maltese population of Europe is only 404,000 - the non-white population is nearer 25 million, and as much as 50 or 60 million by some estimates. Is it right that the Maltese should be represented so distinctly where non-whites are not - either in the Tomorrow's Europe poll or the European Parliament?

And herein lies one of the fundamental problems of democratic representation in the EU. If we take the distinction between the individual member states to mean something, a fair democratic system - at least, as most people would understand it - is not possible. For how can the Maltese be effectively represented when, with a population of 404,000, they would not qualify for even half a German MEP? As noted earlier in this blog's coverage, there are 800,000 people per MEP in Germany, but just 80,000 people per MEP in Malta. Why should a Maltese vote be worth ten times a German one?

The same problem naturally faced the organisers of the Tomorrow's Europe poll. With some countries having populations far larger than many others combined, how is it possible to ensure that every EU member state is represented without some having too few participants, some too many based on their population size?

And - most importantly - if each member state has to be represented, no matter how small their population, is there any way the EU can ever be truly democratic? Or is it just that the European parliament - and the Tomorrow's Europe sample - is too small? Should the European Parliament contain 1,250 MEPs, just to ensure that Malta qualifies for one in terms of population (500 million divided by 400,000)?

The people who criticise the EU for its lack of democracy are frequently the self-same people who moan about their national interests being overriden by the unelected Brussels bureaucrats. But if national differences continue to be considered important and worthy of protection, is there really any way of bringing greater democracy to the EU?

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