The EU's democracy problem

J Clive Matthews
25 September 2007
Vote for Nobody

From the comments to Professor Fishkin's introduction to the concept of the Tomorrow's Europe poll, reader mcconeb gets to the heart of the matter: the EU's little problem with democracy. Have something to add? Leave a comment, or email it in to james.clivematthews [at] opendemocracy.net

James Fishkin's exercises are interesting. They would make excellent school projects or could be adopted on a wide scale for a more interesting form of opinion polling. However, before we talk about hypothetical ways of forming opinions and weeding out special interests, let us look at a more tried and tested one: the democratic system currently used in all European member states.

We have a party-based democracy in which parties stand for political positions, allowing all voters to have their say on the political direction they wish their country to take, through elected representatives. These representatives work to satisfy the demands of the electorate, not simply because it is their obligation/stated platform, but because of the fear that voter dissatisfaction will lead to defeat in future elections. As for those voters that are uninformed and uninterested, they are self-selected out of the equation by not voting.

Obviously, not a perfect system. There will be those who vote based on ignorance, there will be politicians who do not deliver on their manifestos, but it has worked surprisingly well for hundreds of years and delivered great improvements in the standards of living on the European continent.

Let's compare this to the situation at European-level politics.

  • The directly-elected parliament does not have Europe-wide political parties that present common platforms for European policy.
  • The Commission is only very loosely accountable to the parliament.
  • The decision-making process is dominated by national governments, whose mandate for election in their native countries very rarely focuses on what policies they aim to pursue in Europe.

Could it be that the current stalemate in Europe is due to the lack of good, old-fashioned democracy?

Could it be that our global disillusionment is because the process of increasing globalisation and interconnectedness are administrated by the UN, a body that has been congealed together from necessity and the horrors of war rather than democratically planned, a body with the minimum of enforcement mechanisms and democratic accountability?

In my opinion, we need to introduce good, old-fashioned, tried-and-tested democracy into the European and global levels of government, not struggle to break our deadlock by reinventing the wheel.

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