What's Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix it by Simon Hix

John Palmer
27 June 2008

John Palmer reviews What's Wrong With the European Union and How to Fix it by Simon Hix.

(Hix, 2008, Polity Press, 228pp)

In the midst of what has been a largely introverted - even turgidly morbid - debate about the future of the European Union following, the "No" vote outcome in Ireland's referendum on the EU Lisbon Treaty, the publication of a book which grapples with just why voter malaise with the EU has become such a problem is a healthy antidote. What's Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix it by Professor Simon Hix of the London School of Economics challenges much conventional wisdom by insisting that the EU suffers from too little politics - not too much.

At the heart of Hix's analysis is a conviction that it is long overdue for the peoples of the EU to be given a far greater voice in shaping the political future of the Union and the political character of its leadership. Hix believes that with - or without - the Lisbon Treaty - there should be far greater and more transparent choice about who should become the next President of the European Commission - the key executive body of the EU. This - he rightly believes - will encourage the political parties to openly contest each other's programmes for handling the current economic, social, environmental and other challenges facing the Europe in an ever more inter-dependent world.

In presenting his thesis to a meeting of the Federal Trust in London on June 25, Simon Hix was able to display a wealth of evidence showing the link between distrust of the EU and an even deeper distrust of national politics; elites and institutions, the growing divide between the better educated and more economically secure parts of the public (in general strongly pro-European integration) and the less well educated, less skilled and more economically deprived who regard the European process as indistinguishable from what they increasingly see as an out-of-control globalisation.

Simon Hix also demonstrated how in the elected European Parliament, political/ideological divisions are increasingly replacing conflicts based on mere national state of origin. He is rightly agnostic as to whether the new European political choices which should be presented to voters will revitalise existing party families based on the post French revolution ideological divide or will eventually replace them with new political formations and new divisions. In any case divisions and political conflict over the direction Europe should take will be far healthier than the unreal counter posing of "national" and "European" identities which dominates the present debate.

My only regret was that Simon Hix appeared to retreat a little from his original conviction that the open choice of different candidates for the Presidency of the Commission should be directly put to voters across the EU in the European Parliament elections next June and instead left - at least for now - to a decision to be made by national governments. It may be that the European parties will not have the capacity to rise to the democratic challenge. But the corrosive distrust which marks public discourse on matters European will not be countered by leaving decisions in the hands of governments which can and should be passed to the people.

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