We hear the phrase all the time “We need to bring Europe closer to its citizens” – or variations of it. I’ve had quite a guts full of those trite words in the last couple of days as I have been typing up the verbatim minutes of the Sound of Europe conference. Almost every speaker used a variation on the phrase at some point. But what are these people trying to say?
Inherent in the phrase is the need to make the European Union more relevant to its citizens’ lives. But why do we not say that? There is also the perception that the EU is somehow aloof and anti-democratic. Yet the term ‘democratic deficit’ deals with that one well enough. Does the phrase imply decentralisation – decisions taken according to the principle of subsidiarity? I don’t think this is what the politicians are implying.
We cannot phyiscally bring the EU institutions closer to the people without uprooting them from Brussels and most probably making them very inefficient by doing so. Further, the EU encompasses a large geographic area in which 450 million people live, so managing to make the EU feel as familiar as local or regional politics is just never going to happen – we should be OK with acknowledging this.
Last but not least, democratic political systems exist in India and the USA that cover enormous populations, and enormous land masses. It can be done, but with the caveat that there may well be some tensions between the regions and the centre.
So, from now on I personally resolve to never use the phrase “to bring Europe closer to its citizens” as it brings mixed and confusing messages. We should be cleat about what we want from the European Union, and realistic about what can be achived, and should not use trite phrases to shelter from that reality.