Bin Ballot Box - CC / Flickr
Bin Ballot Box – CC / Flickr

I am completely and totally sick of politicians who whine that the reason the EU will not work is because there is no European demos. Vaclav Klaus was at it again today in the EP, and Bruno Waterfield is practically jumping up and down with glee about the speech.

Well let me give the counter argument on this, something that is seldom put forward. I reckon people will vote for things if they understand its relevance to their lives; it’s not about whether they feel part of a wider group, a people, a demos.

For this my father is the prime example. He was born and brought up in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire but has lived for most of his adult life in Newport in South Wales. He speaks no Welsh, still backs England at rugby, and would never say that he is Welsh. He’s not in any way, as far as Klaus or others would term it, part of the Welsh demos. But he’s an intelligent man and realises that Newport City Council and the Welsh Assembly are important – they impact his life. So he votes. That should be a lesson to the European Parliament; my father will vote in the EP elections too, for the record.

Putting more control of the EU in the hands of national politicians is not the solution either. People should not be going to the polls in national elections according to the policies national parties take on EU questions. The equivalent in the UK would be voting for the Welsh Assembly on the basis of what the candidates thought should happen in Westminster, or voting for the Hessen Landtag according to what would then happen in the Bundesrat.

We essentially live in an era of multi-level governance, and it’s not that complex for people to grasp that different problems need to be solved with different politican institutions at different levels.

Having said all of that, MEPs are at the core of the problem. It’s impossible for MEPs to measure their impact, to state with any degree of honesty that X or Y will happen if the PES or the EPP is the largest party in the European Parliament after the elections. Until that happens there will always be a question mark over the legitimacy of the European Parliament. Having the European Political Parties put forward candidates for the President of the Commission (as I’m advocating with the Anyone But Barroso campaign) and essentially allowing the creation of a more socialist, liberal, conservative executive on the basis of the elections would be a start.

But all of that, I suspect, is rather unpalatable as it sounds a lot like federalism.


  1. (Trooper Thompson:) >> “everything else than full independence of European states is antidemocratic for him”
    And for me also, until such a time as the majority of EU citizens vote for a European state – and the EU would never dare risk such a referendum, I believe. <> Although I do not support them, there are arguments for a federal Europe, or some other arrangement. But these arguments are never heard from the political class in my country. <> It was a good pro-European speech. <<
    You are not right. How can be pro-European a speech of anti-European man? Nothing changes in it that Klaus happens to be right in some things.

  2. It was a good pro-European speech. He hit the nail on the head with his call for a debate.
    The idea of demos is important because it is about representation. No democracy without demos. The European Parliament is a very artificial body.
    A European demos is possible, there have been glimmerings in the past and with the referendums a spark of something in the present, a reaction against the fact that the EU is part an unrepresentative trend in government that all we Europeans share.
    All rulers, all states, all administrations make a case for being “relevant” or “legitimate” based on delivery, getting the trains to run on time, cutting mobile phone call prices, protecting children/the environment/tradition, all that sort of thing.
    So what? The issue is representation and the failure of European nation states and political parties to represent is a crisis of politics bigger that the EU – in fact one of preconditions for its present existence.
    Another plug
    Federalism is good idea if can be built on peoples.
    Jon, as someone who says he is a republican, you should watch the argument “we essentially live in an era of multi-level governance”.
    That can mean just about anything – usually an alibi for undemocratic government forms ranging from constitutional monarchy, to the House of Lords, to the EU we know so well.

  3. In open societies, political institutions earn their right to govern, but making small incremental improvements over the lives of the people they serve and represent. On the positive side the EU is still very young. I think it’s doing a lot more at age 50 than the US federal government was doing in the mid 1800s. That’s not to compare them directly and go down the federalist route, but still.

    As far as the EP is concerned, it needs a few more dynamic and talented personalities. People of the calibre of Emma Bonino, to single out just one. People who will take an issue and stand up on a pan-European platform to make their case. But we end up with too many dull time servers. Too many of the small number of talented MEPs get bogged down in the wrong kinds of issues.

    On reforming the CAP, if I had a euro for every time an MEP had said to me, I love what you’re doing, but I don’t have the resources/power/time to help you, I would have… well enough for a decent lunch somewhere in Brussels!

    On your suggestion of a more party-political Commission, I think you’re on dangerous territory. Down that road lies a European version of the situation in the 1980s and 1990s in the UK when Scotland and Wales consistently voted for Labour but got Tory rule from London. The result? The rise of nationalist parties and further pressure for fragmentation of the Union.

  4. “everything else than full independence of European states is antidemocratic for him”

    And for me also, until such a time as the majority of EU citizens vote for a European state – and the EU would never dare risk such a referendum, I believe. The whole policy from the beginning has been a slow-motion coup d’état.

    Although I do not support them, there are arguments for a federal Europe, or some other arrangement. But these arguments are never heard from the political class in my country. Instead they deny the reality of ‘ever-closer union’ until it has become a fait accompli.

    But I must say, I don’t blame the EU for this. The blame lies with the national politicians who have sold what they had no authority to sell; the sovereignty of their nation – and without sovereignty there can be no democracy, because the demos will have nothing to rule! What is the point of voting in parliamentary elections, when the politicians no longer have any power to change unpopular laws or policies?

  5. Václav Klaus maybe said “there was and there is no alternative to the European Union membership” but he would like to see the EU only as a free commerce zone, nothing more. He is not a democrat, his warnings about the civil society are famous (at least in the Czech republic). If he criticizes too much bureaucracy, he criticizes European unification in itself as a matter of fact. Everything else than a pure free commerce zone is too much bureaucracy for him, everything else than full independence of European states is antidemocratic for him.
    The argument about the people (demos) is naturally insane. The people arises with its state, there is no people (demos) without a state. People like Václav Klaus say it about the missing people because they want not so that the European state arises. From that point of view, everything is good as an argument.

  6. The flip side to that critique of parties is what alternative do we have? Otherwise we have governance by bureaucracy rather than governance by ideas. It’s the critique raised by Peter Oborne for which there is no easy solution.

  7. Good post.
    I’m not sure I share the conclusion that political parties hold the solution. I had the impression that parties and the tribal approach to politics were actually a major turn-off to voters.

    Very much agree that it’s possible to solve different problems effectively by operating at different levels of government. But while it shouldn’t be difficult to grasp that this is so intellectually, it is contraversial politically. Much of the debate in politics is actually about who is best placed to come up with solutions, not just what those solutions actually are.

    But identity matters too. As a voter, the political system that governs where I am belongs to me. I’m a Londoner and British, yes, but I’m also European. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be allowed to claim that part of my identity and consider myself part of a fledgling European demos. Just because it’s complicated and handled differently to the more local (geographically) political systems doesn’t mean I shouldn’t bother.

  8. All things considered, voting for one of the constructive political parties at the European elections is one of the ways to support the development of the European Parliament towards becoming the real representative of the European demos.

    Within the existing constraints, I think the directly elected EP is doing a decent job with regard to the interests of EU citizens.

  9. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen for President! 😉

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