Compact of European Citizens?

Comment on Richard Youngs, Democratizing Europe, Carnegie Europe and Foreign Affairs (August 8, 2016)

A more democratic compact?

Youngs invites his readers to support his ideas for a radical reorientation of the European Union’s political structure; no longer meddling through. He pleads for “a more democratic compact based on solidarity between citizens”. I have two comments: first on the urgency of the matter, second about citizens.

Urgency of reform

Although Brexit stimulates debate about the present dissatisfaction of many citizens with the EU, the urgency of reform of EU politics is far from clear. Of course, lip service is paid by many to public concerns. The Euro-crisis and the refugee crisis have produced impulses and formal steps that change EU political structures. However, you need wide spread urgency, over many European countries, in order to produce radical changes. In itself, imminent electoral succes of anti-EU parties is not (yet) enough to create urgency as long as it doesn’t affect Germany. External threats, like the refugee crisis or the Russian movements in Easternn Europe, are also not strong enough, to my mind. Political analysts have to work harder to produce a sense of urgency. (Ulrike Guérot’s Warum Europa eine Republik werden muss! comes close by presenting a smashing negative picture of how EU functions.)

Citizens of Europe or of the states?

The problem of not enough urgency has to do with my second comment: Citizens. Youngs’ article speaks of citizens and Europe, but his frame of reference is states and national governments. E.g.: States will choose from policy communities “to join depending on the preferences of their citizens.” In this way you never get a democratized Europe. As Fukuyama (in The origins of political order) elegantly summarizes, “accountable government” is a prerequite for a succesful modern state. In modern national states this has been achieved. But at the same time in almost all European states many citizens don’t think their national government is accountable to them. Representative parliaments are under scrutiny. So we have a double problem: National governments don’t get overwhelming support as representatives of their citizens, and organizing Europe through those states will not bring a European democracy any nearer. Even worse, eternally working through states keeps European citizens apart and potentially hostile towards each other (as the Greek crisis has shown).

Overcome national barriers

My idea of Europe is not a weak patchwork of divided nations, working through back room negotiations that always are unsatisfactory for an audience demanding accountability. Europe needs an audience, a political public, not supplanting national politics but complementing it. Without an European public you never get accountable European government. And here we can start something that is truly a “Compact of European Citizens”. Overcoming the barriers of national political parties by creating European political parties that can take votes for the EU parliament from every member state could be a step forward. Another step would be the adoption of English (yes, precisely after Brexit a good choice) as political working language (as Latin once was) for European politics. Thus we feed the coming to life of Europe wide news organizations and political communities.