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Will the EU be the death of democracy?

Part of the Crisis in Europe debate series, organised by the European Network of Houses for Debate "Time to Talk", with the support of the Open Society Institute

7:00pm, Thursday 31 May 2012, Goodenough College, London

European democracy is in the spotlight this month with the French Presidential elections, Greek general election and Irish referendum all occurring in May. EU critics Declan Ganley and Brendan Simms recently wrote of ‘the sucking wound that is really eating away at Europe’s vitality,’ the undemocratic and unaccountable nature of the European Union. Increasingly the EU is even defining itself in opposition to popular mandate and majority politics. The current Euro-crisis has now swept away elected governments in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Holland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Moreover, an Irish ‘No’ vote has been dismissed long before that country’s referendum on the ‘Treaty for stability, coordination and governance in the economic and monetary union’. This aims to enshrine Eurozone fiscal rules in national constitutions policed by the European courts. But this treaty only needs 12 out of the 17 Eurozone member signatories to ratify it, overthrowing the principle of unanimity held for all previous EU treaties. So whether they vote yes or no, the Irish people’s wishes are likely to count for nothing.

Expert technocrats and bureaucratic mechanisms are now considered more reliable than the fickle will of the people. German chancellor Angela Merkel says, ‘The debt brakes will be binding and valid forever. Never will you be able to change them through a parliamentary majority’. What does this say about the EU’s attitude to national, let alone popular sovereignty? In fact, some defenders of the European project explicitly disavow the principle of sovereignty, warning that reaction against the EU takes the form of dangerous and selfish parochialism: Little Englanders, Little Hungarians, True Finns. So is the EU the only realistic means of achieving European integration? Or could the idea of Europe be saved if we follow Ganley’s and Simms’ plea for the EU to be radically reformed into a new, radical and democratic body?

Arguably there was a problem with democracy in Europe before the current crisis - seen in a growing apathy and disengagement from politics - but certainly the crisis has made it much more acute. Popular reactions in Spain or Greece against the austerity packages are widely seen in political circles as a futile protest against unavoidable economic pain. But might allowing national publics to decide a nation’s best strategy for getting out of the recession be more successful than the fiscal compact advocated by the EU? Perhaps, as protestors chant and growing numbers of economic commentators note, the centralised austerity packages, designed to save the Euro rather than stimulate growth, are a barrier to any possibility of increasing national GDPs? So, did the EU kill democracy? Is it being reborn on the streets of Europe? What is happening to Europe under the EU today and how should democrats respond?


Brian M. Carney, member, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe’s editorial page

Brian Denny, convenor, No2EU:Yes to Democracy

Declan Ganley, founder and chairman, Libertas

Brendan O’Neill, editor, spiked

Linda Yueh, Economics Editor Bloomberg TV, Adjunct Professor of Economics at London Business School, Fellow at Oxford.


For Greece – and Europe – the true calamity is to delay exiting the euro, Simon Jenkins, Guardian 15 May 2012
Who’s your daddy? Germany, apparently, Fintan O’Toole, Irish Times, 15 May 2012
Posturing against austerity: an infantile disorder, Brendan O’Neill, spiked, 9 May 2012
Noonan comments criticised, Irish Times, 1 May 2012

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