A new deal for European democracy

In this blog post, Axel Henry explores how tides have changed dramatically in the past year in favour of more European integration.

After the shockwaves of Brexit and Trump’s election, Austria, the Netherlands and France have taken a 180° turn in electing open, liberal and pro-European leaders. The EU can and must take this opportunity to reform itself and reach a new settlement for a proper European democracy.

Whether we discuss the unity of the bloc in the coming Brexit negotiations or the global challenges of the 21st century, the problems ahead for the EU are huge: global warming, the fight against terrorism and the implication of technological changes on the labour market. To tackle these issues, the EU will have to recalibrate, giving much more power and consideration to its citizenry and ever-increasing demands for transparency and efficiency.

In the era of fast news and social media, the demand for participation in the decision making and co-construction of public action by the people has never been higher. People need to feel that their issues are being dealt with if voting for populists is not to become a more and more attractive option. This has been understood by political leaders at home but has yet to be taken into consideration at the European level. The need for deeper integration of people into the decision-making process does not stop on its way to Brussels; it should expand. It is time for a reform of the decision-making process and it is time to move from a culture of nationally and politically oriented consensus to a full European wide, citizen-oriented organisation.

We stand at a turning point because never have the stars been so well aligned to move forward to a new European deal. Being pushed by France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Benelux, the EU leaders seem more than ever open to a profound reconstruction of the EU and the way its institutions work. It is time for the European Parliament to take the lead in the decision-making process. Democracy is the core value of all European nations, and nothing better than a parliament represents the core ideas of democracy and it is time for the European Parliament to reaffirm its support for Spitzenkandidaten. It is time for the European Parliament to impose its choices when it comes to the composition of the Commission and for it to build an agenda for reform and action. At last, the European Parliament needs to come in front of the citizens as the body that represents their interests and as the most efficient body of the European Union, not as a talking shop.

In that regard, we should see the 2019 European elections as a test for better European organisation. It is vital to Europeanise these elections to be able to give the European Parliament full and complete legitimacy in its role of representing the people. People and the media across Europe will have to focus the campaign on EU-wide choices that will shape the action for the next parliamentary term. European political parties need to make their voices heard and reach out to the citizens. Two elements will make this possible. The first one is the designation of the Spitzenkandidaten through open, national, European primaries that will see the candidates campaign for their manifestos across Europe. This will highlight the EU-wide subjects that will be at stake in the coming term. The second one is the integration of the European political parties, together with national parties, in the 2019 electoral campaign. Placing the European political parties’ logos alongside those of local and national campaigns will further Europeanise the subjects for both the media and citizens throughout the campaign trails. The last Legislative Elections in France have indeed demonstrated the importance of party/movement affiliation.

These two elements alone won’t save Europe, but they will bring European citizens closer to their European political representatives with a Parliament in which they trust and that better represents them. It will also bring the EU institutions closer to the people, by a profound Europeanisation of the political agenda and decision making through the European Parliament and this New European Deal.

Axel Henry

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3 thoughts on “A new deal for European democracy”

  1. Very much in agreement! I especially like that you’re proposing primaries. Who would be allowed to vote in these primaries? I can sense great potential for alleviating the democratic deficit that is often mentioned.

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    1. To me, the whole idea of Primaries loses its purpose if the determination of who is allowed to vote is restrictive. Anyone registered on electoral lists should be able to vote, with a participating fee that would finance the organisation, much like what right- and left-wing parties organised in France before the Presidential election.

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      1. I’m unsure. Observers noted that the French primaries led to presidential candidates that were relatively unknown and easy prey for the political opponents in the shape of Front National and En Marche.

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