European Affairs

Democracy in the European Union.-Democratizing the European Union     Print Email
Michael D. Mosettig

By Dimitris N. Chryssochoou
By Catherine Hoskyns and Michael Newman, editors.

Reviewed by Michael D. Mosettig

Almost since its inception as the European Coal and Steel Community five decades ago, the European Union's growth has been accompanied by debates on how to develop its democratic dimension. These two books are a further contribution to the debate, but also a reflection of how far removed it often is from daily political realities in Europe.

Both political science texts focus much attention on creating a democratic European citizenry, a worthy ideal. But aspirations often conflict with the real world. The predominantly left-wing political scientists who have contributed to Democratizing the European Union urgently want to wrest power from the elites they believe are now in control. But they never mention the creation of the first truly modern European generation, an elite if there ever was one - the young, multi-lingual, well-educated high fliers who are such a presence in the City of London.

This is but one of a number of contradictions for the seekers of a more democratic Europe, or at least democratic in their terms. By a less expansive definition, Europe (post-Franco and post-1989) is a remarkably more democratic continent than it was 15 or 20 years ago, a development also under-estimated in these volumes.

A central paradox is that many measures bringing the European nations into a tighter union come with anti-democratic baggage and often remove decision-making power even further from local and national electorates. Foremost among them is the creation of a European currency and central bank. A critical element of economic policy-making has been further separated not only from national or popular control but also from transparency.

These books take differing views on political developments since the anti-European votes of the Maastricht Treaty referendums in 1992, the Danish no-vote and France's extremely narrow yes. Dimitris Chryssochoou, a Greek-born political scientist at the University of Exeter, puts a positive stamp on the expansion of the powers of the European Parliament, common European citizenship, with some voting privileges for citizens living in other EU countries, and increased adherence to the principle of subsidiarity. That is the concept, similar to the provisions of the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Consti-tution, that decisions should only be taken by the central authorities if that is the most effective way of governing, and that all other decisions should be taken as close to the citizen as possible, whether at national, regional or local levels. The authors of Democratizing the European Union tend to dismiss these measures as window dressing.

Both works are serious attempts by some of Europe's cutting-edge academics to address real problems of governance in a rapidly changing continent. For those most interested in the evolution of European institutions, Chryssochoou's analysis will be valuable. For those seeking a wider and more ideological canvas, Democratizing the European Union will be provocative.

Unfortunately, neither is likely to gain a very wide audience, wrapped as they are in often impenetrable academic language. (And Democratizing the European Union's clothbound price is equivalent to a dinner at a two-star restaurant). By mainly writing for their fellow political scientists, the authors inadvertently contribute to the problem they are trying to resolve.

Particularly disappointing is that neither book addresses a very real democracy issue roiling Europe right now and one that increasingly worries the professional democracy-promoters and think-tankers in this country. The economic and social turmoil and alienation created by globalization and Europeanization have churned up in Europe (inside and outside the Union) not so much the idealist and leftist demonstrators of Seattle but large numbers of angry citizens ready to vote for neo-fascist parties.

Indeed, when a democratic election in Austria produced an odious result, the inclusion of a far-right party in government, the first reaction of the Union was a diplomatic boycott of Austria. That response backfired, but more importantly left unresolved, especially in Scandinavia and among some countries seeking EU membership in Central Europe, the bigger question of the Union's commitment to democratic outcomes.

One hopes that Europe's best political minds - in and out of academia - are devoting as much energy to Europe's current and real democratic dilemmas as to the theoretical issues of institutional architecture and the development of an engaged pan-European citizenry that lie ahead in some distant future.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number II, Issue number I in the Winter of 2001.

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