Democracy: Europe's Forgotten Ideal

By Watkins, James | Harvard International Review, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Democracy: Europe's Forgotten Ideal


Watkins, James, Harvard International Review


Seventeen months after the guns fell silent in Berlin, Winston Churchill proposed a "United States of Europe" to promote peace and well-being. The European people, devastated by war, embraced the concept of continental integration, but decades later, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's prospect of a "federal Europe" is widely scorned. The Euro crisis is by no means the only problem faced by the European Union; the European Union as a whole faces a crisis in its ability to compete with the powerful economies of the United States and China. However, a more dangerous threat is growing from inside the institution itself: a lack of legitimacy, democracy, and consent, and a growing gap between EU institutions and citizens.

As national leaden press for further European integration in their attempts to soothe the sovereign debt crisis, it seems that democracy has been low in their priorities. There is no longer the same public appetite for integration as there has been in the past, with growing levels of apathy towards European politics. If Churchill and Merkel are to be believed, the future of the European Union is as a powerful superstate; on its current path, it may well become the world's most illegitimate super-power.

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Despite how much sovereignty has been surrendered by constituent nations to the centralized EU policy-making bureaucracy (including control over trade, environmental and agricultural law, as well as monetary policy for the 17 Eurozone members) there has never been a direct public vote about membership of the European Union in eight member states, including Germany, Greece, and Italy. In many other countries, the referenda that have occurred referred only to the EEC (the European Union's predecessor), long before Europe had power over the political and social, as well as economic, functions of government. The legitimacy of the European Union's power is questionable in its current form, let alone in light of the increasingly inevitable prospect of tighter integration.

In response to the Euro crisis, in December 2011, a summit of leaders ended with a rushed renegotiation of the Lisbon Treaty, which allowed greater centralized control of the fiscal spending of all EU members, not only those in the Eurozone. It is clear that Europe is becoming a set of countries that are not only monetarily, but fiscally and even politically aligned. This is not to mention the imposition of strict austerity measures upon the peoples of Greece, Portugal, and Ireland. With the Euro crisis shaking the very foundations of European internationalism, leaders are currently pursuing a policy of more Europe, rather than less.

These "more Europe" policies have come at a cost. The European Fiscal Compact means that EU members no longer have complete sovereignty over their budgets; only Ireland has held a referendum to democratically legitimatize this transfer of power. …

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