European integration has proved to be a difficult issue for governments in many countries. Political leaders make deals, but in some member states the public seems markedly unenthusiastic. As Geddes1 explains, ‘the intensity of elite level debates about European integration within the political parties and in Parliament has not been matched by a similar fascination about European integration and its implications amongst the general public’. Many voters claim not to know about, not to understand and not to trust the EU and its workings. In Britain and some other countries, there is a high degree of scepticism about what is being done on their behalf.
Common policies have resulted in a situation in which important powers have been transferred from member states to Brussels. Individual citizens are therefore much influenced by the decisions made by EU machinery. But their opportunities to influence the making of those decisions are limited. Integration has developed more effectively than has the process of making the Union accountable to its citizens. The Commission is not accountable, the Council of Ministers meets behind closed doors and only Parliament is elected – but as we have seen in Chapter 5, it has traditionally lacked teeth.
In this section we explore the opportunities for groups and individuals to make known their views about the way in which the Union is evolving. How are they enabled to participate in its political life and have direct or indirect links with those who make decisions?
There are four main channels through which the peoples of Europe can influence the policies pursued by those who have the power to make decisions: via elections, referendums, political parties and pressure groups.