Representation in Europe

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Richard Bellamy (UCL) on the most pressing problems in regard to democratic representation in the EU and adequate political responses to it

The problem remains that citizens do not perceive that they authorize their various representatives to represent them on European matters in any of the senses described above, or to hold them accountable for what they do. The euro crisis has certainly enhanced that perception given that the fiscal compact takes key budgetary decisions out of the hands of elected governments, undercutting political competition over what has hitherto been regarded as the key issue of domestic policy.

The EU needs to distinguish more clearly than hitherto between policies and political practices that meet its declared aim of an ‘ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’ and those that pursue or could only be consistent with the creation of a European people. The prospects for the latter seem as remote as ever. Each extension of power for the EP has resulted in a decline in electoral turn out overall, suggesting that citizens do not identify the enhancement of direct control over EU policies as the appropriate means to have their views represented. Rather, there is a growing desire to have these views represented in the national sphere, with the failure to do so fuelling the growth of extreme right and euro-skeptic parties. The success of the EU and its popularity lay in enhancing mutual respect between the contracting Member States, ensuring all were treated equally regardless of size with the promotion of policies designed to avoid discrimination between countries and their citizens and to ensure all were capable of drawing maximum benefit from certain collective goods and could not harm the prospects of other states by burdening them with various negative externalities. The euro crisis has emerged in part because the tricky question of whether it would prove compatible with this scenario was avoided when it was adopted. Instead, policies have now been undertaken that lie directly contrary to the raison d’être of the EU in allowing some states to dominate others and impose policies upon them destined to leave them ever weaker. The solution has been said to be to centralize more. Yet that solution would simply deepen the crisis. Instead, a framework for decision-making that retains and makes even more explicit the principle of equality between peoples needs to be adopted within which sensible schemes for structural investment can take place that will enable growth rather than deepen recession.

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