Democracy in Crisis: The White Paper on European Governance
To the European Union, which prides itself in addressing the concerns
of the "peoples of Europe", the discovery that more people in Britain
voted on the popular TV show "Big Brother" than bothered to turn out for
the European elections came as something as a shock. When this low turn–out
was reflected throughout the member states of the European Union, it precipitated
something close to panic in the corridors of power throughout Brussels
and its satellites. The ungrateful people, it appeared, were loving the
wrong Big Brother. For those used to the indifference of the European
Union to the democratic process – where unelected technocrats have routinely
ridden rough–shod over the wishes of the people – such concern for the
failure of the democratic process might seem, on the face of it, something
of a paradox. After all, since they had cared so little for democratic
assent up to now, why should they now have been so bothered by such an
apparently minor setback?
With that comes the possibility of popular resistance. To forestall that,
the Union needs to be able to claim that it has a democratic mandate –
hence the concern at the almost universal lack of interest in the European
elections. Even more, its politicians want it to be "loved". After all,
"Mother Europe" is building a new future for us and they want this to
be recognised. Serious academics have written earnestly about the lack
of "affective bonds", one complaining that "the Union has not so far been
able to offer its citizens any kind of mobilising proof of love".
In another almost comic parody of the reality, EU politicians diagnose
the lack of interest in the European agenda as arising from a lack of
action by "Europe" rather than from too much. Therefore, their answer
to what they call the "democratic deficit" has not been to slacken the
pace of integration.
Taking its cue from the politicians, the European Union’s Commission grandly
announced that "In order to act effectively and provide leadership, we
must sustain the pace of change to the very fabric of the European Union
itself. It will need further integration…"2. This came from a Commission
that had only just been re–appointed after the scandals of the late 1990s,
during which the then Commissioner Edith Cresson had formed an interesting
and financially rewarding relationship with her dentist – at the European
taxpayers’ expense. In other words, a Commission, which lacked popularity
and, more importantly, credibility, needed to do something to assure public
support. In the manner of a magician pulling something from his capacious
hat, the Commission lighted on what it felt would be the ultimate crowd–pleaser
– reform. Further integration had to be "backed by a systematic policy
From the start of the new Commission’s tenure in 1999, "reform" became
the new mantra. Nevertheless, we had to wait until 26 July 2001 for a
"white paper" to find out what this "reform" involved. By that time, however,
the European Union was having to come to terms with more than just the
low turn–out at Euro–elections. There had been the Irish "no" vote on
the Nice Treaty, Denmark had rejected the euro and the Swiss had voted
against joining the EU; there had been the riots at Gothenburg, where
the peace–loving Swedes had managed to shoot a protester dead. The sense
of panic intensified and a feeling of crisis gripped the Community elite.
For them, it was a "crisis of democracy".
Despite being greeted with near universal indifference reminiscent of
the wild enthusiasm for the Euro–elections, this White Paper is one of
the most important initiatives to come out of Brussels in recent times.
For all the acres (should it be hectares, or perhaps litres?) of newsprint
expended on the Nice Treaty, the White Paper on Governance is much more
important. It is much more significant than the Laeken Declaration and
the constitutional convention – which is proving to be a smokescreen,
diverting attention away from the Commission’s agenda. In terms of its
long–term threat to democracy in the UK, it is also potentially more damaging
than the government’s proposals for the reform of the House of Lords.
Contrary to the overt claims of the Commission, the White Paper has very
little to do with reform – as one would expect. It is, in reality, the
Commission’s master plan for the completion of European integration, the
building of its new People’s Republic. Desperately wanting to be loved,
the Commission has set out its strategy to overcome the "democratic deficit".
It is going to capture the hearts and minds of "European citizens", whether
they like it or not. You will love the right Big Brother.
The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to bring to the attention of
a wider audience the importance of this grandiose master plan and to identify
and analyse the strategies planned by the Commission. I take a look at
how it affects the uniquely useless institution to which I was elected
– the European Parliament – and then offer a view as to the implications
of the White Paper for what is left of our democracy.
You can download the
full white paper here.
take a look at the:
the Club of Amsterdam Forum
and the Club of Amsterdam
event about 'Re-Inventing
Democracies for the Future'