In the European field of studies, the term democracy comes in all shapes and sizes. Whether it is through a historical lens or questioned on matters of validity under the term deficit, it is undeniably at the core of our political sphere in western civilization. Democracy is something my generation grew up with, this generation is rightly referred to as generation; 'wall' (post-Berlin wall). True non-democractic states we have only encountered via news outlets. Even when someone visited an authoritarian country, it is often as a tourist with a large backpack around their shoulders trying to find themselves along with the thousands of others (me including).
Still, the topic of democracy as a value has been up for debate many times and started already in the first democracy during the antiquity and onwards. There are many angles to which you can approach a value such as democracy within the European Union. The question I ask myself often is whether the EU is democratic enough to my liking.
Institutional changes have been made over the years, with the last big one packed as the Lisbon treaty. On the praising side when analyzing the democratic worth of the European Union the Lisbon treaty has always been pointed to as evidence of the many institutional democratic changes it provided. European citizens vote for the European Parliament, and if it gets an increase in power the EU becomes more democratic. And citizens have more input through the citizens initiative. Hard to argue against.
On the criticising side, however, most often people argue on the basis of legitimacy. How can something be democratic if only a small percentage goes to the voter ballots and are actually represented in the parliament? There does seem to be a lack of demos or the people when referring to the European Union, is it than a true democracy?
Arguments for both sides are compelling, and as a supporter, to a fluctuating degree, of the European Union project, I must say that I am, as in similar cases, in the dead center when it comes to the opinion on this topic. On paper, the EU is as much of a democratic unity as can be expected from such a large supranational community. All evidence is there. Yet, when those on the right side of the political spectrum point to a lack of democracy on the basis the people's involvement I have to agree with them just as much.
I bet many who are interested in the field of European studies are conflicted when it comes to debates such as these. Bottomline however, there is an observable pattern talking about axioms such as democracy, ideals and core values come into play. What do we prioritize, and why?
Core values are not simply explained by the left and right division of politics, never black and white. If you have read only a small summary from any western political philosopher, they point towards human nature, the metaphysics, and epistemology. This does not bring us closer to any guideline on what stance to take when talking about new European proposals concerning democratic improvements. If only there was a BuzzFeed quiz one could take to determine your personal opinion about democracy rather than what kind of cheese you are. Alas, perhaps technology in the future will determine this for us like the sorting hat in Harry Potter.
The sherpa I often use is closely related to deductive reasoning. I think of what I deem as important in a political community and from there try to formulate opinions on the specific case by case basis so there is always a foundation for my argumentation (easier said than done). But the opposite can be used just as much. The starting point with inductive reasoning will be to look at the certain topics that are up for debate, chose which stance to take and from there on accumulating all stances into one solid ideology.
A practical example, to reflect on my ideology, is the debate on transnational lists. Driven by Macron, transnational lists aim to fill the MEP seat gap left by the departure of Britain with MEPS that are not based on national affiliation. It would mean that if such an MEP would want support it does not only need to campaign in their own country but also can assemble support across Europe.
This new proposal has both positive and negative sides that are easily found. Creating ' free-for-all' seats means that the candidates for these positions will be campaigning harder across Europe increasing the overall awareness for the European election and hopefully increase the voter turnout. But on the flip side of the coin, these seats might give bigger countries the advantage due to that people in general vote with a preference for those from their own country. The elitist factor is also a worrying issue, where MEPs are not tied to a country thus cannot be held accountable in future national elections.
Even in the European Parliament, there was a big divide on this issue where expected results were different from reality. Federalists voted against the list even though it would mean more power to the people and more election awareness. It shows that there is no common agreement on the foundational concept that is the democracy. Even if debating is an extremely important aspect of the political discourse, in a community such as Europe a common system of shared values is needed to keep progress going forwards.
Even if democracy is an ideal, it is worth striving for. The creation of a political community, even if cliché, should always be; for, of, by, and with the people. The European Union is criticised for it merely being a for the people-oriented organism, and I think with the current rise in nationalistic populism it is most important to give the people a stronger say or hold representatives more accountable. Involve them rather than shun them for their anti-diversity ways. The creation of the European demos should be at the top of the priority list, and transnational seats could be the right tool succeed. The technocratic informing strategy is simply not effective enough to reach a wide audience.
How this demos would look like is of course entirely dependant on the political philosophy of those newly interested voters and the election in 2019 will be determining the trajectory of the EU.
The European Union has often been criticised for being too technocratic to properly be called a democracy by the people. But is letting the people govern really the better option? We have seen what happens when there is political unrest and the ballot boxes are opened, first Brexit, then Trump got elected as president in the USA and now in Italy, a right-wing populist prevailed in the previous election. How this is possible can be explained by many but mostly lacking angles. You can think education curriculum is at fault for not focusing on civics because due to its limited yield potential, or democracy as a government structure is simply at its cycle’s end. But none of these have a feasible or logical remedy.
I have been long of the opinion that when a person in question is elected they have the representative legitimacy to be in the office where he was voted in. This is one of the key mechanics of a democracy. But what if those who are voted for aim to make the government structure less democratic? The term associated with this is often illiberal democracies and is a serious topic of concern. Checks and balances are there to ensure a proper democracy, but elected populist rulers do threaten political stability and thrive on discord in the political realm.
For the Italian case I do not think it is a lost cause, merely a temporary setback to phrase it rather optimistically.
One of the bloggers I follow wrote an article criticising LSE for a recent post stating that; “the future of the Italian left looks grim indeed – but so too does the future of Italy and of Europe.”. Wood argues that the left has transformed from working-class representatives to that of the ‘educated classes’. But left-wing parties cannot depend solely on the well-off who have room to concern about things such as climate change and creating a hospitable environment for refugees. This is also their downfall, they lost the support of their backbone and tiptoe around all sensitive topics to scared to join the debate right-wing populists parties head on.
Hopefully, with the new populist government we can either get a perfect case example of why demagogue leaders are just hot air and improve nothing, or preferably the left finally gets a wake-up call to get their priorities straight and their boots on the ground.
Once again everything but certainty is evident in the political sphere. With the European elections coming up next year I highly doubt we are going to see much difference in results if no proper strategy of arms is implemented by the pro-EU side. Luckily, we do have the home-field advantage since most people who are willing to go to the ballot boxes for the EP elections are involved enough to see the EU in its true colours.