Less than a year away from key elections to redefine the European political panorama, the debate on the democratic nature (or not) of the European Union is once again open. With Euro-skeptics on the warpath, Brussels is once again under public scrutiny as to whether its citizens actually do have a say in what is decided at the European level.
As usual, populist and xenophobic parties such as the Frente National or La Lega claim that the views of the people in the street are ignored. The fact that these parties are radical is one thing, but they reopen the eternal debate on the democratic deficit in decision-making in the EU.
British sociologist William Outhwaite, author of The Future of European Democracy, believes that this supranational entity “is certainly democratic,” but recognises the existence of a deficit and points to the complexity of institutional structures as the main problem. It is a complex system that attempts to balance national identity and political power with the concept of the Union.
The director of the think tank Friends of Europe, Dharmendra Kanani, says this generates a certain “distancing” between the EU and the governing citizens. While 50% of the population tends to rely on national institutions and 54% on regional ones, only 42% of the citizens in fact, trust Europe. Even so, the truth is that lobbies and NGOs representing local interests often have a better chance of being heard in Brussels than at home. But the idea of the EMP being far away from the citizen does not help.
Also posing a difficulty is the decision making process where citizens have little knowledge. As well, politically it is easy to blame Brussels for every problem while at home, to laud local efforts when outcomes are positive.