Stanley's blog

The EU Summit later this week will begin the search for a solution. But before a problem can be solved, it must be identified. There were several reasons for voting No and it is may not be possible to form an accurate overview.

This is both an Irish problem and an EU problem. It is not a question of democracy as it is portrayed but one of legitimacy. The EU structure is democratic. No legislation can be adopted without the approval of the Council, made up of ministers of nationally elected governments, and the European Parliament, made up of directly elected MEPs. But EU citizens do not identify with the Union and do not understand its relevance to their daily lives.

This is primarily the fault of the Member State leaders who continue to present EU negotiations as a zero sum game and do not admit the extent to which the EU decides economic and social issues. They do not emphasise that, only by working together can the individual Member States hope to face their main challenges.

Unless and until Member State leaders put aside their egos and domestic political tactics and tell the truth about the EU, the problem highlighted by the Irish referendum result will not do away.

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  1. “The EU structure is democratic.”

    Please, this is a serious matter. There is no need for ridicule !

    The EU, a structure that takes away the rights of the French and Dutch people to vote again because the Eurocrats don’t like their first answer ! That’s more like democracy, Bob Mugabe style !!!

    I fear for a “democracy” that can do something like that.

  2. Pat,

    One could argue for hours whether the EU is democratic or not but I think your comment confuses two seperate issues.

    The fact that the French and Dutch people were not asked again surely raises questions of legitimacy but it does not mean that the structure of the EU is not democratic. Whether the French or Dutch are offered a referendum or not is not a decision taken by ‘Eurocrats’ but by the national executives. I believe Stanley argued that the legislative decision making structure of the EU is democratic. Whether this structure is democratic or not has been subject to a lot of academic debate (i.e. Hix, Moravcsik, Majone) but on a more basic level I believe it is important to not confuse two seperate issues: a) whether the EU decision making process is democratic and b) whether member states approaches to ratifying EU treaties is appropriate.

    Surely, the decision to not put the treaty to a public vote in France and the Netherlands is controversial but this decision has nothing to do with the actual structure of the EU. In a representative democracy decision making capacity is delegated to representatives. This does not mean that no questions shall be put to referendums but it does mean that leaders can democratically ratify an EU Treaty without a public vote.

    Hence, the decision of the French and Dutch leaders not to put the Treaty to a public vote is not – as you put it – Mugabe style democracy but a perfectly acceptable democratic political decision. However, it does raise important questions of legitimacy and of citizen engagement which in the long run are just as serious as questions of democracy.

  3. Where did I refer to Mugabe?
    I agree, Fabian, that Member States have the right to decide the method of ratification. Its just sad that the decision is not made in the interests of Europe but for domestic political reasons. Our tradition is representative and not direct democracy. Complex treaties are inappropriate for referendums.

    Pat: it’s not the Brussels bureaucracy that decides but the prime ministers/president of the Member States.

  4. Stanley, I fully agree with you. The part about Mugabe was meant in response to Pat and not to you (as Pat compared EU democracy to Mugabe’s ‘democracy’).

    Furthermore, introducing direct democracy through referendums in countries that have no tradition of using referendums is problematic due to a number of reasons (i.e. different amount of funding for campaigns, populism and misleading the voter, voters voting not on preference but in order to tell off the government).

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