There will be European elections in three weeks’ time, and we don’t expect turnout to be anything more than about a third of the electorate. This is not good enough.
There will be European elections in three weeks’ time, and we don’t expect turnout to be anything more than about a third of the electorate. This is not good enough, writes Jess Garland
The debate about Britain’s place in Europe is increasingly a binary one: Europhiles vs Eurosceptics, In vs Out, Nick vs Nigel. And partly as a result, the arguments on both sides have become starved of the oxygen of straightforward facts and practical options.
Take the argument about European democracy. In this battle, citizens are being presented with two stark views: either Europe is (or could be) a democratic utopia, or it is a corrupt, elitist vanity project which destroys national democracy. And this contest offers only two possible end points – either radical political integration, or wholesale withdrawal. But neither option promises to improve European democracy for British citizens.
Withdrawal is likely to see Britain continue to be affected by European legislation but with no voice to influence it. As Norway has found, not sitting at the negotiating table doesn’t make you immune to the decisions made at it. Likewise there seems to be little reason to create a unified States of Europe. With 24 languages spoken across the 28 member states and seemingly little federalist desire amongst citizens, further integration feels neither practical nor justified.
Therefore a unique democratic solution is needed for this unique supranational entity. And a solution is desperately needed.
For most citizens, Europe feels a very distant sort of democracy. Our recent poll found that three-in-five British adults (59 per cent) believe that the European Parliament does not represent the views of European voters. Across Europe, the number of citizens saying that their voice doesn’t count in the EU has risen steadily since 2004 when this question was first asked. Of the eight countries that rank the highest on this question, five are southern European countries hit hardest by austerity measures in the wake of the Eurozone crisis.
Whilst not surprising, it is a poor democracy in which those who feel the power of the institution the most, feel the least powerful to influence it.
Without meeting the basic criteria of accountability, representation and participation, European democracy is at risk of becoming a pseudo-democracy: a democracy in form but not content. But there are things we can do about this here and now, given Britain’s existing membership of the EU.
A new report from the Electoral Reform Society sets out 12 ways to close the gap between British citizens and European democracy. These are practical, workable solutions ranging from empowering our national Parliaments to giving citizens more direct voice in Europe. According to our poll, an overwhelming majority of British people (80 per cent) say their vote makes more of a difference in a UK General Election than a European Parliament election.
Creating a more democratic EU can begin at home with national parliaments standing as guarantors of their citizens’ rights through better scrutiny of European legislation and more options to both propose and veto legislation.
But parliaments must also ensure their own houses are in order; we need to reform the UK Parliament as an institution as well as in its relationship to the EU. A more representative European Parliament, and a more democratic and effective national Parliament, would create a better European democracy for citizens.
There will be European elections in three weeks’ time, and we don’t expect turnout to be anything more than about a third of the electorate. This is not good enough. It’s time we worked to address Europe’s democratic deficit, and these 12 practical steps are the best way of starting to do so.
Jess Garland is policy and research officer for the Electoral Reform Society
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