Club of Amsterdam, Future, Think Tank ..

Club of Amsterdam Journal
Free Subscription
click here

























































































































keyword search
:: 07 the future of Countries & Democracies
Democracy in Crisis
07 the future of Countries & Democracies    5/27/2003 4:00:58 PM

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 of reform".

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.

Please also take a look at the:
Articles, Links, the Club of Amsterdam Forum
and the Club of Amsterdam event about 'Re-Inventing Democracies for the Future'

Copyright © 2002-2018 Club of Amsterdam. All rights reserved.    Contact     Privacy statement    Cancellation Policy