Is the EU’s democratic deficit causing more problems than it’s solving?


Published in Financial Times, May 23, 2013

Sir, ever since the United Kingdom Independence Party’s success in the recent election I have found the Financial Times’ reporting on the party of Nigel Farage troubling, if not somewhat dishonest. One of the more absurd articles so far has been “Do not blame democracy for the rise of populism” (Comment, May 10) where, the Financial Times in general and Phillip Stephens in particular, have once again lumped UKip into the same category as Italy’s Five Star Movement, Hungary’s Jobbik party, Greece’s Golden Dawn, and other fanatical political associations that continue to play their historical role in European politics.

For example, in the FT, UKip is constantly described as xenophobic because of their stance on immigration. UKip is not anti-immigration. However, they are concerned about millions of immigrants from Europe’s poorer regions coming to the UK and implanting themselves into the already stretched and bankrupt social welfare system. Having gone to the College of Europe (the EU’s university for policy) I understand under EU law how easy it is for anyone to access the welfare system in any other EU country. UKip’s concern for preserving Britain’s social welfare system for those subjects who have paid into that system their entire lives is a legitimate and reasonable concern. That concern should be debated. It certainly is not xenophobic.

Still, the real irony is in the way Mr Stephens begins his article – with the words, “Democracy is in trouble.” Yet, if he had any understanding of what a democracy is, or how it’s suppose to function, he would not have elaborated in the very next sentence that democracy is in trouble because president Obama faces opposition in Congress. Nor would he write-off Nigel Farage’s political agenda as mere anti-EU populism. If Mr Stephens were to go back to Political Science 101 he would find democracy is defined generally as the freedom to elect and remove governments with opposing political views. Additionally, a government that lacks a strong opposition cannot possibly be considered a healthy democracy. More importantly, democracy requires the government to be held directly accountable by the governed.

If Mr Stephens were actually concerned about democracy, his argument would be infinitely more rational if he directed his fears toward the European Union rather than a political party people actually voted for. The EU’s democratic deficit (as it’s often referred to) is not simply the figment of some “populist’s” imagination. It is real and, to be frank, an embarrassing blight on European politics.

This becomes evident by taking a brief look at the EU’s institutions. The President of the European Council, the man who is suppose to be the President of Europe, Herman van Rompuy, was never elected in free and fair elections. The reason being the idea of a European demos (also a necessary prerequisite for a functioning democracy) is a completely ridiculous fiction. But since the number of European citizens who voted for president van Rompuy is exactly 0, one might, like Nigel Farage, venture to ask where does his legitimacy come from. The same is true for European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, though his existence is often justified by being “elected” by the European Parliament. However, Mr Barroso’s name was the only one on the ballot. Mr Barroso should probably think about joining Mr Stephens in Political Science 101 in learning about how a democracy is supposed to function.

Regarding the European Commission, elected governments, it’s often argued, appoint its 27 members. This means a president or a prime minister is elected in, say for example, Latvia – that elected official then appoints someone to be his representative in the European Commission. Subsequently, that Latvian appointee has the power to influence laws, directives, regulations etc.… effecting individuals and businesses in the UK and in other countries other than Latvia. So, in reality, the commissioners are extremely distant from being held directly accountable by hundreds of millions of European voters i.e. the Commission is not democratic. That just leaves us with the European Parliament. Traditional parliaments in democratic nation states, unlike the European Parliament, are split between the government and the opposition. However, the European Parliament has no real opposition – and since the Commission has the sole right to propose legislation, it doesn’t have much power either. It essentially rubber stamps legislation proposed by the Commission. The European Parliament’s most important function is to give the appearance of some democratic inclination without actually having one.

Nigel Farage’s opposition to the political and economic disaster that is the EU is well documented and, although some might disagree with him, his political views fall wholly within the realm of reason and sense. UKip has consistently warned that the economic strife caused by the EU and the powerlessness people feel in influencing decisions at the European level will give rise to extremist groups. So far they seem to be right – UKip supports self-rule and freer markets. That seems rather reasonable and classifying them as an extreme populist group is simply not honest or objective reporting.

Christopher Grace

New York, NY



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