We Europeans

The revelation that Greece had been fiddling the accounts for so long prompted one of its citizens to exclaim to a reporter that “we gave the world democracy, and we expect the European Union to support us!”

Yes, well… If the democracy we’re living with today is anything to go by, we don’t have much to thank the Greeks for. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

Democracy in Europe is increasingly a case of the tail wagging the dog. Europe’s political leaders seriously lack the courage of their convictions, and that poses the question of whether they have any convictions other than their own interests in the first place. They too often say one thing to the world and then, looking over their shoulders, do the opposite to appease their electorates.

Charlemagne’s columnist got it right In The Economist of February 6 when he said: “Arguably, the problem is Europe itself: its querulous voters and its cowardly political leaders.”

The voters are of course querulous, though there is a certain consistency in their concerns: keeping what they’ve got (and not giving it to Greece), protecting jobs, stemming immigration and the like. At least we don’t share the symptoms of the US, where voter mood swings cause the country to oscillate from one extreme to the other.

The Lisbon Agenda offers lofty ideals for the future of Europe, and the European Commission tries to promote these within the limits of its remit as a regulatory organisation. But we are not going to get anywhere far or fast without the real commitment of the ultimate political decision-makers, whoever they may be. Europe needs to start moving towards closer political union, otherwise the conflicts of interest and muddling through will just persist.

Should we ‘decouple’ the political elite from the whims of voters? Or should we take a radically different approach to how Europe is governed? A Europe of the Regions? Yet even this may pander even more to the esprit de clocher of the French (malgré their fondness for dirigisme), the campanilismo of the Italians and the Kleinbürger mentality of the Germans (watch Karnaval on German TV!).Not to mention the Little Englanders.

Democracy has to have a purpose beyond reflecting and respecting the opinions of just everyone, which is fine for the rights of man, but far less so for the rights of mankind.

If the solution to European democracy is monthly summits, as Herman Van Rompuy has suggested, then God help us all! At least, judging from recent debates, the European Parliament seems to have some convictions. But one is left with the feeling that the European Union is, simply, too ungainly to be governable.

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