Will the EU be the death of democracy?

On May 31st 2012 at 7pm the Institute of Ideas presented ‘Will the EU be the death of democracy?’ in the Large Common Room of London House, Goodenough College, Mecklenburgh Square, London WC1N 2AB

European democracy is in the spotlight this month with the French presidential elections, Greek general election and Irish referendum all occurring in May. EU critics Declan Ganley and Brendan Simms recently wrote of ‘the sucking wound that is really eating away at Europe’s vitality,’ the undemocratic and unaccountable nature of the European Union. There is a feeling that the EU is even increasingly defining itself in opposition to popular mandate and majority politics. The current Euro-crisis has now swept away elected governments in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Holland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Moreover, an Irish ‘No’ vote has been dismissed long before that country’s referendum on the ‘Treaty for stability, coordination and governance in the economic and monetary union’. This aims to enshrine Eurozone fiscal rules in national constitutions policed by the European courts. But this treaty only needs 12 out of the 17 Eurozone member signatories to ratify it, overthrowing the principle of unanimity held for all previous EU treaties. So whether they vote yes or no, the wishes of the Irish people are likely to count for nothing.

Some now consider expert technocrats and bureaucratic mechanisms to be more reliable than the fickle will of the people. German chancellor Angela Merkel says, ‘The debt brakes will be binding and valid forever. Never will you be able to change them through a parliamentary majority’. What does this say about the EU’s attitude to national, let alone popular sovereignty? In fact, some defenders of the European project explicitly disavow the principle of sovereignty, warning that reaction against the EU takes the form of dangerous and selfish parochialism: Little Englanders, Little Hungarians, True Finns. What do our debaters think, is the EU the only realistic means of achieving European integration? Or could the idea of Europe be better preserved if we followed Ganley and Simms’ plea for the EU to be radically reformed into a new, more democratic body?

Death of democracy debate

There was arguably a problem with democracy in Europe before the current crisis – seen in a growing apathy and disengagement from politics – but certainly the crisis has made it much more acute. Popular reactions against the austerity packages in Spain and Greece are widely seen in political circles as futile protests against an unavoidable economic pain. However, might allowing national populations to decide a nation’s best strategy for getting out of the recession be more successful than the fiscal compact advocated by the EU? Perhaps, as protesters chant, and a growing number of economic commentators note, the centralised austerity packages, designed to save the Euro rather than stimulate growth, are a barrier to any possibility of increasing national GDPs? Is then the EU killing democracy? Or is democracy being reborn on the streets of Europe? What is happening to Europe under the EU and how should democrats respond?


Brian M. Carney
Member of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and Editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe’s editorial page

Brian Denny,
Convenor of No2EU:Yes to Democracy

Declan Ganley
Founder and Chairman of Libertas

Brendan O’Neill
Editor of spiked

Linda Yueh
Economics Editor for Bloomberg TV, Adjunct Professor of Economics at London Business School, Fellow at Oxford.

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