In this new series, the PDU clarifies its Statement of Principles one by one. We want to explain why we believe these principles are essential and discuss them with our readers and members. This week, we start with Principle I, “The Project for Democratic Union aims at creating a new, more powerful and more democratic Europe.”
By Liam Fitzgerald
Our goals are all based on the belief that we must renew the European Union. The EU’s institutional framework is no more suitable for its tasks. The ambitions of many of us Europeans who would like to see and shape a stronger European voice in global affairs are thwarted from the outset by the Union’s flawed structures and capabilities.
In recent years, crisis has gripped Europe. Citizens from across the EU’s member states face the possibility that for the first time in decades, indeed since the establishment of Europe’s first shared institutions, the future looks less bright than the past. Unemployment has soared to record levels. The fear of deflation is dampening any hope of a steady economic recovery. Wealth is increasingly distributed unequally, leaving millions without the means to live a dignified life while concentrating assets with a small number of multi-millionaires. Banks have been rescued with taxpayers’ money while many Europeans struggle to find a good job, education, or even to get by. States still hover on the brink of insolvency, and austerity, which up until recently was by many in the political elite deemed the one recipe for economic recovery, has failed to alleviate the situation.
The EU used to be widely associated with prosperity, peace, and social welfare.
To tackle the Union’s economic and through extension social woes, the EU’s supranational institutions have been strengthened. Economic and financial oversight over national budgets and banking institutions are entrusted to the European Commission and the European Central Bank. Despite attempts to increase the Commission’s democratic accountability and the role of the European Parliament, citizens feel the Brussels (and Strasbourg) bureaucracy is now farther away than ever. It is not the well-being of the citizens, many have come to believe, that is the prime objective of the EU any more. When things were running smoothly, when Europe’s economies were growing, and the EU was successfully expanding to Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, most Europeans did not mind the bureaucratic nature of the European Union. It was widely associated with prosperity, peace, and social welfare.
That has changed. It is the EU’s bodies that are blamed for Europe’s misfortune, along with the German government and other international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund. Simultaneously, the Union’s institutions have been given more powers. EU citizens are disenchanted. They do not have sufficient influence in Brussels, which seems to fail in the EU’s promise to deliver social and economic well-being.
We want a Union in which political power is vested in Members of the European Parliament and a democratically accountable European government.
However, we should not make the mistake and return to the nation state as the saviour of mankind. In today’s globalized world, in which we face competition from across the world and challenges are no longer constrained by borders, Europeans can only hope to thrive together. This means strengthening our Union, not destroying it. Our economies are interdependent, our social and familial ties are transnational. Our culture is European. All this means we can only tackle our challenges together. Strengthening the Union, however, must be done through democratic empowerment.
When we talk of a “more democratic” Union we therefore mean one in which political power is vested in Members of the European Parliament and a democratically accountable European government. When we talk of a “more powerful” Union we are thinking of one whose institutions are legitimized through democratic accountability to make decisions concerning the global challenges facing us today. It also means that the Union must have the political, diplomatic, and military means necessary to make its voice heard in the defense of our shared values, keep Europeans safe, enable prosperity, and translate our economic potential into real power to shape events.
In the next weeks we will continue to explain how our principles work to reach the goal of a democratic and powerful Europe.