Beyond the state?
The future of European democracy.
Agata Poznanska, Lancaster University Graduate
Democracy is one of the cornerstone values of the European Union, listed in Article 2 of the Treaty on the EU. But, what in fact is the essence of democracy and what is, its meaning in the multinational Union? Does democracy have borders or is it stronger than national sentiments? The future of European transnational democracy is being shaped right now and it is the task of our generation to believe in the common rule of diverse, heterogeneous and multilingual people.
High-stakes and tough times
Demos – people; and kratos – power – these two words underlie the political system dating back as far as the ancient Greece, where it freed the Athenian citizens from the rules of tyranny. The system, which embraces most of the contemporary world. Finally, the system which, though imperfect, is yet the best one created so far, as once famously stated by Churchill. Democracy is undeniably a grace to the modern society, but it is also a duty, what we tend to easily forget.
Having said that, times are not easy for democracy, especially in the European Union. In the midst of political developments such as Brexit; rule of law crisis in Central and Eastern Europe and rising nationalist movements. The EU is facing serious questions about the meaning of democratic ideals. Democracy as such, is a vast concept and it may seem opaque or elusive, especially in reference to the EU, so immensely focused on creating the common market. Yet, Article 1 of the Treaty on the European Union, remarkably provides for “an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe” as community’s goal. But there are voices in the European political discourse, which strongly advocate disintegration rather than further integration – take for example Johnson, Orbán or Le Pen.
If democracy is currently seriously endangered in particular member states (Poland or Hungary), how can it be built and enhanced on the transnational level? On top of that, Euroscepticism is not a novelty – the ‘Brussels bubble’ has always been seen as a closed; somewhat elite environment. The rule of technocrats, who try to standardise the shape of bananas, as some would perhaps say. The democratic standing of the EU has faced much criticism also on the academic level – the so called ‘EU democratic deficit’ is one of the most debated topics within the European legal academia. European citizens still tend to focus on the national level politics, even with the EP elections resulting in becoming another opportunity for internal political battles within the member states. Indeed, the EU cannot be treated in the same way as a homogeneous democratic state, hence the EU-wide democracy has its own flaws. Nonetheless, the stakes are higher than ever before – it’s not only about the Brussels entourage or the critique of technocracy – it is about saving and protecting the ideal of European democracy.
Transnationalism will save the day
The idea of transnational democracy is, therefore, crucial. At the end of the day, why should democracy be confined to national borders? EU is the community of values built on Europe’s tragic past with the hope for a better future. The fact that there are no European demos per se should not be perceived as the biggest obstacle in shaping the common system together.
As argued by Brun-Otto Bryde in his essay on transnational democracy, all lies in our perception – if we see democracy as, built on human beings more generally rather than on the nation as such, the feasibility of transnational democracy even ceases to be questionable. Thus, the question is not if at all but how. Legal scholars and political scientists keep debating on ‘how can transnational democracy evolve in the EU’ and it is indeed an important matter to ponder on. EU law, as the backbone of the community, has to enable the further development of transnationalism but, this must also coincide with politics, which should enhance its growth.
Currently debated ideas such as, transnational parties and lists to the European Parliament (with Volt Europa already being an example); common European army or more efficient mechanisms for discouraging the rule of law renegades, serve as possible steps on the path to pan-European democracy. Clearly, changes have to proceed, and new ideas have to develop, as the current status quo is insufficient for transnational spirit to evolve in the EU.
In his famous recent letter to the European citizens, Emmanuel Macron said: “we are at a pivotal moment for our continent, a moment when together we need to politically and culturally reinvent the shape of our civilisation in a changing world. Now is the time for a European renaissance”. It is therefore, of utmost importance that the citizens of the EU, and especially the young ones, take up the challenge and believe in the goal of a pan-European democracy, which is not unattainable and should be cultivated in the minds of young Europeans.