Thursday, 7 July 2016

European Union Needs Democratic Reform to Survive

It's been just over two weeks since the citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.  Now that we know the EU faces a future without Britain as a member, a lot of people have started to speculate whether Brexit could lead to a domino effect of other member states voting to leave the political and economic bloc.  Leaders throughout the EU are calling for referendums in their own countries.  Some have even speculated that Brexit is the beginning of the end for the EU.  I do think it's possible that a couple of other countries may have votes on whether to stay in the bloc or leave it, but I don't believe the EU will collapse in the near future.  Note, however, that I emphasize, near future.  If something isn't done in the long term to reform the institutions of the bloc, I do think it is possible that it could fall apart in the next decade or two.  So what needs to happen?  In short, I believe that the EU needs to reform its institutions to bring in more democratization and more accountability towards EU citizens.

The EU Needs More Democracy:

I think it's ironic that a political and economic bloc that is entirely composed of modern, democratic countries is actually very undemocratic in some ways.  It is also very distant from the very citizens whose lives it affects.  The EU does have the European Parliament,  which is directly elected by the citizens of EU member states.  That being said, the parliament's powers are extremely limited.  In fact, it doesn't even have legislative powers.  It does have the power to approve laws, but only laws that have already been proposed - proposed, that is, by the European Commission, which is the real law-making body of the EU; one that is not democratically elected, but rather composed of bureaucrats or "commissioners" chosen on the advice of the governments of each member state. They are not directly elected by EU citizens, yet it is them who are responsible for making the laws that effect each and every person living in the bloc.  So it's no wonder why so many people in the EU feel alienated by the institutional processes of the organization.  Indeed, all they see is a bunch of unelected bureaucrats sitting in far away in Brussels, making rules on issues that affect their daily lives, without any democratic mandate.

What I would suggest is that the European Parliament be given the power to both propose and approve laws, instead of simply having the power to approve laws suggested by the European Commission.  In essence, the EU parliament would have the same power to legislate as any national parliament would.  Any law would still have to be approved by the Council of the European Union, as is the case today, so that national governments represented by their ministers would retain the right to protect their national interests.  Approval of laws by the EU Commission, however, would not be required.

Ultimately, I believe that it is democratization that will save the European Union from falling into the dustbin of history.  But it is imperative that Europe's leaders begin work on bringing more democracy to the bloc as soon as possible, because right now it is opponents of European integration that have the momentum.

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