Democratizing Europe


In the wake of the UK’s Brexit vote, the European Union needs a renaissance, challenging inherited ideas about what cooperation between nations and peoples looks like. This renaissance should move away from a focus on formal, institutional relations between states and toward a more democratic compact based on solidarity between citizens, argues Richard Youngs, Senior Associate on the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at Carnegie Europe, Brussels, and Professor at the University of Warwick, U.K.

European leaders should adopt what I call a Compact of European Citizens, governed by four principles of cooperative decision-making, he writes for Foreign Affairs:

  • The first principle is choice. At present, member states are expected to adopt all EU policies, unless they can negotiate opt-outs—which is extremely difficult to do. This should be replaced with its opposite: a process of voluntary and flexible opt-ins. Instead of a centralized bureaucracy in Brussels, policy formation could be decentralized to a series of policy communities, which would oversee cooperation in different policy areas and which would be managed by agencies geographically distributed across Europe. ….
  • The second principle is championing a spirit of competition across Europe’s different economic, social, and political models. The EU’s role would be to set broad goals, not to impose detailed or intrusive plans on how these goals should be reached. Member states could then design their own preferred routes toward meeting common goals, and the best models would prosper economically, setting an example through results rather than following rules. For instance, states that want to end austerity [10] may not be able to convince creditor states to adopt pan-European Keynesianism, but they themselves would be allowed to experiment with using pro-growth policies to reduce debt levels.
  • The third guiding principle is bottom-up citizen control. The whole structure of the EU—invented over 60 years ago in a more deferential and hierarchical age—is today hopelessly at odds with underlying social trends toward individual and local empowerment. A far more radical notion of democratic legitimacy is needed…..
  • The fourth principle is that flexible policy differentiation must be explored within states, not only between them. Given Europe’s internal diversity, it may no longer be desirable to apply all areas of policy uniformly across every EU member state. In almost every European country a breach has opened up between those happy with the cosmopolitan and internationalist spirit of the EU and those who feel marginalized by it. But little is to be gained from bemoaning supposed nativist ignorance—an integration project incapable of addressing doubters’ concerns, and which proceeds only by suppressing their democratic voice, is hardly one worth defending. The challenge, rather, is to rethink the whole form of European cooperation to allow space for both the globalists and the nativists.


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