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European democracy, the problems and how to solve them

An interesting email conversation about the problems of EU level democracy between the German Green MEP Sven Giegold and Yanis Varoufakis who had just launched its “Democracy in Europe Movement 2025”. Social Europe reproduce the email conversation, which was also published by Sven Giegold on his website

Dear Janis,

with great interest I have read several drafts of your “Democracy in Europe Movement 2025” ( I fully share the basic objective of your initiative: To bring more democracy to the European Union and to replace the failed austerity policies by democratic economic governance in Europe. The experience with European decisions and decision making since the start of the financial crisis has wrecked a lot of hope in the European project. Your movement in the making neither accepts the status quo of the European institutions nor follows Melanchon and Lafontaine in their call for a “plan B” to move European integration backwards. This could help to reconstruct hope for a better Europe rather than progressive disengagement with the European project which will only benefit from competition between nation states without common democratic rules.

Despite these good intentions I am convinced that the draft manifestos of DiEM25 contain a number of important contradictions and major flaws. In a spirit of critical solidarity I would like to share my thoughts with you. As I do not know who has been involved in drafting the manifesto I am sending you my observations in the form of an open letter.

First, your statements to deny the European institutions all democratic legitimacy denies that ultimately all European institutions are democratically accountable. The finance ministers who have demanded austerity programmes were accountable to their national parliaments. The European Parliament had unfortunately no direct control over these programmes but could control the involvement of the Council, the European Commission or the ECB. That this happened to such a shamefully weak degree was not mainly a consequence of a lack of powers of the European Parliament but because of an unwillingness of the majority in the European Parliament to use the existing powers. This was because the political parties of austerity programmes won a majority in the last two European elections and have a majority in the Council.

Obviously majorities in parliaments are not sufficient in order to constitute full democratic legitimacy. Europe suffers from a lack of legal possibilities to control the respect of fundamental rights through its policies. Europe suffers form a lack of transparency in particular of the Council and the Eurogroup. Europe suffers from an excess of influence of powerful business lobbies influencing policies through European and national institutions. Europe suffers from a lack of direct participation of its citizens. Democracy in Europe has to be improved but Europe is not undemocratic. Strong limitations of democracy are to be found and tackled on all levels of policy making – European, national, regional and local.

Second, your statements about the Brussels bureaucracy are disrespectful and populist. It is not the “bureaucrats” who decide in Brussels. Key decisions are taken by the Council and the European Parliament. The worst decisions of the Eurogroup were not taken by bureaucrats but by finance ministers who were not accountable to the European common good but to national parliaments and citizens of their respective country. Where the European Commission, its agencies or the European Central Bank hold important room of manoeuvre they are acting under the control of the European Parliament and the Council. That neither the Parliament nor the Council tried decisively to change course is not to be blamed on the “bureaucrats” but on the interests and convictions of the majorities in these bodies. Equally it is true that we as Europeans failed to convince majorities in civil society to stand up against austerity policies accross borders.


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