Page 102

John Palmer

The Future of European Union Political Parties By John Palmer

The suspension of the proposed European Union Constitutional Treaty, following the ‘no’ vote results in the French and Dutch referenda last year, has disoriented EU political leaders and left the European integration process in a temporary limbo. But the crisis created by the French and Dutch rejection of the treaty has at least stimulated a long overdue debate on just what kind of union the European peoples want to see evolve in the twenty-first century. For the first time since the foundation of the (then) European Economic Communities nearly 50 years ago, some fundamental questions are being asked about the future of the European integration project. Confronting these questions will assist—not obstruct—the eventual but essential reform and revitalisation of the European institutions. Only when there is clarity about what the Member States and the citizens of the Union want to achieve together on issues ranging from economic and social strategy to foreign and security policy can sensible decisions be reached about how to advance the treaty. There is, however, a parallel question—or rather set of questions—the answers to which may determine whether or not European integration—in whatever form—advances or regresses in the years ahead. Will the European Union face a crisis of legitimacy unless EU voters are given effective ownership of the key political decisions that will determine future Union strategy? How can voters take ownership of the process unless they are given the power to decide between

alternative political programmes and alternative leaderships of the EU institutions? How can EU democracy be strengthened in this way unless the embryo EU political parties become genuinely transnational European parties capable of offering voters these choices? The roots of the present crisis What passes for public debate on the future of Europe in so many Member States is itself a chilling judgement on the health of transnational democracy in the Union. This is reflected in the destructively short-sighted way in which the political elites in the majority of Member States tend to conduct EU discourse. Quick to demonise the EU and its institutions when unpopular decisions are taken—very often at the instigation of the Member States themselves—governments have unsurprisingly found it difficult to mobilise public support for the Union and its objectives when they have desperately needed to. The lesson that Member State political leaders should draw is clear. It is not possible to speak of the European Union as little more than a battlefield over which ‘national interests’ are fought for six days of the week and then on the seventh ask the public to vote in support of the same battlefield with conviction and enthusiasm. Fed by the media and by politicians on a diet, at best, of euro-indifference and at worst, of outright euroscepticism, far too many citizens feel an unacceptable distance—even a sense of alienation—has developed between themselves and the European Union. The roots of the current malaise in European public opinion go deeper, however. We live in times when national governments themselves

Volume 3 - Spring 2006

101

European View_Transnational parties and european democracy  

European View_Transnational parties and european democracy

European View_Transnational parties and european democracy  

European View_Transnational parties and european democracy

Advertisement