The EU and a European Democracy

In the Harvard Internation Review, Pepper Culpepper and Archon Fung discuss how the EU can move forward after last year’s rejections of the EU constitution.

European leaders remain divided as to how, or even whether, to move forward with the constitutional project. Political strategies in the aftermath of the rejection of the new constitution have followed two general tracks. The first, common among politicians and bureaucrats who favor further EU integration, is to take some of the institutional pieces proposed in the constitution—such as a single, more powerful EU foreign minister—and ratify them individually, perhaps in national parliaments. Proponents of this approach, such as EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso, stress that such measures would streamline decision-making in a European Union of 25 members. The second view, voiced especially by Euro-skeptic politicians and many scholars who study the European Union, such as Princeton University’s Andrew Moravcsik, holds that the defeat of the constitution has at last dashed the silly idea of a European super-state. Having largely succeeded in building incremental projects that national governments wanted—notably the single market and single currency—the European Union should stick to creating similar projects in the future. The ideal of a federal Europe long promoted by those seeking “ever closer union” is dead: good riddance!

These two views miss a fundamental driver of the constitutional treaty’s rejection: the deep alienation of many European citizens from the project of integration. Both the Euro-philes and Euro-skeptics take an essentially technocratic perspective and seek to advance their respective agendas along the least politically resistant path. Both groups focus on what the European Union can achieve without referenda because they cannot secure sufficient popular support for their agendas. In a union of democratic member-states, however, this approach is self-defeating and illegitimate. Popular disaffections manifested in national referenda are only superficial symptoms of a deeper democratic malaise within the member-states themselves. None of the European project’s broader goals can be achieved durably without addressing that root cause.