Democracy in the Europeran Union

Blogi – Blogg,Kirjoituksia – Texter,Yleinen

Contribution to Alter EU -conference: Beyond the Social Dimension of EMU

Organisers: European Left, Attac and others

Helsinki, Finland, Saturday 29th March 2014




The democracy problem, or ”democracy deficit”, of the European Union is renown but not well  understood. Let me remind you of some basic features. They include


  • The Lisbon treaty is unique in democratic history in becoming the core of the juridical system (the ”constitution”) of the EU-countries even though its content was rejected in referenda in several countries. We live in a polity of which we know that the citizens did not want it to be anything like this!
  • The EU-institutions do not follow the modern principles of seperation of powers. Most striking is the key role of the unlected, extremely undirectly accountable commissioners.
  • The great de facto power of  lobbyists, working in secrecy;
  • The lack of a common public sphere for deliberation among citizens about common conerns of the EU;
  • The gradual and partly extra-juridical enlargement of the de facto competencies of the European Union, as seen especially in the wake of the euro-crisis since 2008;
  • The current, large power of the EU, the ECB and the troika in economic affairs has extremely thin democratic legitimacy. 

    However, I am more interested here in the response to the democracy problem than in its analysis.




    The left, green and socialliberal forces in European politics have most of the time been able to offer only one way out of the democratic crisis of the EU.


    The offer has been to democratise the EU, in particular its economic governance structures, by reforming the ECB (the European Central Bank) and by creating a common finance policy. The popularity of this ”federalist” response is based on the diagnosis that we have ”global problems” and ”capitalism that trancends the governance capacity of nation states.”


    The answer to the diagnosed problems is, so many good social democrats, leftists and green activists have learnt to say, that we must develop post-national and global democratic capacities and institutions. Building a more democratic European Union is one important and natural step in this process.


    I belong to those who have developed plans for the democratisation of the EU and worked hard during many years with many friends to realise the plans. I still continue this work and agree that it is very important. However, here I want to stress another aspect:




    The response I just outlined is popular. It is theoretically attractive. And it is politically catastrophic.


    European integration has lived from the dream of postnational democratisation. But as the EU has evolved it has become less and less democratic and its policies have become more and more devastating socially and ecologically, for ordinary Europeans and for the world.


    Why is it that the gulf between the dream we all share, the dream of the good, democratic EU, and the reality we have, is ever widening?


    The reason is simple: We do not have, so far, the tools for realising our democratic vision. Nor do we have a realistic winning strategy for doing so. The only thing we have is an ideal that is becoming more distant, more utopian every day. We are out of touch with the grim reality which is goverend by two facts.


    One: The current EU is very undemocratic and its political practice is bad.

    Two: people’s anger at the EU feeds regressive populist politics and depoliticisation more than it strenghtens left, green or social-liberal political corces.


    What to do?




    There are two logically possible responses to the fact that global capitalism cannot be controlled by national democracies.


    One solution is to strengthen post-national democracies in order to govern and tame global capitalism. This is fine in theory and as I said, I dop contribute to this work. But as our only strategy it is problematic in practice, as we have seen during the last years.


    The second solution is to undo global capitalism. When we re-build the world as a network of local, self-reliant communities, that are not dependent on the services of global capital and large coroporations, we will be able to free ourselves from the economic crises and the threat of planetary ecological collapse that is caused by the current form of market driven globalisation (or by ”authoritarian capitalism” or ”mad globalisation”).


    Localisation strategies can have many names: delinking, swaraj, decoupling, self-reliance, glocal development. It all boils down to the same: when we cut our dependence on the forces that destroy us we become free.




    Localisation is utopian. The only political strategy that is more utopian is the strategy of global democratisation.


    Realism is to combine these two strategies.


    Every step we take towards improved post-national democracy will help defend local self-reliance. And every step we take towards increased indepencence of the monsters of global corporate power will increase our capacity to resist their blackmail and impose democratic control over them.


    Building post-national democracy is necessary but at least as necessary is the building of local self-reliance and indepencdence from the destructice forces of mad globalisation in the EU and everywhere.



    Thomas Wallgren

    Philosopher, activist