Democracy: EU elites keep power from the people

24 August 2011 – The New York Times (New York)

On one point the populists are right – the EU doesn't listen to its citizens. And actions undertaken by leaders and institutions only reinforce the sentiment that European integration proceeds through technocratic measures over which people have no control.

When the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas says something about Europe and his country, Germans take special note. As a passionate European with a big following in the United States, Mr. Habermas, 82, comments when he senses that things are going very wrong.

So when he recently delivered a speech in Berlin amid the continuing euro crisis, he captivated his audience. He accused the political elites of reneging on their responsibility to bring Europe to its citizens.

“The process of European integration, which has always taken place over the heads of the population, has now reached a dead end,” Mr. Habermas said at a forum hosted by the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It cannot go any further without switching from its usual administrative mode to one of greater public involvement.”

The political elites “are burying their heads in the sand,” he said, adding, “They are doggedly persisting with their elitist project and the disenfranchisement of the European population.”

Those who agree with Mr. Habermas often cite the behavior of José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the Union’s executive, and Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, which represents the 27 member states.

During these past months, both have failed to explain to a wider public what is happening to Europe and the euro. When they give interviews, they tend to address an elitist audience. Neither reaches out to citizens. “I doubt if they ever thought of doing town-hall meetings,” said Pawel Swieboda, director of DemosEuropa, an independent research organization in Warsaw.

“They don’t bother to do such meetings because they don’t have to stand for election,” added Reinhard Bütikofer, a German and leader of the Greens in the European Parliament. Read full article in the New York Times...

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