Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


Conclusions (summary)

19. The suggestions made by the white paper to stimulate civic participation in European governance are derived from a liberal conception of democracy. Openness and transparency, proceduralised consultation, better communication, decentralisation, etc., can make institutions more accountable. These techniques are not "substitutes" to representative forms of democracy and citizenship. They could become fertile complements of classic institutional mechanisms: better governance could strengthen the vertical accountability of institutions to citizens, and the horizontal accountability between institutions. But this conception of governance does not in itself encourage citizens to become active, because the policy-making process remains highly complex - and is even made more complex by governance practices. In these conditions, citizenship in the European Union is likely to remain an élitist practice, limited to those citizens and groups who benefit from their sufficient intellectual and financial resources to try and influence EU politics and policies. In order to enhance the level of participation, not just of active citizens but of the average citizen, other reforms are necessary.

20. This is the reason why the white paper envisages institutional reforms, and implicitly defends a federal constitution for the Union. From a purely theoretical point of view, it is coherent to believe that the centralisation and personalisation of European politics would favour civic consciousness and participation. But given that, and for as long as, this kind of constitutional revolution is not possible, other forms of politicisation could be tried under the existing - or slightly amended - treaties. Politicising the Union, and creating a clear deliberation of European issues, which could generate public interest, is not so much a question of institutions as a problem of political attitudes. As long as the Commission, which initiates policies, considers itself to be a body designed to bypass political conflicts and forge compromise before political deliberation takes place, the politicisation of the EU will remain very difficult. This attitude was certainly justified in the foundational period: like the French Commisariat du Plan set up by Monnet in the troubled after-war period, the Commission was supposed to forge compromise in a context of deep conflict. Encouraged by this initial model and its technocratic spirit, the Commission creates the impression that Europe is governed by a consensual political class and deepens the subjective distance between leaders and citizens. If, however, the Commission acknowledged that different policies were possible, on different ideological assumptions, it could weaken this widespread impression and encourage both the EP and the Council to spend more time on public deliberation. Without altering the institutional balance, such a cultural change would constitute a major shift in the spirit of European integration. It would mean that the foundation-building time was finished, and that the weakening of conflicts on the regime itself renders conflicts on its policies possible. It would not be easy to manage, but apart from civic education, political discussion is the only way that democracies have found to promote the intellectual and moral progress which is their raison d'être.




This site is part of the Academy of European Law online, a joint partnership of the Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law, the Academy of European Law and the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute.
Questions or comments about this site?