A debt of democracy undermines the EU


Can revamped popular thinking, at the heart of the Christian parties in Europe, be an antidote and cure to the populist movements sweeping the old continent?  A recent analysis by Father Antonio Spadaro, editor on the authoritative catholic biweekly Civiltà Cattolica, on Avvenire unties a deep and true knot of Italian, and possibly European, politics at the moment: the need of the political forces to reconnect with the common people without accepting their worst instincts of anger and hostility toward their fellow man.

Therefore, in the effort of relinking, perhaps it is necessary to try to begin to be more concrete with the problems of Italy and Europe at this time.

The first maybe is the supersonic speed of communication through the technology of new platforms, as also noted by Claudio Cerasa on Il Foglio («Against the dictatorship of the moment»).

Brief messages, like explosions, bombard us at any moment in an anxiolytic escape that however remains like an eruption of soap bubbles in the face – they confuse the sight for a moment, and can be disorienting and distracting, but they are nothing but soap bubbles.

A flurry of jokes on twitter does not replace a strategy that is what people and nations want, just as a battery of coffee shots does not replace well-structured meals. The problem is that so far the offer has been only coffee, from all political parties (at least in Italy); no one provides a starter, first course, second course, and dessert. There are no structured political strategies and therefore, in the absence of solid food, there is the rapid coffee-Twitter triumph.

Objectively, to hope that this is done by the old parties Forza Italy (FI) and the Democratic Party (PD or its fractions) is utopian. Simply, as the polls attest, people no longer believe in it. The two parties can emulate the M5s and the Lega government, or some new force that may emerge in the near future.

Of course, one thing is to make coffee-Twitter, as M5s and Lega are used to doing, and another to make a lunch of four courses and 4,000 calories – that is, medium- and long-term strategies. But this is necessary.

The other element is a real problem that has created the failure of the old politics, the rebellion of the current populism, and the bomb of the Brexit. The problem is the inadequacy of the European structures that have been caught between state and non-state: laces of a thousand types, but also disinvestment in the face of certain local politics.

The most obvious answer to this state of affairs is that after 20 years of waiting (proof of the patience of Europeans!), many in Europe do not see a clear path ahead and therefore want to go back.

The structural problem

Here there is a structural problem that should be addressed. Brussels bureaucracies are excellent, among the best in the world, but this does not mean that they have a deep liability: they do not respond to a clear political power; they are in fact largely self-referential.

The European parliament is elected but without powers. The Commission is nominated by national governments, and thus two to three degrees away from the electorate. The national vote votes in parliaments, which appoint governments that nominate representatives to the Commission.

Finally, there is the Council of Europe, which is actually a large marketplace for political barter. Here the heads of government negotiate their national interests time by time with other national interests, a bit like a kind of efficient UN. But there is no European spirit, and there is not, to use Father Spadaro’s arguments, an idea of a European people. The idea is conversely of various national peoples who settle through political hose-trading their disputes through their representatives.

This fact gives power to the bureaucracies, which can make the best decisions in the world but lack democracy, and do not have the problem of creating consensus or gaining popular support for their policies. People right or wrong do not feel for them. Decisions are taken over their heads.

In fact, there is a profound debt of democracy in Europe that also derives from deep structural issues of current democracy. The modern eighteenth-century democracy in England was meant for small groups (only male landowners voted, maybe a few tens of thousands, possibly a little more than the Athenian agora).

Decision making was over medium-long times; news bulletins circulated in the space of weeks, if not months. Today voters are hundreds of millions and information travels in minutes, if not seconds. It is therefore clear that yesterday’s democracy cannot be that of today. But the basic problem remains the same: the people who are subjected to the decisions must be called to join in and participate – otherwise citizens become subjects, slaves, and therefore, dissatisfied, they demand revolution.

The continent’s political debt

Here is the point: a German minister elected in Bavaria will not guide his ministry to swap the interests of Bavaria against those of Saxony, but will rule thinking about the good of all Germany. However, this is not the case in Europe, where the national sphere is what counts.

Even elections to the European Parliament are conducted not by pan-European parties, but by national parties that meet in bulk in Brussels.

This was a compromise for a passing phase but cannot work for long, and in fact it is no longer working.

This is the problem that must be dealt with or else everything will collapse, as it is collapsing. In March, the Brexit, whether it succeeds or not, will be a gash in the soul of Europe. At the end of May, at the European elections, there will be an advance of the populists. The answers so far have been defensive but do not address the problem of the continent’s political debt.

France and Germany have presented a reform proposal for a greater economic and financial union. The proposal is excellent – it is a step forward, but is it a sufficient step? The political and social union that people feel at the national level is missing. Is it then adequate? The cruel economic reins, lacking in spirit and culture, are at the base of the current crisis.

Italy has presented a different program with Minister Paolo Savona. It is perhaps more articulated and less linear, but it clearly poses the question of political unity. Perhaps the two ideas of reform can be combined, and become a basis for discussion to advance the issue of greater union soon.

Finally, the international question. Nobody lives alone, much less Europe and the Europeans who were born on the thrust and inspiration of America after two grueling world conflicts. The European question is also at the end a problem of relations between the EU and the US, and if political union in Europe must be there, indeed it must be in coordination with the United States. To think of ignoring Washington on this would be childish.

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