I will write now something quite subversive: the EU is a reasonably democratic entity.
It is the only international organisation to have a legislative power stemming directly from citizens, with its two-chambers system: the Parliament directly representative of its citizens and the Council, directly representative of governments which are too – at national level – directly representative of their citizens. Its powers are conferred by treaties duly ratified by member states’ parliaments or even through referendum. The legitimacy of EU acts is guaranteed by a judiciary system, composed by national courts and by European judges.
But, not surprisingly, the perceived level of democracy of the European system is now lower than ever.
There is a simple reason for that, which unfortunately is not explained and even less understood by media (and so, of course, by citizens): economic policy is NOT an European competence. And economic policy is what dominates the political debate nowadays.
The compromise agreed on in the Maastricht treaty – never changed since- is that monetary policy is an exclusive competence of the Union, while economic policy is a competence of the member states. Of course a single monetary policy cannot survive with 19 different economic policies. That’s why the Treaty on the Functioning of European Union provides for a coordination of national economic policies – now reinforced through the so called “European semester” and why there are a number of prohibitions aimed at avoiding excessive divergences among national economies (the so-called Stability Pact).
The coordination of national economic policies is a mere intergovernmental procedure, agreed among finance ministers and heads of state and government, without any judiciary control and – even less- democratic guarantees.
Why monetary policy was transferred to the European level, while economic policy remained national? Because budgets remained national.
The EU has a tiny budget (less than 1% of the EU GDP) which cannot allow any deep intervention in the management of crises or the fostering of growth. So, the EU can just recommend such measures to member states.
On top of that, states are not equal.
Not only they differ significantly in size and GDP, but they contribute differently to the EU budget (we have already written about that). And they contribute differently to the interventions which are outside the EU legal framework, as mostly happened in the management of the Greek crisis.
One of the most dramatic consequences of this crisis – whose extent has yet to be measured – is that many European citizens believe that what happened in the management of the Greek crisis is the normal way of functioning of the EU.
It is not.
I can tell you that Europe is better that that and can do (has done) better than that. It has provided over the years a significant increase of the rights of citizens in many core areas such as consumers’ rights, environmental rights, safety of products, right to move, work, study or be healed in other EU countries and so on.
Pity that nobody explains that, nobody writes about it, nobody takes a stance for minimum democratic standards in the management of coordinated economic policies.
The price Europe is going to pay for the intergovernmental (poor) management of the Greek crisis is a loss of credibility in all the other fields of intervention. Trust will take long years to be (hopefully) restored.
I hope that our politicians and journalists are aware of that.