Brexit: Denial

In no sense do any of the institutions of the Union represent the interests of the peoples whom they supposedly serve.

By Dr Richard North and cross-posted from

It seems that those who assert that the European Union is a democracy rest their argument on two planks. The first is to redefine the term, so that democracy means something different from its traditionally accepted sense.

The key to this is to deny the need for one of the central elements of democracy, such as the demos, currently lacking in the European Union. That then opens the way for the second plank, to introduce other elements into the equation, which can be fulfilled in whole or in part by the EU, thereby allowing it to claim democratic status.

Favourite amongst these attributes is “participation”. The EU cannot furnish a demos but it can involve its “citizens” in the processes of decision-making, asking groups and individuals for their opinions before it embarks on developing policy or making new laws.

The fatuity of this argument is so easily illustrated that one wonders how anyone can bring themselves to offer it. Nevertheless, they do. However, imagine if you will a pedestrian in the street beset by a gang of youths. They are intent on seizing his money, but before doing so they invite their victim to discuss whether he should hand over his wallet.

In this scenario, the hapless pedestrian has been involved in the decision-making process. He has been allowed to “participate”. But I don’t think many would seek to argue that this was an example of democracy in action. Much more than mere participation is needed.

There is, of course, a third option to which some resort: a different way of playing with definitions, whereby it is not democracy which is redefined, but the demos. This variation will have it that the demos can be transformed in such a way that, despite all evidence and understanding to the contrary, the EU does actually have a demos. And since this exists at a European level, the EU is miraculously transformed into a democracy.

Another favourite technique is to ignore the demos issue altogether and simply focus on the processes and rituals adopted by the EU, attributing to them “democratic” values.

In this scenario, we are reminded that the Commission president is chosen by the European Council, comprised of elected heads of states and governments from the Member States, and approved by the European Parliament, the members of which are directly elected by the peoples of Europe.

What this tedious litany neglects, though, is that the European Council is an institution of the European Union, part of the institutional framework of the Union which, according to the consolidated treaties, must “aim to promote its values, advance its objectives, serve its interests”. Only then, as an afterthought, does it include citizens and Member States

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