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The two enlargements facing the European Union: Democratic and Geographical

Contrary to the dominant discourse of the day, the EU is not faced with enlargement on the one hand, and a deepening on the other; rather, it is faced with two enlargements: the geographical one which has been ever-present in European debate at an institutional level for a decade now; and another, democratic enlargement, which has been completely absent from such debate.

In order to understand this, we should do away with words such as ‘deepening’ (which have a ‘black hole’ type of clarity about them), and try to clarify a debate which is complicated enough already; thus, one of the basic challenges facing the EU in the decade to come is that of enlarging the circle of European decision makers from a small technocratic elite (comprising some 10,000 people at a maximum) to the 350 million or so citizens of Europe. To put it rather crudely, this is what the Irish have just remembered.

Of course, this democratic type of enlargement is less popular within the community system than the geographical one. Why? Simply because it raises the prospect of addressing all the various influences, power bases, competencies and privileges at play within the EU machine. The other enlargement, however, avoids any need to address such things. Of course, the other enlargement could paralyse the construction of Europe…but for a bureaucratic system, paralysis is not a cause of anxiety…, it is a form of daily life! No, it is those situations that raise questions that are dangerous!

But for all those who are preoccupied with the process of integration in Europe (and they are numerous…, even within the community administration itself), it is democratic enlargement which seems clearly to be the primary concern…, without which the other, geographical, enlargement will not take place (or, if it does, only at the expense of the construction of Europe itself).

The result of the Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty, with regards to the abstention rate and the majority vote against ratification, has just illustrated the actual scale of this unavoidable constraint on the system: geographical enlargement is contingent upon there being, first, a democratic enlargement…and what European ‘leaders’ want is neither here or there. In effect, the opinion of the European Commission has as much weight as that of a European think-tank (it’s political legitimacy reflecting, at the moment, it’s representative legitimacy), and it is important that candidate states take note of this, as well the fact that elected leaders will be responding (during the arrival of the Euro in 6 months and on-going national elections) to the voices of their electorate – and this electorate is not going to be too concerned to begin with about geography!

Accordingly, it is essential that we realise, especially on the part of those (and I am one of them) who believe that enlargement towards the East is, in itself, essential, that there needs to be a firm sequence of enlargement: democratic to begin with, and then geographical. And, as a number of Eastern Europeans have underlined, they have no wish to engage in a European Union which suffers from a democratic deficit.

While this democratic enlargement (which will be of a progressive, sectoral nature as, for instance, in the election of the first European Student Council – www.eu-studentvote.org) remains stagnant, the people of Europe will continue to block decisions made by the European bureaucracy – which is exactly what happened with the Irish.

The Irish case is dissimilar to the Danish one in 1992, where the Danes were objecting to monetary union. The Irish instinctively occupy two roles: that of a pro-European majority, but a majority which is becoming tired of signing blank cheques and which is staying at home…, and that of an anti-European element who have increasingly the feeling that they can become the majority.

Today, it is apparent that this scenario would unwind in each Member State over a ratification of the Treaty of Nice.

Beyond Nice, it is quite clear that those political leaders of Euroland who do not understand this need for rapid democratisation within the EU will pay dearly from next year onwards for this political myopia. In effect, while they enjoy today the ability to pass over the people in order to effect ratification of European treaties, they will bitterly regret, in 2002, that their States did not put into effect referendum procedures on these treaties…, because it is during a national election that the soul of the Eurocitizen is expressed.

As for the community institutions, their ultra-bureaucratic nature and distance from the citizens makes them afraid to even address what the citizens are wanting to say and, above all, that they cannot be stopped from saying it. Their only rational choice would be to join the citizens and to associate themselves with them and, through that, discover a legitimacy that has been lost (if it was ever obtained); but one can only be pessimistic about them actually taking note of the situation before it is too late.

To conclude, contrary to the institutional system in the community that appears to speak in chorus today, the historic priority of the EU is not in fact the pursuit of enlargement towards the East; primarily, it is the democratic enlargement of the decision making process within the EU.

The Irish have just remembered that, and from 2002, each candidate for the post of Head of State in Euroland will be obliged to take note – or risk losing the election.

About Marie Hélène

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