Last week, Debating Europe’s partner think-tank, Friends of Europe, held a seminar with EuropaNova in Brussels for the ‘40 under 40‘ European Young Leaders. We attended the event with camera in tow to interview some of those Young Leaders, asking them to respond to a couple of your comments on democracy, economic growth, sustainability and the future of the EU. We’ll publish their responses in a short series of posts, starting with our interviews with EU blogger Jon Worth and Benedek Jávor, a Member of the National Assembly of Hungary and leader of the green-liberal “Politics Can Be Different” (LMP) party.
The first comment we put to Benedek and Jon was sent in by Catherine, who argued that:
Europe should set up a system that mirrors the Swiss. Referendums called on any matter that EU citizens feel ardently about… This is true democracy.
Benedek supported Catherine’s call for greater use of direct democracy in the EU, replying that “we have to work out new and innovative measures to reinforce the feeling among European citizens that they can control and they can participate in European decision-making.”
Jon, however, was much more cautious about the idea of referendums in Europe, arguing that Switzerland might be the only country that could really make them work. Instead, he thought there needs to be better accountability of the Commission and that the European Citizens’ Initiative (which we covered in our interview with Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič) should be simplified and strengthened. Jon also agreed with Benedek that new and innovative democratic tools should be developed, highlighting the example of “liquid democracy” as something that could be interesting to explore.
We also had a comment come from Jovan, who argued that:
The democratic deficit exists because you need to get a university degree in European studies in order to understand how the EU works.
He called for “simplification of the institutional framework… Until then, it will be very hard for people to relate to, or feel comfortable around something they don’t understand.“
Benedek partly agreed, but pointed out that national governments are also incredibly complicated and little-understood by most citizens. The solution, he thought, was for there to be greater democratic control over EU institutions, including the strengthening of the power of the European Parliament relative to the Commission.
Jon also agreed, but, like Benedek, only to a point. “If you get into the nitty-gritty of any political system“, he said, “you really need a degree in order to understand it.” Instead, Jon thought it was more important to encourage a greater “politicisation” of EU politics, with a clearer distinction between different parties and political ideologies at the European level. This would, he believed, help citizens to identify more closely with the broadly “left-wing” and “right-wing” political movements in European politics that they understood at the national level.
What do YOU think? How can we make the EU more democratic? Do we need more referendums like the Swiss system (including, perhaps, referendums on membership itself)? Is the EU’s institutional framework too complicated, and in need of simplification? Could “liquid democracy” or other innovations help decrease the democratic deficit? Or would a great politicisation of EU politics help citizens to identify more with MEPs and Europarties? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.