Geographies in Depth

Can public support for the EU be restored?

Jon Worth
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Jobbik. Golden Dawn. Frank Stronach and the BZÖ. Perussuomalaiset. Partij voor de Vrijheid. Movimento 5 Stelle. UKIP. Piratpartiet. The party-political mainstream in Europe can no longer deny that the game is changing. Even if traditional parties do indeed have answers to the political and social challenges that all European countries are facing, the voters are not listening.

I intentionally put together all the alternative parties above, from Left to Right and optimistic to dangerous. About the only thing they have in common is their insurgence against the mainstream.

I was a participant at the meeting ‘Rebuilding Europe’s Competitiveness’, held in Rome on October 30 by the World Economic Forum in close collaboration with the government of Italy. The group of economists, CEOs and policy-makers assembled at Villa Madama with the Italian Prime Minister Monti and members of his cabinet might have the right technical answers to help the eurozone out of its current woes. But while Monti is respected for his pragmatic approach, the answer lies not in technocracy. If reforms are made without the clear consent of European citizens, sooner or later, the future stability of the European Union may well be at stake.

So how can such support be achieved? First and foremost, the democratic deficit at EU level needs urgently to be addressed. When citizens go to the polls at European Parliament elections they – correctly – cannot see what changes at EU level, whether they vote for the mainstream Left or the mainstream Right. The result is low turnout and/or the rise of populist parties. At the very least, the President of the European Commission must be chosen by the majority group in the European Parliament, and ideally there should be one President of the European Union (merging the Barroso and Van Rompuy roles).

But that is not enough. It is not as if our national governments and parliaments in European countries are especially well trusted, and these are already classic parliamentary systems. This is why calls for a “United States of Europe” are not enough; it would be the Europeanization of an old and not entirely trusted system.

Yet from Reykjavík to Berlin, from London to Zagreb we already have some partial examples of how the power of the Internet and social media are being harnessed for political purposes. Iceland has crowdsourced a new Constitution, while the Piratenpartei in Germany has piloted Liquid Democracy tools as a new form of party political decision-making. The UK government has used games to engage citizens in energy policy, while citizen engagement online in Croatia is helping to stamp out corruption.

We need all of these ideas, and more, at EU level if public support for the union is to be restored. That is a task at least as hard as solving the technical conundrums of the eurozone.

Author: Jon Worth is a blogger and founder of the EU blogging aggregator He works as a communications consultant in Denmark.

Image: A shadow falls across the European Commission headquarters in Brussels REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

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