The proposal for a directly elected president is a provocative suggestion, but we need an actual way to promorte a pan-European level of discussion.
Last week, I attended a European Movement event with the leaders of the three main pro-European groups and I was surprised by the high level of discussion, spanning from European defence to immigration to the EU democratic deficit to health and environmental issues.
The three panelists, John Bowis from the Conservative Europe Group, David Schoilb from the Labour Movement for Europe, and Phil Bennion from the Liberal Democrat European Group explained the role of their movements both as a catalyst for European discussion within their parties and as a means to promote a wider debate of European issues on the political stage. Their solicitations were met by an attentive audience which intervened and responded with a strong pro-European stance and intriguing arguments.
The two-hour long discussion ended up, as usual, with poignant remarks about the lack of information that still characterises this country’s European debate: role of the media (not only Murdoch’s and the tabloids), political discussion focusing on national issues, absence of school programs and public activities engaging people by promoting a better knowledge of Europe.
It is a situation shared by many European countries, and refers essentially to the lack of a public domain of European politics, the absence of a pan-European debate, and the need for a European
There are indeed many different initiatives promoting a general debate and engagement at the European level (and in its own small way, this web-zine aims to be part of it), but still they are a drop in the bucket.
For this reason, I was extremely disappointed by the reaction of the three panellists and the audience when the discussion came to the interview of Tony Blair published that same day by The Times.
Blair made the case for a directly elected European President, with the aim to give Europe a more powerful voice on the world stage by improving democratic engagement and participation at a pan-European level.
“If you want to have a debate about the direction of Europe it seems to me very hard to have that on a European-wide basis unless you have some means by which people elect something that is Europe-wide in nature,” he said, adding that probably his proposal “has no chance of being accepted at the present time”.
The general reaction at European Movement’s event (both from the panel and the audience, with a very marginal exception) was absolutely contrary to Blair, on the assumption that a directly elected President would not challenge the democratic deficit, it would create a very unstable balance amongst European institutions, and that there is not at the moment a proper European debate and media system (not to mention European parties and organisations) allowing to make this election feasible or democratic.
This is a catch-22 situation, as we will never have a pan-European democratic debate and a strong engagement at European level, unless there is something for the people of Europe to discuss about and decide (and the elections of Members of the European Parliament is still a very local and national issue), but we cannot afford to have a pan-European decision, unless we have the social and political structures, and a system that allows all of us to take part in the decision in a democratic way.
The proposal for a directly elected president is a provocative suggestion – this is the style of the former UK Prime Minister! – but there is a very important truth in this message, something that tells us more about the way in which we have to deal with the European debate. How can we have a pan-European level of discussion? Can we just wait until the situation changes and all the conditions are matching? We need courage and vision, we have to face the future with a more proactive attitude. Otherwise Europe is doomed to be just the result of never-ending mediations and compromises, and will never become a strong, powerful, decisive global actor.