September 2001

EU's democratic deficit

A confusing system of governance and EU leaders' tendency to isolate themselves from ordinary people are core reasons why citizens experience a democratic deficit in the Union. This is the conclusion of the EU Ombudsman Jacob Söderman in an interview in the rural newspaper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus (2 September 2001).

"They say that the leaders are appointed democratically but do they behave democratically?" Söderman asks.

"The masters arrive to their meetings by private planes. The roads from the airport to the meeting place and luxury hotels are closed. Ordinary people can't even get near these places. This does not give a democratic impression.

"Summit meetings are problematic because in practice they take place behind closed doors, without it being possible for people to find out what is happening. Information is given out only on a very general level and only unconfirmed leaks are available about discussions.

"The crisis of representative democracy finds its epitomy in the EU summits."

According to Maaseudun Tulevaisuus, Söderman thinks that the division of labour in EU decision-making should be clarified. In addition, leaders and decision-making should be nearer ordinary people.

Söderman sees the demonstrations during the EU summits as a significant symptom of the crisis of democracy.

"I think the phenomenon is extremely serious. The current demonstrations are the biggest social protest since the 60s.

"Compared to the 60s, the difference is that in those days people still believed that one was able to influence matters through political parties and organisations. Now the belief in representative democracy has disappeared."

Söderman thinks that it would be a good idea to create contacts between the young demonstrators and EU leaders. One should try to find suitable ways to organise such discussions.

"These youngsters are enlightened people. Probably Europe's future leaders are amongst them.

"Actually, they have very few reasons to be rioting against the EU. On many issues, the EU has exactly the same aims as they have. Like them, the EU wants to protect nature, encourage positive development in developing countries and control economic globalisation."

Söderman is critical of the EU for trying to do too many things. The Commission cannot cope with everything it has taken on. As a general principle, the Ombudsman recommends the subsidiarity principle.

"One should all the time think what is the proper place for a decision. If a decision can be made in a village, that's the best place to do it. Then people would know who is deciding and why."


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