>Mark Leonard on ‘smart referendums’ for the EU

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An interesting essay by Mark Leonard of the Centre for European Reform ‘Democracy in Europe: how the EU can survive in an age of referendums’ www.cer.org.uk/pdf/essay_democracy_march06.pdf

The beached European Constitution and apparent derailment of significant further integration and enlargements, he notes is the product of the collision of the erstwhile pattern technocratic and intergovernmental integration and enlargement with the more desire to bridge the democratic deficit through referenda (the most vehicle for open, populist politics) rather than strong European level democratic institutions (more powerful European Parliament, Commission as more of EU ‘government’ accountable to Parliament etc). Referenda may have delivered (sort of) as device for legitimating decisions already taken in the special circumstances of CEE accession referenda of 2003, but are now to use Paul Taggart’s phrase ‘a touchstone of dissent’ for a range of issues (some EU-related, some not) from a range of constituencies of left and right.

Mark Leonard’s solution? Not incremental adoption of bits of Constitutional Treaty sans referenduns, still less the French Europe des projets, both likely to be ineffective in the long term and a target for populist and nationalist resentments (even if they were politically attainable in the short term) but ‘smart referenda’ – better co-ordinated, better timed and backed by grassroots popular engagements, NGO and civil society coalitions of the Make Poverty History type and ‘democratic functionalism’ – a focus on solving policy problems, rather than institution building. Whether he accepts the wider logic of (neo-)functionalism in the theoretical sense of the term – the gradual ‘spillover’ of integration from one sector to the next and the tendency of interests to burst out of the national state is not made clear. Hard however not to be left which the impression that the briefing is very much part of the problem it describes – a top down elite-oriented primer for politician and bureaucrats on how to ‘face the voters’ over Europe., its vision smelling more astroturf than grassroots participation. Stealth Democracy in Europe perhaps?

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