Europe – a “boiled frog”?
ROGER HESSELIs Europe on its way to becoming a “boiled frog”? If Europe does not realize what is happening today it may be too late for saving itself from getting boiled like the proverbial frog inside a pot on a fire. Today the European Union is numb to the rising temperature in the pot:
On 22 September 2013, the German federal elections will show whether power shall remain within the ruling conservative coalition led by Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, or to entrust it to the Social Democrats or to a new coalition. The Chancellor was widely criticized for her austerity politics. The European banking union is a burning topic. Hence, the EU and European economics should be the central focus of the national election campaign. But they are not. Europe has largely remained off the agenda. Politicians have got around the European issues in their campaigns to avoid taking unpopular issues in a country that has co-financed bailouts of other EU states. Europe is not a “vote-winner”.
Furthermore, in May 2014 the EU citizens will participate in the elections of the European Parliament, a powerful body which co-decides on almost all legal acts for half a billion people. Again, the talk shows cannonade the never ending Euro(pe) crisis. However, since the beginning of the European elections in 1979, the turnout of voters decreased constantly and in 2009 it was only 43 percent. What will happen if only some 35 percent of the citizens go to the ballot box? Then Europeans should start to doubt whether their Parliament has sufficient democratic legitimacy. Eurobarometer surveys from the EU’s Public Opinion Analysis sector indicate that the euroscepticism is rising since 2007. The elections held on 14 April 2013 in Croatia were discouraging: only 20.7 percent of the Croats cast their votes.
In the German elections the EU is a taboo, because of the politicians’ fear for losing votes. In the European elections more the 60 percent of the voters may stay at home. Why? Because the EU has become mute, cheerless and too much complex. Indeed, the relationship between the European citizen and the EU is in trouble. In the midst of Europe there is a general silence about the EU. Politicians are ducking down. In the “numb frog attitude” one doesn’t perceive the creeping dangers of the “boiling water”: The markets are globalised, but the politics is not.
Is there any new European crisis creeping around the bush? The Union has a chance to “jump out of the hot pot.” A new institutional crisis can be avoided, if citizens are no longer alienated from the decisions taken in Brussels. The participation rate in the European elections may improve, when voters see that their voice matters. It is a good omen that the European parties are planning to propose candidates for the next European Commission President, who will be appointed by the European Council but has to be approved by the Parliament. Personalities matter in politics. Pascal Lamy and Christine Lagarde, for instance, are named as possible candidates for the top job. With a genuine contest for political alternatives there will be something at stake in the forthcoming elections. However, if again a clear majority of Europeans don’t go to vote, an institutional crisis of a new kind may emerge.
Intellectuals started wake-up calls. They criticize that nobody has the guts to mobilize the majority for an enhanced European integration. More competences can only be shifted from the national to the European level, if a fully-fledged parliamentary democracy is established across borders. As the political scientist Dr. Ulrike Guérot had put forward, the real challenge is “to imagine a transnational democracy that would correspond to Euroland as one aggregated economy.” The step forward from an economically driven confederation of states to a value-based confederation of states requires determination, a common vision and concrete action.
*Roger Hessel is Att. at Law and a Senior Fellow at TEPAV and lectures at TOBB Economics and Technology University (TOBB ETÜ), Ankara.