Friday

24th May 2019

Opinion

Democracy - what's the alternative?

  • "Democracy is difficult to build and secure. It takes time, effort and yes, money" (Photo: European Parliament)

It was with interest that I read the article by Derk Jan Eppink 'Two EU bodies spending money like no tomorrow.'

As President of the ALDE group in the Committee of the Regions, I am not in a position to comment on the Economic and Social Committee, but I am on the CoR. The article is riddled with inaccuracies. First of all, he claims that the CoR's budget has been increasing in an unchallenged way. I can assure readers that the CoR's budget is challenged constantly, not just by the budgetary authority, but by the members of the CoR itself, starting with the ALDE group which I lead, which has consistently demanded cuts where they were possible, efficiencies across the board, and justifications for any increases requested.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Secondly, Mr. Eppink states that the main mandate of the CoR is to engage participation from citizens. Again he is wrong. The main purpose of the Committee of the Regions is to give a voice to local and regional authorities of Europe in the process of developing EU legislation. That is why it is an assembly of representatives who have been elected by the citizens in municipalities and regions throughout the whole Union.

Engaging participation from citizens is a task incumbent on all EU institutions and actors. The main purpose of the CoR is to provide the local and regional perspective in the development of EU laws, given that more than half of these laws must be implemented at sub-state level.

And this brings us to the very crux of the matter which underlies Mr Eppink's article: the understanding one has of democracy and how it should function.

In his novel, Animal Farm, George Orwell teaches us a great lesson, namely that democracy is fragile and vulnerable if it is left in the hands of just a few. This is so relevant, because even in today's world of hyper connectivity, it takes so much to engage people, it is such an expensive process that it is easy to decry; tempting to diminish the role of the grass roots.

Yet it is just those grass roots that are Europe's democratic strength. Ask why it is that so many cities and regions want to be part of this great enterprise and you will hear us say: Europe matters to us! And if it matters to us, then we must matter to Europe. The reality is that a large percentage of people relate more easily to their local and regional authorities and follow more attentively their decisions because of the proximity. So, to exclude these authorities from the European process is therefore to exclude those people.

Democracy is difficult to build and secure. It takes time, effort and yes, money. Is it possible to quantify the return that citizens get from the money invested in democracy? Mr Eppink seems to think so, but then we would be entitled to ask whether the influence his political group has had on EU legislation is worth the public money that is spent on the running of that group. We would be entitled to ask him to quantify that influence. But I will not ask these questions, because they stem from a concept of democracy which is wrong and a disservice to citizens.

Yes, there are efficiencies to be made in all public administrations and in all EU institutions, and ALDE will continue to push for them in the Committee of the Regions. But the truth is, far from there being too much democracy and consultation in the European Community, there is not enough.

Democracy at local, national and European level may be a nuisance, expensive and time consuming, but, to quote another great man who went by the name of Churchill: 'it is better than the alternative'!

The writer is the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group in Liverpool

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU sanctions regime cannot be an 'EU Magnitsky Act'

The debate about the choice of name should not boil down to a political muscle show against Hungary, which opposes the reference to Magnitsky because of its political relations with the Russian government.

Voter turnout will decide Europe's fate

European voter turnout is in deep crisis. Since the early 2000s, the share of voters in national elections has fallen to 66 percent on average, which means that the birthplace of democracy now ranks below average globally.

Can Tusk go home again?

The opposition may not be able to defeat the rulling PiS without him, but if Donald Tusk wants to go home again, he will first have to remember where he came from.

Europe's far-right - united in diversity?

Europe's far-right is set to rise in the next European Parliament election. This vote will not yet allow the populists to build a majority. But it may become another milestone in their process of changing European politics.

The ECB Song Contest?

One can't help feeling that the race to succeed Mario Draghi as president of the European Central Bank has taken on the flavor of the upcoming final round of the Eurovision Song Contest.

News in Brief

  1. UK's May announces June 7 resignation date
  2. Ireland votes for EU election and divorce referendum
  3. Report: May to announce resignation plan on Friday
  4. Leading politicians: time for EU to have female leaders
  5. Poll: Finland's Green party to surge in EU elections
  6. High demand for postal voting in Denmark
  7. Some EU citizens turned away at UK polling stations
  8. Switzerland unlikely to sign draft EU deal

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Don't tell the Dutch - but Timmermans 'won'
  2. EU says goodbye to May with 'respect'
  3. Strache scandal: how big a hit will Austrian far-right take?
  4. Italy train row exposes competing views of EU
  5. Dutch socialists on top in first EP election exit poll
  6. No usage data kept for EU parliament's 'Citizens' App'
  7. EU sanctions regime cannot be an 'EU Magnitsky Act'
  8. Polling booths open in UK's limbo EU election

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us