The absence of democratic legitimacy in the EU: new challenges, new opportunities.

Prof. Cristiano Cabrita

The challenges that lay ahead for democracy are very serious and few political scientists have the courage to pin down with relative accuracy what will happen in the near future.
During the Cold War period, democracy was at “war” with communism and, before that, with national-socialism and fascism. Currently, democracy faces new enemies: global authoritarianism, international terrorism, religious extremism, and Islamic fundamentalism. But it also faces old problems.
As a matter of fact, in Europe the absence of democratic legitimacy is not a new problem at all. The European integration process remains a top-down procedure. Regardless of the growing power of the European Parliament, it is still an elite-led process where the citizens have little or nothing to say. High politics are hardly subject to democratic oversight and thus the elaboration of policies by the elites rests upon tacit popular consent.
If the EU wants to be serious about democracy, it needs to reach out to the public with important political, economic, cultural, and security questions. The European citizens have to be engaged. The Mediterranean migrant crisis, the Ukraine crisis, the financial crisis, the terrorist attacks on European soil and the threat posed by the Islamic State, to name a few, have raised serious questions about the EU’s role as a democracy “promoter”.
At a state level, there’s a realistic problem with the far-right in the European continent and what we can call the deconsolidation of democracy. Moreover, some EU member states regard the EU as a political process with clear-cut strategic objectives, whilst others simply regard the EU as part of an economic process and thus consider it apolitical. Overall, eligible voters are disillusioned with the political process and the result is a low voter turnout due to voter apathy.
According to this paper, the absence of democratic legitimacy in the EU as fueled arguments that democracy – especially in Europe – is in decline. In short, Europe is facing a very hard challenge and it needs to create new opportunities to overcome future barriers to democracy implementation.