The economic crisis in Europe has rapidly become a sovereign debt crisis due to the failure to coordinate a coherent political response at European level. The austerity mantra that has been imposed on the European people has led to a further fragmentation of the European space, with citizens of “core” and “peripheral” countries having increasingly divergent abilities to influence European decision-making through traditional mechanisms of national representative democracy.
The institutions charged with ensuring the common goods of European citizens (the European Commission and Parliament) are undermined by the strongest countries in the European Council or by the European Central Bank. The approval of the Fiscal Pact, following the European Semester, the Sixpack and the Euro Plus Pact, is the latest European agreement focusing exclusively on the imposition of fiscal discipline which limits the power of citizens and parliaments (including the European Parliament) to decide over key economic and political choices, further decreasing democratic decision-making.
Europe cannot raise itself out of the crisis unless reforms are made to put citizens at the centre of the EU politics. Institutional reforms are needed to strengthen the role of elected supranational institutions, to give more forms of direct citizen democracy, to make the institutions accountable to their citizens, as in every democracy.
We do not have the luxury of deciding whether we want or do not want a reform of the European institutional architecture: there is already a quasi-constitutional process happening at the European level in which the citizens are barely having any say because they are effectively divided in national constituencies, allowing the rule of the strongest at the European council to continue to dictate policy choices and changes in the rules in a highly unbalanced way. So far citizens across Europe are only offered two perspectives to partake in this process: on the one hand a deeper integration of the EU on the basis of competition, deregulation and liberalization without democracy and on the other the threat of disintegration of the European space. Unless this dichotomy is opposed with positive counter proposals on a transnational basis, it is very difficult to see how any member state or minority coalition of the Union can break this logic which has enlisted the financial markets as its firepower. We need to struggle for the construction of a Europe where citizens, social forces, movements and associations return to have a say over their collective future; a Europe based on real democratic and political processes, able to interrupt the hegemony of austerity and reformulate the way out of our multiple crises. This implies taking seriously the constitutional challenge initiated by governing elites, matching it with a powerful counterprocess of a similar constituent character.
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