Last Tuesday morning, the Center for Advanced Governmental Studies, together with the Student Government Association hosted a roundtable discussion on the European Union and Democracy: After the Greek Crisis, with keynote speaker, Klaus Welle, Secretary General of the European Parliament. Also on the panel were Desmond Dinan, Professor of Public Policy and Jean Monnet Chair in European Public Policy at George Mason University and Michelle Egan, Professor and Jean Monnet Chair at the school of International Services at American University.
Mr. Welle led off the discussion with a number of key points about the importance of the vertical and horizontal distribution of power within the European Union. He spoke about the possibility of integration through legislation although warned about “integration on the brink.” Mr. Welle also highlighted that from a historical and comparative perspective, European integration was moving “at the speed of light” and that the EU still had time to beat the record of the United States! He then spoke about the importance of democratic quality throughout the legislative cycle and discussed recent measures such as the new lead candidate system for the election of the president of the European Commission.
Following on from this Michelle Egan took to the podium to discuss European democratic legitimacy in the context of the Greek crisis and what she saw as some of the main issues facing Europe. She spoke how a focus on Greece misses the politics in the rest of Europe and advised the audience not just to look at the surge of Euroscepticism but also the pressures of secession and the rise of sub-national populism. She pointed out that questions of democratic legitimacy were issues well before the crisis.
Desmond Dinan then spoke, pointing out that the Greek Crisis was not yet over and that there was likely to be a chronic EMU crisis for some time to come. Nevertheless he was sanguine about the prospects for both Greek and European democracy. He argued that the Greek referendum served as a safety valve and that the Greek crisis was actually an example of democracy at work. He argued that the cynicism and democracy fatigue were normal and that the rise of the far right and far left, was perhaps the main challenge in Europe because of its corrosive effect on democracy, but that is in fact a global phenomenon. Speaking to specific EU problems, he felt that absence of a shared demos, identity and shared experience within the EU was still problematic.
These thoughtful speeches were followed by a number of questions from members of the audience, asking about: the bailout of European banks, European unemployment, the immigration crisis, corporate tax competition, and the Greek crisis as a Greek problem or a European problem