With less than two months before the big day, the Europarliament vote is starting to get on the news in the member states, as well as international broadcast channels that cover the entire continent. The amount of effort put into making the wider population care about European institutions is extremely commendable, and TAI is only a small part of it. Are they making much headway though?
Julien Frisch writes about the EP’s public relations agency commending the work he’s done. His blog is “one of the most interesting throughout Europe”. Now, I have tremendous respect for the work Julien does, but let’s be honest: he’s not exactly Jon Stewart. That’s not to fault him - he’s doing an excellent job with a fundamentally boring subject matter and an overwhelmingly apathetic audience.
The most exciting thing about this entire campaign has been Libertas - an amalgamation of marginal opposition parties that doesn’t even know what it’s supposed to be representing. In terms of my country, they originally claimed the support of an MP from the coalition’s dominant party and then assimilated the tepid ruins of a faction that has never managed to get itself elected to anything at all. (Best line from the Wiki article: It was not stated whether Libertas Estonia was sanctioned by Libertas.eu, or even if Libertas.eu knew of its existence.) All the insiders and observers were stirred into activity by a phenomenon that was counter-constructive by its very nature. Not that Libertas is very interesting - it’s just somewhat less boring than the rest of it.
There’s been talk of a new EC chairman, and the Lisbon Treaty would introduce a sort of permanent figurehead that, if you squint hard enough, could be mistaken for a President of Europe. And suddenly everyone is fascinated by the Rasmussen guy (not to be confused with the other Rasmussen, or indeed the other, other Rasmussen). Why? Because it’s a semi-credible alternative to Barroso. Hey, listen: Ruth Spencer and a lot of other people have been inspired by Barack Obama’s grassroots/online campaigning successes, and have been trying to carry those over to the EP elections - but that only works if you show people change they can believe in. If you’re just campaigning against something - be it bureacracy or Barroso - you will get a repeat of the 2004 US elections, where a bunch of folks got really excited about voting someone out, and failed miserably.
I’ve had discussions with other bloggers here about the EU’s democratic deficit, and whether we should really be that worried about the state of the EU if its citizens don’t seem to be bothered. Let’s not forget that, ironically, the origins of the EU are decidedly un-democratic. The unification of Europe was dreamed up by a tiny circle of national leaders; its intention was to integrate the continent’s economic infrastructure to such an extent that a war between European nations would be impossible (because any aggression against a neighbour would result in the destruction of some factory or gas pipe that your own country desperately needs). I could bring up the old cliche about that one guy who was elected democratically, but really, Europeans have been beating each other senseless for centuries. So the unification of Europe that currently exists in the form of the EU is, in origin, a ploy by the elite to subdue the instinct of the masses. (A little research shows that for a primarily economic institution, the EU has paid a hell of a lot of attention to its armed forces!)
Of course, the conspiracy in question is unassailably benevolent. I, for one, welcome our new Brussels-based overlords! For over sixty years, the continent has been free of outright conflict (with the exception of the Balkans, but we didn’t start that fire, and while the situation isn’t solved, at least they’re not actively shooting at each other).
So is the entire effort of the EU’s public relations machine wasted? Absolutely not. I said that apathy is acceptable in the presence of opportunity. By making an active effort to include its citizens, get them to participate, get them to care, the conspiracy redeems itself. The system makes a tremendous effort to introduce the maximum possible amount of democracy and participation into a structure that is designed from the ground up to stop an eventuality that is actually quite likely to have wide popular support. This is at least one big part of why the EU bureaucracy feels so monolithic and impenetrable, and why barely a third of EU citizens will come to the polls in June.
The EP elections do matter, though. There is just the one issue where your opinion doesn’t count. On all other matters, vote and be heard: it might not look that way, but I assure you, the EU is listening.