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Europe of the Concilium Plebis

Thursday, 24 January, 2013

The day in Europe begins with the news that Spain’s unemployment rate has hit the highest level since measurements began in the 1970s. At the end of last year, the jobless rate was a frightening 26 percent, while unemployment for people under 25 years old reached an off-the-scale 60 percent. Clearly, some parts of Europe are not working. And David Cameron will, no doubt, allude to this when he addresses the World Economic Forum this morning in Davos.

As the European north-south divide gets larger and the suffering of those yoked to the common currency becomes more visible, it’s time to talk about the future of the continent. Or, at least, the entity known as the European Union. Unless it manages to create some kind of accountable, democratic institutions, the outlook is grim. The Roman way For the Brussels bureaucrats, European democracy means minimizing the role of the nation state, a form of governance they see as outmoded. In their vision, the European Council would be abolished and the EU Commission would be directly elected by the EU Parliament. This post-national system would represent democracy.

The problem with this scenario is that most Europeans don’t want it. They wish to keep the democracy they have right now. The one thing they do want, however, is increased use of the plebiscite, a concept that dates back to the Concilium Plebis, the popular assembly of the Roman Republic. The problem with referendums, though, is that there’s no knowing what the people would decide. The reintroduction of the death penalty? The deportation of illegal immigrants? The scrapping of student fees in Bavaria? The list is long.

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