May 2013 lead us from the Year of Citizens to the Union of Citizens

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The graphic at the official page dedicated to the European Year of Citizens.
Picture credit: © European Commission

This is my last post for the year 2012; a year that has been the most important in my life thus far, for a number of reasons. Concerning my blog it was recently recommended as one of the three “must-reads” for 2012 by the editor of Bloggingportal.eu: for his constant and high quality coverage of the Eurocrisis and European Politics. From my side, I wish to hereby express my gratitude to all my blog readers and to all my fellow euro-bloggers for making participation in this public sphere interesting, engaging, meaningful and didactic. I wish or rather I am almost convinced that 2013 will see the European blogosphere playing an ever-more important role, both informative and constructive, in the events which are expected to unfold in 2013—the year that has been designated as the European Year of the Citizens (see official page). The latter shall be the topic of the present article, since the democratization of the European Union edifice should, in the humble opinion of the present author, be the top priority of any reformative agenda.

According to the Commission’s official page for the Year 2013:

The European Year of Citizens 2013 is dedicated to the rights that come with EU citizenship. Over this year, we will encourage dialogue between all levels of government, civil society and business at events and conferences around Europe to discuss those EU rights and build a vision of how the EU should be in 2020.

This language certainly engenders a host of ambitions from people across Europe and it seems to succeed in bestowing optimism in the hearts of those who long for a genuine European democracy. Nevertheless judging from the fact that on the economic, fiscal and financial fronts we are already witnessing the rapid formation of a technocratic state encompassing all Euro area member states, I believe it will be a Herculean task to expand democracy in the near future; democracy not in its perverted meaning of “democratic accountability and legitimacy”, not even in this fig leaf of “encouraging dialogue” with authorities, but in the broader and proper sense of actual and effective participation in the levels of power where decisions that influence our lives are being taken.

What the Commission is aiming at with this campaign is certainly a laudable end, given that informed and vigilant citizens are a prerequisite to any demands for further liberty. That which merits criticism nonetheless is the overall ambition of EU policy-makers to establish a so-called Citizens Pillar for the EU architecture. Such a pitiful scaffold is nothing but a suboptimal compromise, considering that the EU, for it to be genuinely democratic and thus sound in its policies, ought to be predicated exclusively on citizens, rather than having them as the de facto cheerleaders and infamous apologists of a technocratic apparatus of power and control.

If the intergovernmental praxis remains the only method of revealing conduits to further and deeper integration, then the pro-citizens campaign is but a healthy exercise in euphemistic palaver, embellished with lofty ideals, but devoid of any substance, as the locus of power will remain in powerful national governments that will always unscrupulously exploit any favorable balance of power they are found in, to propound or effectively enforce their own understanding of what is good and desirable.

To allude Adam Smith’s metaphor, with the inter-governmental method in place it is as if European integration is moved by an invisible iron fist; one that does not hesitate to transcend fundamental democratic norms and practices, and which in the name of mitigating a Eurocrisis that has been exacerbated by inane European policies, will sacrifice to the altars of efficiency and effectiveness any modicum of liberty citizens had gained over the years.

Reformative change requires grassroots action, yet it should not be neglected that the mother of all actions is the painstaking process of thinking and of producing ideas, ambitious ideas, crazy ideas, of how to make the life of each individual better; the collective life, the private life. Activism for its own sake is but a waste of energy, and so are ideas that are not materialized in action but which remain whimsical theories of armchair thinkers who, aloof from the fray, lose sight of the particular task at hand.

The year 2013 can indeed be a first step in expanding European democracy and in progressing towards a bottom-up system of decentralized decision-making. It will however face the headwinds of technocracy on the policy fronts that are among the most cardinal to any modern state, namely the economic, fiscal and financial ones. Judging from the dismal record of the EU, a mere year for citizens is more than welcome, however any praise to European institutions should not escape the pressing need of developing a Union of Citizens out of the present order—and for that we, as citizens, must remain adamant and decisive.

Happy new year!

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Protesilaos Stavrou

EU policy analyst. Philosopher. Web developer.
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