The EU Paradox (and more!)

I'm currently studying HEC Paris'(Ecole des hautes ├ętudes commerciales de Paris) EU Studies course. For those of you who aren't familiar, HEC Paris  is a private business school established in 1881, located in the southern suburbs of Paris, France. HEC is the business school of ParisTech and is considered as one of the most prominent business schools in the world.

A few weeks ago we had a written assignment to pass, which I found quite challenging. It was challenging because we were required to express and present so much in less than 1000 words. I wanted to share my assignment here on my blog, because I believe that it can be of use to inquiring minds and I also believe that it presents a new way of considering democratic participation when looking at politics.

Here was our task:

"How could you explain that, although the European Union has been continously extending its fields of competence and the European Parliament has been gaining more powers, turn out in the elections for the European Parliament seems to have steadily declined? What do you think could be done to increase the participation of the citizens in the democratic life of the EU? 

The essay should demonstrate a strong understanding of the materials provided in the lecture and the interactions between the different "players of the EU game". Please note that defining democratic participation may be not only a useful but an essential part of answering this question.

Please adhere to a 500 - 1.000 words range, neither exceeding the maximum word count nor failing to meet the minimum."

Below is my undertaking:

         Today, we face a paradox: though the European Union is esteemed to be improving through a growing number of competences and a creeping reach of influence and power; the popularity amongst its people seems to be dwindling and this is reflected in the turnout of the European Parliament elections. In this year's May Elections, for instance, the centre-right European People's Party won the most seats but came up well short of a majority. In Denmark, France, and Great Britain, rightist groups opposed to the European Union won unprecedented victories. Elsewhere, populist parties won significant seats. In total, roughly a quarter of all seats went to parties skeptical of the EU or protest parties. Thus, the election was seen as anti-establishment. In France, the Front National Party has beaten both the mainstream parties in this election, capturing 26 per cent of the vote share. The other topper is the stridently anti-immigrant and EU-sceptic UK Independence Party that trounced the ruling Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party. The extreme left party in Greece has emerged as the other major anti-establishment platform in these polls; not to mention small inroads made by Germany’s new party that is skeptical of the Eurozone rather than the EU itself. Meanwhile, the EU has come very far from its humble beginnings in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC) formed by just six countries in 1951 and 1958, respectively, to later growing in size by the ongoing accession of new member states and growing in power by the addition of policy areas to its remit. Today we are witnesses to the EU's single market and we admire how passport controls have been abolished within the Schengen Areathus allowing residents free movement, equal privileges and right of abode. Moreover, EU policies aim to ensure free movement of not just people; but of capital, goods and services. Today, the union maintains permanent diplomatic missions throughout the world and represents itself at the UN, the WTO, the G-8 and the G-20. Furthermore, we can see the EU competences ranging from Commercial Policy and Common Fisheries Policy amongst its exclusive competence; to the Internal Market, Transport and Energy amongst its shared competence; to Culture and Tourism amongst its supportive competence. Despite all of this, coupled with a hand-in-hand system of support between the European Parliament and the two other EU Institutions involved in EU legislation (The Council of the European Union and The European Commission), as well as the other EU Institutions such as the Court of Justice of the EU, the European Central Bank and so on and so forth— Euroscepticism is still on the rise!
         I believe that it is beneficial to have an understanding of what can and should be expected, in the first place. How can we determine what is disproportional or "wrong" if we do not even know what can be expected, what can be considered as a "democratic participation"? I actually think this proposes a philosophical angle of thought: is "disproportional" really in fact equivalent to "wrong"? If the positive growth and the positive efforts of the EU have not garnered a response from EU Citizens that can be considered proportional to its actions; can this be truly seen as wrong, given the fact that we ultimately consider the highest good to be the democratic one/ the true desire and voice of the people? 
 William R. Schonfeld has an incredibly interesting take on this which can be found in his book, The Meaning of Democratic Participation. Says Schonfeld, "The work of some political scientists is consonant with the assumption that 'asymmetry' is a fact of organizational life. That is to say, within social and political units, 'abilities to produce intended effects and derive benefits are unequally distributed; ... someone affects more than he is affected, controls more than he is controlled and/or gets more than what is allocated.' Democracy is a type of hierarchical relationship which mutes and reduces asymmetry through participation. Other work explicitly argues that symmetry is possible or at least might be approached. While asymmetry may be modal in practice, examples of "real democracy" do exist and should serve as models for emulation." Reading this, the questions that I am led to tackle, are:
  1. Is a participatory democracy a true democracy or by refusing to participate in something that one does not believe in, is that individual in fact expressing his right to a true democracy?
  2. Or does the act of refusal in fact constitute a participatory democracy in that a choice is exercised? 
  3. Is democracy enacted through doing what we are told is democratic or is democracy enacted through doing whatever we want— even when what we want is against what we have been told is democratic? 
          When I began writing this essay, I thought that I already had my answers in mind! I was going to say that I believe education— though a long-term method— is always the best way to encourage awareness of a cause or a cure— our particular "cause/cure" being a more involved turnout at the European Parliament elections and a more favourable opinion of the EU in general. I am the farthest thing from a "Eurosceptic" and in fact, I look to the EU as the loving hands that descend to care and protect its people to a degree that other nations can only dream of! So I was going to suggest the education of the young ones in school and the education of European society as a whole, as the best means of producing a more active awareness and desire in the people to make an influence for the betterment of the EU's efforts and reach. But after pondering upon what Schonfeld wrote, I wonder if the true "democratic participation" is in fact the active choice to do or not to do as one is led to believe should be done! If so, then I, friend of freedom, have nothing more to say. 


  • "8th European Parliamentary Election", Current Affairs, Accessed May 31, 2014.

  • "EU Institutions and Other Bodies", Accessed May 31, 2014.

  • "European Union", Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, Accessed May 31, 2014.

  • William R. Schonfeld (1975). The Meaning of Democratic Participation. World Politics, 28, pp 134-158. doi:10.2307/2010033. 

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