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Sep 27, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

The EU’s democracy problem

European citizens are down on the EU, according to a study carried out in 28 member states earlier this year. Revealing a disturbing pessimism about the current and future European Union, it seems that citizens like the EU far less than ever before.

Hungarian think tank Századvég carried out research in all 28 member states before the Brexit vote, but they postponed publishing the results to avoid influencing in any way the historic referendum. The results of Project28 are out now, and those parts of the study that shed light on how an average EU citizen sees the community are devastating.

In an economy that has been steadily growing over the past year or two, we see that 70 percent of people expect a shrinking or a stagnating economy. Only five percent of those polled think the EU is doing an excellent job in improving the economy and 38 percent say it is good. Seventy-seven percent see that the EU is mismanaging the migration crisis. Less than half see the EU sufficiently working to prevent terrorism. A hefty 83 percent says the EU should protect its external borders more efficiently.

Two problems stand out. The community, developed to further advance economic cooperation and deconstruct internal borders, is failing. According to its own people, the EU isn’t improving the economy and isn’t protecting the outer borders that allow freedom of movement inside the union.

That’s a big problem and it has to do with the fact that the EU has never managed to shrink the distance between itself and its own citizens. On the contrary, this distance has grown as the EU side-stepped democratic decision-making in major questions. Meanwhile, it failed to tackle crises arising internally or just outside its borders. The euro crisis and Greece’s near default have not been solved. High unemployment in the south, especially among youth, persists. Europe stood by as war broke out in Ukraine. It also failed to set up a proper mechanism to control and manage irregular migration.

We end up with an EU that looks to take power from the member states but then never bothers to successfully solve people’s problems. This is not what the EU used to be.

The common answer from Brussels is “more Europe,” which very often means that what we really need is a more centralized EU and less of the nation states. The democracy and public image problem of the EU will not be solved by Brussels usurping more power from the people of Europe.

We have a different vision for Europe. The EU succeeds as long as it respects the community of nations and when national sovereignty was delegated to Brussels only upon mutual agreement.

We believe the traditions of the continent lay in democracy and subsidiarity, and it will be loved again once the community remembers what it was when it was prosperous. This is the motivation behind the upcoming Hungarian referendum: to restore hope to the people that Brussels honors the voice of Europe’s citizens.