Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Populism in the EU

One of the major criticisms of the EU has been the democratic deficit. The administrators are powerful. The nations are well-represented. The European bank has real economic clout. The EU court has wide sway in human rights. But the EU parliament, representing the citizens, seems the least influential body.

Here's a suggestion for change.

Europe Turns Ear Toward Voice of the People
The way Martin Kastler sees it, there ought to be a law prohibiting shops all across Europe from opening on Sundays, much as there has been for generations in his native Bavaria.

He has already begun collecting signatures of support. And soon, courtesy of a little debated clause in the new Lisbon Treaty, the European Union may be obliged to consider drawing up such legislation…

Long criticized as lacking democratic accountability, the European Union is about to give its 500 million citizens more say — if they can collect one million supporting signatures from a “significant” number of member countries…

[E]xperts say the European Union could soon see petitions on subjects as varied as banning bullfighting, burqas and genetically modified food; curbing offshore drilling; introducing new taxes; ending the exchange of financial data with the United States; and keeping Turkey out of the union.

Proponents hope the initiatives will be something of a team building exercise, too. Forced to collect signatures across borders, Europeans will finally, they hope, get to know one another, engage in Europewide debates and develop the elusive “European identity.”

But others see trouble brewing. What if the voice of the people turns out to be racist, politically unwieldy (think California referendums) or just plain frivolous? One online campaign in Portugal to force members of the national soccer team to grow mustaches claimed the support of 60,000 people recently…

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