The EU has to change - or it will shake itself apart

If the EU really wants to reconnect with the voters then it needs to learn to respect nation states

The European elections next year are likely to be the first in over 30 years where the EU is actually an issue.

Previously they have mostly been referenda on the government or the issues of the day, but next year will see people across the continent asking what kind of EU we want.

Tomorrow, in the EU's London offices I will take part in a debate on whether the EU should change in response to the rising tide of euro scepticism and mistrust across the continent.

In the European Parliament, many of my colleagues see the EU as a project founded on emotion, driven by their hearts instead of their heads. We Brits mostly see it with a clinical eye, supporting it when it advances useful cooperation, but not ingratiating every action out of blind faith to the project.

Across the continent, support for the EU was stronger when its policies seemed to bring relative stability. However, today, we see many of its actions exacerbating Europe's decline. Inflexible European labour markets are driving up unemployment; climate policy written to satisfy a press release is forcing up energy prices; and the single currency project has pitted northern Europe against southern Europe as the north is unprepared to pay, and the south is unprepared to cede its economic sovereignty.

The EU has to change; otherwise it will shake itself apart. My opponent at the debate in London, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, would, I believe, agree with me here. However, for him, the answer is not for the EU to do much less and do it significantly better, but for the EU to integrate into a federal superstate.

The small detail that Guy and his friends have yet to fathom is that people do not want it. Those of us who point this out are derided as populist and nationalist.

However, we've been right so far. In particular, our warnings about the euro have sadly come true. It was a project driven by the politics of Europe, rather than sound economics.

Leaders failed to tell their voters and taxpayers about the consequences of the single currency, and today we see the consequences of ceding powers to a remote body, with fascist parties gaining 21 seats in the Greek parliament. 

In an effort to correct this lack of democracy, the EU is stepping up its efforts to construct 'European' democracy and a pan-European demos.

They want pan-European, state-funded political parties to coordinate transnational campaigns. MEPs backed a proposal from a British Liberal Democrat to have 20 MEPs elected to represent the constituency of 'Europe'. The European Commission wants each of these 'parties' to propose a candidate for European Commission President, to add an element of US Presidential glitz to the European Elections.

European Elections are complex enough in Britain, with ballot papers the length of your leg. Adding obscure European parties to the mix will not engage people, it will just make them see the EU as more remote when they see a list of candidates they've never heard of vying for a position that they know exercises enormous power over their daily lives.

So the next European Elections will be a debate about the kind of EU we want. However, it will not be the pan-European debate that the European elites want. If the EU really wants to reconnect with the voters then it needs to learn to respect nation states, and it should see that 'More Europe' is not the answer to every problem.

The EU does not have a demos, and so it can never truly have democracy. So instead it should focus on decentralising power back to the arenas that the people can control: national parliaments.

For Guy Verhofstadt's view, click here