Leading article: How to solve a crisis of democratic legitimacy

Share
Related Topics

They lit up the Eiffel Tower in blue and gold early yesterday morning, but no light show could distract from the painful reality that France's rotating presidency of the European Union has begun in the most inauspicious of circumstances. Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon treaty last month and yesterday's intervention from the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, who told a newspaper that for him to ratify the treaty now would be "pointless", have disrupted France's carefully laid plans for the next six months.

In truth, Mr Kaczynski's comments come as no surprise. He was always opposed to Lisbon. Mr Kaczynski is also unrepresentative of Polish opinion. His country's parliament has already ratified Lisbon and Poland's Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, is committed to pushing ahead with the treaty. Mr Kaczynski can hold the process up, but he cannot single-handedly scupper Lisbon.

Yet it would be quite wrong for France, or any EU government, to ignore the fact that Europe is going through a crisis of democratic legitimacy at the moment, symbolised by Ireland's rejection of the treaty. The question is how to respond. The very worst course of action from European governments would be to push ahead with implementing Lisbon's provisions as if nothing had happened. That would merely play into the hands of those who argue that Europe is an anti-democratic conspiracy of elites.

The initiative about how to proceed on the Lisbon agenda can only come from Dublin. If the Irish government believes it can win a re-run referendum, so much the better. If, on the other hand, it believes a re-run ought to be ruled out, then the Commission will have to go back to the drawing board. Either way, what is required now is a period of cool reflection while the Irish government makes its mind up.

But that does not mean Europe should sit on its hands for the next six months. The French government ought to concentrate on areas such as energy, climate change and agriculture where Europe can still reach agreement. EU states need to make it clear to Russia that its tactics of divide and rule on gas will no longer be tolerated. If Europe can agree bold new measures to tackle global warming, it will be in a strong position to influence the policy of the next United States president, who takes office in January. Meanwhile, France's "Mediterranean Union" project has the potential to improve relations with the Arab world.

Other EU governments, especially our own, will also have plenty to do to ensure that the increasingly protectionist and populist overtures from President Nicholas Sarkozy are resisted. Despite what M. Sarkozy has been saying recently, there is little evidence that the Irish public rejected Lisbon because the EU believes in free markets. And the proposed French immigration policy, which achieves the dubious feat of being both economically damaging and inhumane, ought to be dismantled too.

Yet the irony of the situation is that while Europe is going through this existential torture, its governments are remarkably united on some of the largest contemporary geo-political issues. The wounds opened up by the invasion of Iraq have largely healed. All states are committed to reducing carbon emissions. Anddespite the harsh economic winds buffeting the continent, most states are showing no inclination to retreat into protectionism.

It would plainly be ridiculous to argue that the European ideal is in good shape. But the economic and diplomatic union of European nation states can still be a progressive force, on the continent and in the wider world. Now is not the time for Europe's friends to despair.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition