The European Union is an international association of 28 European countries, the last of which was Croatia, which joined on July 1, 2013, was founded on an agreement known as the Maastricht Treaty signed in 1992, but many of its ideas have existed since the fifties of the last century. It is the association being formed within a process of European Integration in the aftermath World War II to secure long – term peace and stability in Europe, and provide an appropriate environment for economic growth and recovery. It has the characteristics of both a supranational entity and an intergovernmental organization.
One of the most important principles of the European Union is to transfer the powers of nation states to European international institutions. But these institutions remain governed by the powers granted by each state, so this union cannot be considered a federal union.
The European Union has many activities, the most important of which is a one common currency (the euro). Besides European members share a customs union; a single market in which the members can be provided by what is so called “four freedom”, goods, vices, people, and capital move freely. In the same token, there are a common agricultural policy and a common trade policy.
Although, the European Union faces currently a range of both political and economic pressures and obstacles, but it is the milestone of preserving European stability and prosperity. There is no shadow of doubt that this association counters with many quandaries and the most prominent are as follows:
Ongoing Migratory Pressures and refugee flows, as the region experienced a significant crisis over the last years because there are huge numbers of people fled conflict and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Africa and many other countries. They left their countries to search for asylum and better welfare benefits in European countries. The flows and influxes of refugees and migrants created a great divisions within the European Union; as there is no consensus among the members who lack coherent and profound effective migration and asylum policies.
High unemployment in many European Union countries.
The June 2016 vote in the United Kingdom in favor of leaving the European Union “Brexit”. The departure of a member state is unprecedented in the European Union’s history and undoubtedly “Brexit” will have significantly both political and economic repercussions for both the United Kingdom and the European Union; within the frame that the former is the European Union’s second largest economy and a key military power within the European Union.
The rise of populist political parties anti the European Union, who are often termed “Euroskeptic”, as many have been fueled by worries that too much national sovereignty has been relinquished to Brussels. The fear of losing the European identity is a factor in the growth in support for such parties.
A heightened terrorism threat has challenged the European Union’s ability to forge common foreign and security policies. Besides, security instability poses risks to the Schengen area of free movement. So European Union exerted efforts to suppress all different aspects of the foreign fighter threat and strengthening external border controls.
Within reference to the above-mentioned point, managing a resurgent Russia is a crucial issue for the European Union, as it urged Russia to stop backing the separatist forces in eastern and southern Ukraine. Besides, the proposed Russian gas pipeline project – the so-called “Nord Stream 2” has strongly been opposed from many European countries. In the meantime, many leaders across the union are concerned that Russia is trying to influence the politics in Europe and destabilize the European Union strategy.
The overall and possible scenarios that could be drawn from all these wide ranging challenges for the European Union in the years ahead include the following:
Going and muddling through:
Parallel with the efforts exerted to overcome the obstacles, it is worthy mention is that the European Union will function as it currently does, without any concrete changes or decision-making reforms, but common solutions to different crises will be taken on the ground.
Creating two different pillars:
In this regard, the European Union will be a two – pillar association. Seemingly the situation will be prone to further divisions between the member countries, each will choose those European Union policies in which it wish to participate.
More integrated association:
Although the precarious political and economic conditions face the European Union, the latter would emerge from these current challenges more united and integrated. Some suggest that consensus must be introduced in evolutionary and not revolutionary way among countries; especially in the frame and as a result of “Brexit” which will leave the union more aligned on the need for more political and economic integration and power consolidation.
Regardless of inconsistency among members, the European Union should exert tangible efforts to restore public trust and confidence in the European Association and its institutions to overcome its deficits especially on the level of the European communication policy and the democratic deficits.
In reference to the European Union’s deficits, with all its bewildering complexities, sensitivities and unresolved issues, it is important to define the meaning of communication policy which is one challenge in the former’s function. The proposed meaning of this term is a common set of guidelines, decisions, and codes of conduct adopted by the European Institutions to be implemented by the former twined with the member states governments. Evidently, there is no mention in the treaty of Lisbon regarding communication policy of the union.
By the same token, the European Institutions are not obligate to inform the citizens about the decisions and policies taken by the former even with the frame of the treaty’s conditions which declare that the decisions must be taken openly and clearly to the citizens. It is suggested that the political leaders must take into consideration the citizens’ request to be aware of what decisions are to be taken on their lives and providing them with more appropriate and clear information about the political process in the European Institutions. With the advent of what is called “Eurobarometers”, the leader will be clearly informed with his citizens’ requests and demands to be informed with the important information, and by this mutual understanding between the states and their citizens, the communication policy can be successfully achieved.
The communication policy should contain two elements:
Common information and communication strategy that put the guidelines to the institutions and governments to work together.
The structure in which the strategy will be implemented, by the European Press Agency which represents the European Institutions.
To handle this communication policy’s deficits, there are suggestions to shape well formulated policies that can be more beneficial for the overall interests of the states and their citizens in the framework of the union.
Taking into consideration that the ordinary citizens get attached to the taken decisions and policies which apparently affect their lives, so there are two dimensions can be done in this regard:
Responsible leaders in the country hold press- conference through which they can clarify the important decisions will be taken by the commission and other proposals and decisions both the Parliament and the Council will present.
Competent ministers and leaders may give a brief for the journalists at their countries to clarify profoundly the measures or laws will be shapes by one of the European Institutions, and its aims and impacts on the citizens’ life.
The European Parliament can play a vital role in this regard as well, through its members, who can deliver the message to the citizens via media, explaining the status of voting in such a decision or a law within the European Institutions, clarifying the main aims for voting for or against the law, as the Europeans feel that they are linked to the European Parliament but they lack the awareness of the Institutions which means that the former has a positive image compared to the other European Union Institutions but they lack the knowledge about its role and decision making process.
In this respect, eventually adopting these procedures will pave the way for more cohesion between the states and their citizens within the framework of the European Institutions and will reduce the intensity of the disapproval directed from the European citizens towards the European Union and its role; as they will become more aware of who and how they were represented in the European Union. In other words, it will be evidently cleat that the decision making process and measures taking methodology will be very clear cut in front of their awareness not implemented secretly.
No matter interlinked or not but there is an accusation directed to the European Union for having ‘democratic deficits’, and its profound effects would have their spillovers on the members and citizens’ scales. The elections are held but with a very low participation and lack of interest among citizens, which affirms the great impact of the national parliament comparing to the European one. The European Parliament holds the elections but people do not turn up. These elections are always criticized for lacking the required and appropriate level of voter participation to confer democratic legitimacy to the integration process.
Factually the citizens are calling for emphasizing the role of the national parliament more than the European one out of the feeling that the former will pave the way for more democratic legitimacy. Coupled with this, the citizens find out that the European Parliament is a democratic failure.
Historically, it can be noticed that these deficits and failure of the European Parliament started since the financial crisis occurred in 2007, as the crisis triggered a lot of shortfalls afterwards on both the national and European Parliaments but it was clear on the national level as the citizens had more trust at that time on the European Union more than their national governments which indicates that the democratic deficits of the European Parliament are teeming with more and bigger legitimacy deficits from the national governments side.
To handle this dilemma of both the national parliament and the European one and the democratic deficits of their functions, there are two contradicting views concerning proving the European Union’s legitimacy, which are as follow:
There is a suggestion confirms that strengthening the role of the national parliaments by granting them a greater role in the decision making taking by the European Union is the solution to improve the role of the European Union and to overcome its democratic deficits. This view comes from two facts and indicators:
That since the first European elections in 1979 voter turnout has fallen.
There is a lack of connections between the European Parliament and the citizens (voters) and it is very difficult to bridge that gap within 28 members with various political, economic and cultural spheres.
The other contradicting view finds that focusing in enhancing the role of the national parliament is not the appropriate way out from the democratic deficits, stating the following two reasons:
By the same token, the national parliament faces the same turnout drop at the same period of the European Parliament.
Factually, in many European Union countries, the citizens put less trust in their national parliaments than the European one. Moreover, the European Union’s Eurobarometer reflects this saying as 39% of citizens trust the European Parliament whereas there are only 25% trust their national parliament.
Not surprisingly and with these sorts of crisis and challenges face the function of the European Union have been toxic for public perception of the association, with trust in institutions such as the European Parliament. To curb this dilemma, in a lesser extent there is a need to rethink of the most appropriate model and criteria of applying democracy for the European Union within the view that the latter is considered as what is so-called “Demoicracy” which refers to take into account while framing the political order, both the two sides of democracy, citizens and the political authorities.
In reference to the above-mentioned solutions, there is another effort had been done, which is the European Union Initiative that was launched in 2012 aiming at paving the way for the European citizens to take a role and participate in the process of decision making at the European Union. This is an item taken by the European Commission to encourage the citizens to engage in the laws taking procedures and decision making process and to be interlinked with the European Institutions. Concrete steps were taken to improve the functions of the European Union by involving the national parliaments and paving the way for the citizens to participate in the policy- making. Besides, enhancing the dialogue between the civil society and the European Institutions will help to bridge the gap between the two parts and to bring the citizens much more closely to the European Union and its Institutions.
There is no shadow of doubt that the democratic deficits and all these challenges that burden the European Union have been topics since the 1980 and shall take times to be appropriately resolved; within the fact that one of the objectives of the European Union which is communication with citizens has long been the most important and one of its priorities and concerns of European Institutions, aiming at fostering profound trust in the European Project.