Europe is likely to be the most incandescent issue in the next UK elections (and one that, with a probable referendum on European membership during the lifetime of the next Parliament, may not be far from the mind of the Scottish voters in their own exercise of direct democracy in 2014); and yet it is the one topic on which there is very little clarity in public debate. Admittedly, both of those elections and the mooted European referendum are some way off, while the euro crisis may have created the impression that victory for the Eurosceptics is all but inevitable. But the lack of a serious and sustained public debate is not exclusive to Britain. Even though it is generally acknowledged that the state of Europe is a burning political question throughout most EU member states, it is rare to hear new analyses and solutions publicly and passionately debated. And where there is passion, it is full of sound and fury rather than openness to more thoughtful analyses and insightful solutions.
Richard Rose’s Representing Europeans is the attempt by a political scientist to talk to a wider public about this most intractable problem. Although it is informed by good scholarship, and offers some original insights of Rose’s own, this is not a book directed at the academic reader. It would certainly make a good primer on the politics of the EU, but it is (or it should be) a book primarily for the general reader and the thoughtful (European) citizen. It is the kind of book that would properly prepare citizens to reflect on the state of Europe, since it is as informative on the way in which the EU works as it is judicious in its identification of the problems that European politics faces.
A Europe where citizens’ commitment is lacking is a place where (as the book’s title hints) its citizens are not represented
The book’s argument is constructed on three main presuppositions: that EU politics, and particularly policymaking, is the product of the inescapable interdependence in which modern states operate; that the institutional logic of EU policymaking has, up to a point, served the citizens of Europe well, but that the very same logic has resulted in a fundamental dissonance between European and governmental elites and the national citizenries on the pace and direction of integration; and, finally, that what is particularly missing in EU politics is citizens’ commitment.
Although Rose does not elaborate on what he means by commitment, clearly he is referring to the investment that citizens make when they engage in the kind of politics aimed at influencing those who govern, so that the latter can decide a bundle of policies broadly reflecting the citizens’ (or group of citizens’) own interests. This is the more vertical kind of link between citizens and their political leaders, and vertical process of accountability, that national political systems of a democratic kind offer and on which they mostly base their legitimacy and their capacity to make citizens accept political decisions and policy options. A Europe where citizens’ commitment is lacking is (as the title of the book hints at) a place where its citizens are not represented.
How to address this problem is what the book, in its most original parts, aims to consider. Rose’s solution, as the subtitle declares explicitly, is a “pragmatic” one, based on two main ideas. On the one hand, he defends the idea that pan-European referendums with concurrent majorities are a way of engaging citizens (in both their capacity as national and European) in some of the main policy decisions, at least those defined by treaty-like agreements between member states. On the other hand, he suggests that such a method should be deployed not in a strategy of increasing integration (union in diversity) but in one of enhanced cooperation of those member states willing to pursue particular policies together (diversity in union). His solution is one of a multi-speed Europe, or, as he calls it, “interlocking rings”, which is attentive both to its citizens and their (diverse) policy preferences. Rose’s solution may not be fully convincing but it is worth engaging with.
Representing Europeans: A Pragmatic Approach
By Richard Rose
Oxford University Press, 176pp, £25.00
Published 25 April 2013