The sovereign French people have rejected the European constitution. The constitution was supposed to form the bedrock of future European development. I don’t think many people in Europe appreciate what a big hiccup this has caused.
In fact, it turns out that not many people in Europe appreciate much about what is going on with the European Project, or even care about it. That is the core of the problem the European Union has to deal with, and the European Institutions themselves have to shoulder most of the blame for the mess they’ve gotten themselves into.
Now the European institutions have to pick up the pieces and figure out how to communicate their message directly to the people of Europe. The Internet and technologies like weblogs will be critical to doing this.
It is difficult to deny that the Union has been very much a force for good in European affairs. It has prevented wars. In spite of the economic problems in Europe, it is helping make Europe a better place to live, by stimulating trade and growth, and increasing standards across the whole continent. That’s not to say there aren’t big problems too.
This new constitution, if it is ever passed, will straighten out a lot of problematic aspects of the European Union. It makes the operation of the Union a bit easier to understand, and it is supposed to give the Union a human face, in the form of a President and an understandable bill of rights. It will streamline the more cumbersome parts othe system.
If the new constitution isn’t passed, it will make it very difficult to expand the union further. The massive bureaucracy of developing and implementing detailed legislation for 300 million people spread across a massive, diverse continent will eventually grind to a halt if it is not restructured..
Unfortunately, it looks like this new constitution won’t be passed, for two reasons:
1. People don’t trust Europe. That’s not surprising. People can’t be expected to trust things they can’t see and can’t understand. People are getting scared. Europe seems to have a lot of power now, in terms of instituting new rules and regulation. Even though this power is often used benevolently (in the form of increased environmental regulation and respect for human rights) people are getting scared. A lot of the negative aspects of globalization are being blamed on the European Union.
If they look at the European Union’s workings in any detail, they will see that their concerns are largely justified. The European Commission is basically not very democratic, and the European Parliament, which is elected by popular vote, has relatively limited powers.
2. People are depending on their national politicians for information and guidance about Europe. Not surprisingly, this means that it is easy to get Euro-referendums passed in countries where the government is popular (like Spain) and difficult to get them passed in countries where the government is in the doldrums (like France). Europe’s destiny is being determined by a game of hopscotch with local political issues. This is no way to run a continent.
Whatever way you look at the problem, the answer is simple: communication.
Europe needs to get its message out there, directly to the people of Europe. It has to give the institutions a human face. It has to make the functionnaires and politicians of Europe seem like competent, friendly people.
This is not easy to do, because there are no ‘pan-European’ media, at least in the conventional media. Every country and language has its own TV stations and newspapers.
The only way Europe can make this work is to embrace the Internet and tell its own message to its own people.
It also needs to listen to what the people are telling it. Although the people of Europe are diverse, they all have shared agendas. They are all interested in having input into their specific areas of interest at a European level. On some issues they will want the Union to have a role in a particular issue. On other issues they will tell the Union to butt out and leave individual countries to find their own way.
Weblogs, wikis and online databases are the tools the European Union has to use to build this two-way communication. The European institutions need to use them to make their message clearly, and to get feedback from the many interest groups in the various countries. It will have to work in new ways, more advanced than any existing democracy.
But that is essential, because to succeed, Europe needs to bring meaningful democracy to a new level. Because to work, the European Union has to be more democratic than any political entity the world has ever seen before.