August 31, 2016
This is a guest post by a group of Science Po students cycling across Europe, aptly called Bicycl’est. You can follow their travels on Facebook and on WordPress. They are documenting their cycling journey across the continent, taking them from France to Poland.
We are a group of seven first-year students from Sciences Po Paris, the Dijon campus, specialising in Central and Eastern Europe, and particularly interested in European affairs. Since September, we are preparing for a bike journey from Dijon to Warsaw in order to get to know different European cultures and people. We want to actively discover and develop our knowledge about Europe. In these times of European instability, considering Brexit and the rise of far right parties all over Europe, we want to know more about the sentiments around Europe. We wish to meet European citizens directly to discuss with them the EU and the “European feeling”. With this perspective in mind, we will cross different cities – such as Strasbourg, Mainz, Bonn, Cologne, Göttingen, Berlin, Poznan and Warsaw – that are all meaningful to our European History, in terms of division but also reunification. In this field of ideas, we want to reflect on the history of European and its impact on Europe’s contemporary people.
The proposals of the 1989 Initiative truly awoke our interest because, in this huge project, we saw young people like us willing to act for Europe and to make its citizens more aware of our similarities; our values, close history and shared destiny. This is why we decided to integrate one proposal released by the 1989 generation Initiative into our project:
Direct election of European Commission President
Among various arguments that are raised to attack the European Union’s legitimacy, we can observe that the notion of a “democratic deficit” is central to the debate on today’s Europe. From the people who criticize Europe’s functioning, but also from many citizens of the Union, we hear more and more disappointed and even indifferent talk about decisions from Brussels: Brussels has become a symbol for technocracy and the lack of communication with European peoples and citizens in the government of the Union. At the centre of these accusations: the absence of democratic legitimacy and the power of the European Commission. Nowadays, the President of the European Commission is appointed based on the Parliament which is, indeed, elected by the European citizens (in spite of the general lack of participation in the elections). However, there is one problem: the Commission alone has the privilege of initiating legal texts. Most decisions are taken by the Commission, a panel of unelected experts (just like a government), led by someone whose legitimacy is not confirmed by the people.
This explains the common perception of supposedly unrepresentative procedures of the Commission, not elected by the citizens, but endowed with the power to control legislation. We think that this power, which is in the hands of the European Commission, should be granted directly by the European citizens, in line with the democratic values that are at the heart of the fundamental texts of the European Union. We believe that if the President of the European Commission – the only institution possessing the right of legislative initiative – was elected directly and democratically by the European citizens, we would be one step closer to assuring the legitimacy of the European Union and fighting against the democratic deficit that is denounced by more and more people.
An important part of our journey and investigative work will be to interview people that we meet along the way. Traveling by bike is a convenient way to meet the European peoples.
This question about “democratic deficit” directly affects European people, that is why we think it would be really interesting to learn more about the thoughts of surveyed individuals. Asking people about their point of view regarding the direct election of the Commission’s President could help us to understand Euroscepticism and the issue of the “democratic deficit”. It is a concrete point, not an inaccessible and abstract problem, and they might have an opinion on it.
We are particularly interested in seeing to what extent this point of view is linked to the nationality of the people interviewed. The question may highlight a difference in political cultures between the countries.
All our results, meetings and experiments will be shared in another article after our trip to Warsaw.