OPINION

The democratic paradox

We often hear about the ?democratic deficit? in the European Union, the claim that Brussels decides issues of great importance without the say of citizens of member states. That is why each EU reform process is aimed at giving the European and national parliaments a stronger voice, so that citizens may feel that they are part of the decision-making process. But, is it certain that greater participation is to the greater benefit of Europe and its people?

Let?s see how things stand today. Finland is a small, prosperous democracy, whose citizens are both well-informed and have the courage of their convictions. The country is one of six members of the eurozone whose bonds have a AAA rating, making their participation in the EU?s bailout fund necessary. Finland, though, is governed by a coalition of six parties, which have committed themselves to demanding guarantees from the countries that will borrow from the bailout fund. This demand has caused a rift in the eurozone, with some countries demanding similar collateral while others understand this will not work. At the same time, the Greek government already faces mounting discontent at endless austerity programs and reforms, and is unable to ask its voters to accept the added humiliation of putting up state assets as collateral for further loans.

This situation is a danger to the whole rescue package adopted at the eurozone summit on July 21. The EU?s apparent inability to take decisions that will convince markets that the euro is protected by a single, decisive policy poses a far greater risk to the euro than does Greece?s debt.

The democratic paradox is that voter sensitivities in both rich and debtor nations lead to political paralysis which jeopardizes the unity of the eurozone and undermines the very existence of the single currency — with all that disintegration of the eurozone and the EU would entail. This does not mean that less democracy will lead to decisions that will save the euro and the EU?s unity. It means that ruling parties, as well as main opposition groups, must believe in the European experiment to such an extent that they are able to persuade their voters that some risks must be taken when the result is of paramount importance.

It is clear that many citizens in countries called upon to support their weaker partners are not convinced that the risk is justified, just as citizens in debtor countries are not sure their sacrifices will not be in vain. Too many governments appear wary of trying to get the message across. In other words, Europe?s greatest deficit is neither economic nor institutional: it is a deficit of faith.