OPINION

Crucial turning point

The record abstention rate from the EU parliamentary elections on Sunday has thrown Brussels’s Eurocrats and the various national governments into evident worry. The greatest shock came from the low turnout in virtually all the Eastern European newcomers. However, the message sent by public indifference over the composition of the European assembly has yet to be fully grasped. Some ought to tackle the phenomenon with greater attention and less arrogance. Instead of voicing disappointment and urging for greater participation, they should look to their own responsibilities. It is wrong to interpret the cold indifference from the public as sure signs of rejection and Euroskepticism. Such negative sentiments do exist, but they reflect a minority trend. In truth, the majority of citizens support European integration but are hardly enthusiastic about the existing institutions and procedures. This is partly because this historic experiment started out as, and still remains, an affair for a small elite. And, most importantly, because political administrations are caught up in myopic ethnocentrism and remain hesitant about what should be their top priority – the EU’s political emancipation. Of course the EU has a long way to go before it can play the global role that matches its size. If the EU wants to stimulate public interest (and get on with the «ever closer union») it must take solid steps in that direction. It is important that, despite their differences, the member countries have succeeded in hammering out a common identity and a sense of a common perspective – an achievement that acts as a shock absorber during turbulent times. EU members must take brave steps toward deeper integration – otherwise the unification experiment will degenerate into a sum of shortsighted, egotistic objectives. This is more than a theoretical threat. The meager turnout at Sunday’s European vote reflects the people’s indifference to a democratic process which is symbolic more than anything else. Over the past few years, the European Parliament has somewhat increased its leverage but it is an open secret that decisions are made by the intergovernmental bodies. The issue of the European Constitution is a crucial one, for it will be an indicator of the members’ determination to proceed with integration. This chapter should have closed by now. Some obstacles have been overcome but difficulties remain. The problem is not the – natural – disagreements that derive from national particularities, but the direct questioning of the goal itself, particularly by the British. By its nature, EU integration can only continue on the basis of consensus. This means time-consuming negotiations and successive contacts. It takes forward, if slow, steps in the service of a strategic result.