OPINION

Awaiting political leadership

The leadership of the European Union is extremely nervous over the prospect of public opinion in France coming out against the European constitution. A similar panic broke out when the Maastricht Treaty and the introduction of a common European currency became the focus of a referendum, but there were no awful consequences. On the other hand, the countries which opted to stay outside the eurozone – Denmark, Britain and Sweden – do not appear to have suffered greatly from their isolationist policy. From one perspective, a vote against the European Constitution would be desirable. This would be the only impetus for the closed circle of EU leaders to start shaping policies to satisfy the overriding demands of citizens of member states, which are the only foundation for the Union’s legislation. There is no doubt that all human activities demand careful planning, politics included. But any proposed visions need to take into account the fact that life is short and hopes for prosperity need to be fulfilled within a certain time frame. For many years now, Brussels has been adopting resolutions aimed at boosting economic growth and employment. Despite this, the EU is experiencing a period of economic stagnation and rising unemployment. Politics has become a sideshow for business, leading to distortions of political theory and failure in practice. The traditional businessman is a creative individual whose actions do not need the approval of his employees. His success depends upon his ability to identify opportunities in the market and exploit them, while his failure affects both him and his employees. But those who create the political system in a representative democracy cannot operate without a legislative foundation, namely the citizens who appointed them. There are no visionary leaders that implement policies contrary to citizens’ short-term interests without weighing up the political cost. This advantage lies within the preserve of dictators. But populist politicians are also increasingly less influential as the general experience of citizens simply reveals that there is no scope for national initiative within the EU framework. In Greece, political leaders do not have this problem, as major decisions affecting the country’s future are made by Parliament and never by public referenda. However, France – the cradle of the nation state, of civic democracy, of modern European traditions of the Enlightenment – has given its citizens the right to a referendum on the European Constitution. And so, the result of this referendum is of significance to the entire EU. The French reaction to the European Constitution is an expression of a more general mistrust toward the country’s political leadership as well as toward the EU, which has alienated the average citizen by adopting dogmatic and ineffectual economic measures. Irrespective of the outcome of the French vote on May 29, the point is the re-establishment of the role of politics, because essentially the EU is awaiting the emergence of real political leadership to replace the current mediocrity.