The referendum is a device viewed with suspicion by those who believe in representative government.
Yet first the French and Dutch, and now the Irish, have used the referendum to defend representative government.
Larry Siedentop, Financial Times July 1 2008
These referendum defeats amount to a damning comment on the central institutions of the EU – in particular, on the nullity of the European parliament.
The problem is not that the parliament is powerless but that it has no authority.
The parliament has no hold over European opinion, no ability to mobilise or shape consent across the Union.
Voters sense what both the European Commission and national executives seem unable to understand – that important transfers of power from member states to Brussels in the past two decades have created the risk of a mutual discrediting.
National parliaments have compromised their legitimacy, without the European parliament acquiring any.
A generalised cynicism about government is on the rise.
This weakening of democratic cultures in the member states may be an unintended consequence of the process of European integration.
But it is no less serious for that.
Those who dismiss the referendum results as unimportant – as reflecting irrelevant domestic priorities or obscurantism – fail to identify the deepest level of motivation in national voters. That is fear of their identity as citizens eroding and with it their self-respect.
We should not dismiss or denigrate such a reaction. For it is a defence of the finest achievement of western societies.
What does the EU offer in place of liberal democracy in the nation state? There is now a widespread impression across Europe – and especially among the young – that it is in danger of offering pseudo-democracy, remote bureaucratic government thinly disguised by a European parliament.