by Larry Siedentop in the FT today.
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. It has become the means of protesting about the failures of representation in the European Union.
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.
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.
That is why the most striking moral fact about Europe today is the loss of idealism. The EU has been unable to make up for the disappearance of its founding idealism – the abolition of war in Europe, through Franco-German reconciliation – by replacing it with the idealism that can be generated by self-government.