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Friday, 7 December, 2001, 20:40 GMT
Has the EU lost touch with the people?
Belgium says the European Union is out of touch with its citizens and has failed to placate its critics in a draft document prepared for the Laeken summit in two weeks' time.

Drawn up by Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, the leaked draft says the union is facing an identity crisis and a gulf is opening between the people and Brussels.

One suggestion is to have a directly elected President of the commission to make him a kind of 'man of the people'. Another is to work towards an EU-wide constitution. But could such changes stimulate the voters' interest?

So this week's Europewide debate asks: Should European voters directly elect the Commission's president - in a bid to bring the institution closer to the people?

Europe Today's Laurence Zavriew brought together Jacki Davis, Editor of the new magazine on EU affairs 'E-sharp', and the Liberal Belgian MEP Dirk Sterckx.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

The short answer to the question is "yes". And we need to address this problem quickly

Peter Hain MP, Minister for Europe
The short answer to the question is "yes". And we need to address this problem quickly. It is vital that we help citizens to see Europe clearly for what it is - a coming together of independent nations to achieve common goals - delivering practical benefits to citizens: greater security, greater prosperity, a level playing field for business, more jobs, cleaner beaches, improved air and water quality, safer food, safer streets. In Britain the argument quickly descends into a heated battle between holders of extreme and entrenched views. We can start to address the problem by speaking clearly and objectively about Europe.
Peter Hain MP, Minister for Europe

The EU will never be in touch with its citizens

Richard, UK
The EU will never be in touch with its citizens and is becoming more and more out of touch with every stupid piece of legislation, law and red tape it is imposing on us. We joined the Common Market not the EU which is trying to turn itself into a superstate with every passing day. Coming up with the idea of an elected president is just another way of tricking us into the next stage of the grand master plan for a United States of Europe. I, for one, don't want to be ruled by a bunch of failed national politicians, such as Neil Kinnock, out for a free ride on the EU gravy train.
Richard, UK

Europe has definitely done a lot of good work, much has improved. But we are a long way away from a properly functioning confederation/ federation. A written constitution is a must!!
Michael, Dublin, Ireland

It would be easy to argue that the EU is always out of touch with its citizens; a supra-national government which spans cultures as diverse as those in Europe is bound to be to some extent. The real question which I think we should consider though is this; can we ever really expect to be in touch with a body until it is granted the final say? I don't think that we can. Ways around this would be to have a more homogenous EU social policy and to educate people of the important role that it can play in our lives.
Gordon Mclean, Scotland

Europe would be a lot less hospitable were it not for the EU

Tjeerd Blackford, Dutch Brit in Belgium
Yes, the EU has its problems dealing with a democratic deficit, several official languages and balancing the interests of individual member states, but is it any more out of touch with Europe's citizens than any national government is with its own? The European Union has done wonders in providing jobs, inter-community trade, lifting trade barriers, ensuring worker and consumer rights - not to mention the huge amount of regional aid that has helped revive cities such as Dublin and Newcastle. Europe would be a lot less hospitable were it not for the EU.
Tjeerd Blackford, Dutch Brit in Belgium

Yes, the EU is losing touch with its people. This is due to national politicians running after petty prestige issues - they have lost touch with today's world! Just think of the EU-wide patent, that is not happening because they can't agree on the languages it should be filed in. Yes, an elected president and a stronger parliament are part of the solution. But first and foremost, give the Union real power in areas where it can deliver better than member states (defence, foreign affairs, single market, borders and immigration, currency), and bring everything else back to the national or regional governments.
Silvio Sandrone, Germany

Perhaps if all EU business was not conducted in secret it would help

Des Whittall, UK
Perhaps if all EU business was not conducted in secret it would help. Let's get the TV cameras and members of the public and press into ALL debating chambers so that we can see if the politicians are really working for us, or if the rumours that it is just a big gravy train are true. Looking at the UK system of government, it certainly is a mess. However it is a mess I know and understand. If the EU wants my support, they need to show they have something better, not just as good/bad, and show me this is the case by being open and honest for once.
Des Whittall, UK

I don't think a directly elected president will solve Europe's problems. The beauty of the EU is its diversity and compromise is a necessary part of that. In the United States, electing a president has not always served to bring people together like one might expect. Implementing democracy over a whole continent of sovereign nations will not be an easy task. Europeans need to have some patience in this, because they will not always get exactly what they want. But did they ever get exactly what they wanted from their national government before they joined either? I don't think many people did.
Michael Hengels, Wisconsin, USA

Kevin my fellow Aussie never spoke a truer word! Before Brits sneer at Australians in the UK as economic migrants, they should consider the never-ending stream of educated, eminently employable Brits going the other way. Why do we do it? Well it's not just the sunshine, it's because some of us were fed up of living in a dictatorship where our elected politicians are mere puppets, our laws are superseded without our approval and our taxes are given away to others. When the EU finally becomes accountable or better still returns to its original function of a free trading zone for independent nations I might even buy an umbrella and come "home".
K. Wilson, Australia

Without a constitution there are no clear limits to its powers

Kevin, Aussie in UK
What is the governing model for the EU? Without a constitution there are no clear limits to its powers. The endless rounds of negotiations will mean its role and thus its identity are totally fluid. Australian Federal Government powers are dictated clearly by constitution. Without one the EU is a nebulous, unknowable and uncontrolled, organisation. No-one can support its goals - they keep moving. People support the idea but only as an ideal not as reality.
Kevin, Aussie in UK

A directly elected EU President, although in principle a fine idea to bring the EU closer to its people, would in practise do the opposite: voting from several of the member states would be purely along national grounds. Sad.
Paul McKeown, UK

The EU is dangerously out of touch with "its" people. Many so-called Europeans are fiercely opposed to the way in which EU institutions are pooling power and arrogantly over-riding national self-determination. If they think that a directly-elected president would help change our minds, they are, as usual, very much mistaken - to us. This would be just another trapping of the proto-state that we Counter-Europeans have grown to despise.
Phil, UK

I was never aware the EU was anything to do with the people

Greg, UK and NL
I was never aware the EU was anything to do with the people. It has always been the gravy train for the politicians, by the politicians. Especially failures such as Kinnock, who having proved himself unelectable, now sits as an unelected commissar. It appears that the only thing any of these want is more power. When will there ever be an EU wide referendum on whether the people want the EU at all?
Greg, UK and NL

The EU is more in touch with the European people than Washington is with the American people.
European, somewhere in Europe

Perhaps when the member states would stop dumping their discredited members of parliament to Brussels and Strasbourg would the people have more faith in a centralised EU government.
Victor D., Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Sadly, although I am a great fan of what the EU stands for (economic union). The EU lost touch with its people 20 years ago simply because the people of this union (including me) don't understand exactly how the union takes and makes decisions and legislations. The entire parliament and president should be elected by the people of Europe. The majority nation state voting system for legislation needs redrawing simply because the small nations have more power than their size. I propose a fully democratic parliament and (to make sure small nations still have some importance) majority voting to be done on a double majority basis. So a vote would require a majority of countries as well as a majority of the union's population this would make the way the EU works far easier to understand thus bringing it back closer to its people
Paul, UK

How are the elected representatives of the nation state going to represent the interests of the European citizens when, in countries like Britain, there is virtually no dialogue between the government and the people on the subject of Europe? Surely the only way to ensure a better working relationship between Europe and its citizens is to give the people the feeling they actually have a say in the affairs of the EU. A directly elected President could well be a step in the right direction.
Rich Hamilton, UK

Can anyone mention offhand one politician in office who does reflect what ordinary people really think? How would adding one more make any difference?
Denis Frize, UK

Part of the problem, of course, is the fact that the EU is identified with things that do not reflect well on it. EU politicians are seen as overpaid careerists who discuss matters that only a specialist can understand and that do not appeal to the public imagination. That can be cured, at least in part, by extending the EU's area of competence to include, for example, foreign policy decisions and defence. The second problem I see is the democratic deficit. That can be cured at the stroke of a pen. Finally, the EU has come to be associated with tales of nepotism and worse - some of them true. That is more difficult a problem to solve. But in each case, the solution rests with national politicians who must agree to give up some of their power in their little, increasingly irrelevant national fiefdoms and resign themselves to lives of transparency and honesty.
Peter, Europe

I know I'm not directly answering the question posed but I'd like to point out the benefits the European Union has given me. I attend the European school in Brussels. This means that every day I get to socialise with people from all over the world, I get to travel and learn about different cultures, religions and nationalities. It also allows me to have become fluent in four languages, and I learn many of my subjects in my second language. I feel that the European School's system has prepared me for whatever university may throw at me. I feel so privileged and proud to have been part of the European community and to be able to call myself European. The EU is becoming more and more in touch with the people, talking to us at school, taking the time to ask our (the younger generation) opinion.
Alice, Belgium

There has always been a gap between Brussels and the people of Europe

Will Lever, UK
This is just Euro spin to manipulate us into an elected President of the EU and into a federal Europe. There has always been a gap between Brussels and the people of Europe. The job of dealing with this is that of the elected representatives of the nation states, not yet another layer of politicians.
Will Lever, UK

Our European Union must be more open and accountable to the European Parliament. It should also go on the offensive against the critics, especially ones who make spurious and unfounded allegations about the Union.
Alun Williams, Wales, UK

I think that either move would bring the EU closer to becoming a European Federation or Confederation
Val Tocitu, USA

I agree with Mark, USA. The EU has never been in touch with its citizens and is certainly not democratic, where a single vote counts for less than any national vote. The Eurocrats are drunk with power most of the time and when they sober up the laws they pass are biased towards their home country and completely unfair. The majority of people are well aware that the CAP is an absolute nightmare of legislation resulting in the loss of fish stocks and fishing communities but does the EU try to do anything about it? We joined a European ECONOMIC community, much as NAFTA works, but we now have these people telling us we can't possibly survive as a group of individual countries. It becomes more like 1984 every day.
Tom, UK

I wasn't aware the EU was ever in touch with the people.
Mark, USA

Click here... listen to the Europewide debate.
See also:

30 Nov 01 | Europe
EU 'failing its people'
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