The struggles, setbacks, and perhaps even impossibility of true democratic participation in the European Union
Members of the European Parliament attend a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg / Reuters
For now at least, the Greek referendum that could have been the beginning of the end for the euro has been shelved. The panic that it provoked, however, says something about the tension between democracy and effectiveness that has marked the European project from its outset.
The 1992 Maastrich Treaty, which transformed the European Community into the European Union and kicked off an ambitious project of creating the new "Europe" out of what had been a mere free trade zone among sovereign states, was extremely controversial. It barely passed a referendum in France with 51.4 percent of the vote and narrowly lost a referendum in Denmark, getting only 47.9 percent approval. It took a special set of opt-outs for Denmark for a second referendum there to pass in 1993 with 53.8 percent.
In 2005, a proposed Constitution for Europe was scrapped after French and Dutch voters defeated it in referenda in May and June, respectively. Rather than recraft the document to satisfy the concerns of voters in these countries -- which would risk alienating voters in other European countries -- European leaders instead passed a virtually identical reform of the EU political structures via the Lisbon Treaty, signed in 2007 and ratified in 2009. Because this was framed as a mere amendment of Maastrich and the earlier Treaty of Rome rather than a new measure, no Dutch or French referenda were required. Rather than address the concerns of French and Dutch constituents, in other words, EU leaders found a way around them.