How “Emotional Intelligence” Can Enhance EU Democracy

The EU needs to restore its dwindling democratic legitimacy by offering solutions that feel relevant to its citizens.

In 2014, well over half of the European Union’s citizens found the European Parliament (EP) elections so boring and irrelevant that they didn’t even bother to vote. Of those who did vote, one in four chose populist, anti-EU parties. The perceived insignificance even informed the EP’s self-deprecating election slogan: “This time it’s different.”

To citizens, however, it felt like more of the same. Individuals across the European Union experience frustrations about democracy, no matter their socioeconomic status. The EU professes its ability to help the average citizen, but in practice it seems faraway, top-down, technocratic, obscure, unfair, and unaccountable. The euro crisis has made the democratic disconnect more than a theoretical issue for millions of citizens who have experienced the negative economic impact of EU-level decisions in their daily lives.

Imagine you’re a German-born entrepreneur named Helmut. You run your own catering company in the Netherlands and travel all around northern Europe for work. You angrily read stories about your taxes being used to subsidize Greeks who apparently retired when they were 50 years old. You get a notice in the mail that you could vote in the Netherlands as a German citizen, but it seems too complicated to bother.

Or imagine you’re Alekos, a pensioner in Athens. The Greek government has cut your pension to below the poverty line as part of the EU’s bailout austerity package. You used to trust the EU more than your government, but since the euro crisis, it seems like an anonymous, distant, and out-of-control power that can ruin your life without any possibility of recourse.

The critical component—how people experience democracy at the EU level—is not considered often enough in debates about the EU’s democratic future. In a new essay, Stefan Lehne, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, and I argue that the EU needs to restore its dwindling democratic legitimacy by offering solutions that feel relevant to its citizens. It needs to respond to public apathy and anger with emotional intelligence. Much has been written about the EU’s democratic legitimacy in terms of law, political theory, and public policy. This paper considers how it feels to the individual citizen.

Proposals for reforming the EU should be judged by whether they affect the experience of democracy as felt by the people. Politicians and institutions should become more emotionally intelligent about how they engage the public—not just by showing that they sympathize, but by making incremental changes, however small, that enhance the benefits of European integration as experienced by ordinary citizens.

Individual Europeans today expect better quality of service, tangible personal gains, and more responsiveness to their needs from the private and public sectors. They also expect more direct involvement in the European project than their grandparents had when it began in the 1950s, and are less deferential than older generations. These sophisticated consumers want a more user-friendly experience of politics. But EU politicians and institutions have not caught up with them.

The EU has delivered extraordinary benefits to Europeans, such as passport-free borders, more consumer rights, medical assistance when abroad, and the possibility of working in another EU country, as well as the huge economic gains from the single market of 28 economies. But in the past five years, what they have heard about the European project is mostly bad news: cuts in public services and social protections as a result of Eurozone economic policies, and regulation that businesses complain about.

To the ordinary person, it feels like the EU is responsible for the economic pain, and exposes their country to the harsh winds of globalization, whereas all the protections of pensions and employment insurance seem to come from the nation-state. If the EU became associated with safety nets for citizens—not just austerity and fiscal discipline—it would enjoy much greater popular support.

The dominance of the economic crisis has also meant that citizens are much less aware of how the EU reinforces their rights and freedoms. A great advantage of living in Europe is that individuals enjoy protections that are guaranteed at the EU level, so they have more opportunities to seek redress from injustice, and enjoy the same rights—to a fair trial and data protection, for example—wherever they travel or work across 28 countries.

But the public is largely unaware of these benefits, or sees them as mainly applying to minorities. The EU should widen access to justice and guarantee more consistent protection of fundamental rights—and ensure that citizens better understand how it can provide justice for individuals and empowerment for citizens.

The EU adds value in many ways for individuals and compensates for the shortcomings of national governments. Now it needs to improve its democratic engagement in ways that are emotionally intelligent to be felt positively by ordinary citizens—like Helmut and Alekos—in their daily lives.

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The EU change has to start from top, cutting from the tax-free hige benefits of eurocrats in Brusseles offices. These were introduced in the 60s when you couldn't commute from London to Brussels. But today's are unfair and not realistic, compaired to the biggest salaries in the EU countries. Why should I pay from my tax contribution, Mister Eurocrat children private school, his mistress allowance, his rent, his dream holiday in Ibiza, his huge pension, his luxury car and even his personal assistant salary? And why should I pay this for an extremist Member of EP (Ukip or Le Pen Party) who is insulting me on a daily basis?

EU with its extensive EP is one of the worst "democratic" organizations I can imagine. A bunch of overpaid politicians who cannot even come up with uniformed solutions within set timeframes. As far as a democratic entity is I compare it to UN. The EU's membership nations do not illustrate the proper distribution, as far as votes are concerned, of the larger populated countries (like Germany with ist 86 millions) which is placed on the same level as less populated ones. Too much power is invested in the EP and the regime is more concerned about its own domain versus the interest of a uniformed and better EU. Like Christian mentions above - bunch of ego eurocrates.

This was my comment during the State of the Union of the EU in Florence, formulated with the despairing homeless, jobless EU citizens, but which the bureaucrats could not understand:Debate Question:

EU Labour Market and Migration Policy:

Could the European Union in this time of austerity and scapegoating racism restore hope by responding to its EU citizens' needs for work and housing by enabling 'green' garden cities, like Florence's Isolotto, Yorkshire’s Saltaire? With housing and landscaping to be built and maintained in part by EU citizens currently out of work and homeless, including nationals and Roma/Traveller EU citizens, western and eastern EU citizens, working and living side by side? Garden cities that would have space for children to play and learn, with bicycle and bus transportation, workshops for craftspeople and apprentices, vegetable gardens and farmers' markets, libraries and orchestres. Priority for work and housing to be for EU citizens. Non-EU citizens could have dormitories, the right to study, to make and sell artefacts, to grow and sell garden produce, to share their skills with citizens, eventually themselves to achieve citizenship, but not factory or construction work needed by EU citizens. Land could be obtained by raising taxes on abandoned industrial properties, then re-zoned as residential with lowered taxes where 'green' garden cities are being built. One member to be guaranteed work to house, educate and receive medical care for his or her family, achieving this through fair taxation, while reducing EU bureaucracy that currently does not reach its increasingly impoverished EU citizens?

Julia Bolton Holloway, Ph.D. Citizenship: United Kingdom, EU

Reminds me of the Irish saying, "Like trying to get turkeys to vote for Christmas". How are we going to get an entrenched cartel to support systemic changes which will increase their accountability while decrease their privilege and entitlement?

Yet the sorts of changes necessary to create (let's not pretend it ever existed before) a European democracy require the changes in policy and laws which will do just that. And until such changes happen, the average European citizen will become more and more disenfranchised, more alienated, more frustrated and angry.

The blatantly un-democratic structures within EU governance cannot be expected to receive participation or support from taxpayers who are footing the bills.

The inevitable result will be the death of Europe and a re-fracturing along traditional national lines.

Changes are always needed, but creating resistance as well. Mneumonic paradigms and the emotion of the people are the most difficult issues to face, and it demands both diplomacy and global leaders to lead those unware of the benefits. The instinct of complain comes first.

Seems interesting to me that when the Greek politicians kicked out their international King of Greece or the Hellenes, then proceeded to throw their country into the ditch for the next forty some odd years. Greece could have been more of a voice all these years with a Head State committed to the betterment of its people, but those politicians wanted to set up these early pensions who did that help?

I totally agree, and I followed a similar line of reasoning. I think EU does not have a democratic deficit in most of its range of activities but it isn't able to communicate effectively with citizens. Unfortunately when it comes to macroeconomics it does have a democratic deficit and the management of eurocrisis strongly damaged what was accomplished in 50 years of democratic evolution - at least in public opinion's perception. I would be glad to reblog your research on my blog on supranational democracy if you allow me!

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