Montesquieu Institute: from science to society

Multilevel governance, representation and consensus in Europe

Tuesday, April 24 2012, 15:59

While Europe is busy addressing problems at the European level, it is important to also address the organisation of lower levels, including democratic relations between actors of government in the EU member states. The lecture that dealt with this of April 29, 2012 was given by professor Frank Hendriks of Tilburg University. The subject was Sub-national Democracy in Europe.

The democratic systems in Europe are categorised: Anglo-Westminster, which is primarily pluralistic. French Napoleontic, which is primarily legalistic technocratic, Scandinavian which is consensual and finally Gemanic Rhinelandish which is primarily corporatistic. These different systems  are ideal typical examples. In reality they are all hybrid.

This hybridism is influenced by the fact that they are all part of the wider European system. Vital democracies have a hybrid character, which enables easier adaptation to developments. Sub-national democracy is predominantly hybrid while the sub-national democracy is partly governed by traditions, but is not always linked to national stereotypes. Here characteristics occur that are deviant form a general image. In spite of traditions that influence matters, local levels also influence the character.

When we analyse local democratic systems two groups come into view. Countries with a strong local system are the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, The Netherlands and Germany. Countries with a weaker local system are Portugal, Greece and Ireland. Countries with a strong meso (provincial) system are Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium. The countries with a weaker meso system are Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Hungary and Denmark.

There are models of democracy where the distinction is, among other, made on the basis of direct and indirect democracies. This distinction is made on the basis of the influence of the electorate. In a two party system differences in policies are caused by policy dominance of one of two main parties in the political system. Another model is the consensus model where more than two parties have to find common ground in order to be able to form a government. This model is currently the dominant model at the EU level.

Which link can be made between the lower democratic level and the European level? This was debated during the discussion following the lecture. How can citizens, the electorate, be made aware that Europe is important? The average European citizen thinks that the gap between them and Europe is too wide and too technical: Europe is too complicated.

A possible way out may be to enhance national elections with European issues. Although it looks like Europe is governed by technocrats the influence of interests groups should not be underestimated. These might be a way by which the European electorate could influence policies. The lack of legitimacy with regard to the members of the European Commission remains. These appointments are decided upon on the national level.

Although parliament usually has a say in these appointments. To citizens it is dealt with at a distance without their influence. A way should be found by which citizens can have a more direct influence on these appointments. The answer to this quest is uncertain.