The EU’s Democratic Upside

Steven Erlanger flags a real paradox for EU enthusiasts and a boon for its detractors: The EU parliament actually wields more power than people generally realize, but for a variety of reasons that Erlanger explains well, it generates very little interest among potential voters. That reinforces the perception of an anti-democratic EU technocracy based in Brussels, and undermines the potential for popular democratic involvement that currently exists in Strasbourg.

Meanwhile, this EU Observer piece on the European Space Agency’s launch yesterday of the world’s biggest space telescope illustrates the ways in which some areas where Europe has excelled simply don’t get the kind of credit they deserve. That, in turn, undermines its legitimacy as a global actor. The ESA is not an EU structure and includes non-EU members, but the two bodies do have cooperative agreements. And if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, space exploration will become an area of coordinated EU policy. Like Hubble, the ESA’s Herschel telescope will add to the “global commons,” in ways that are hard to quantify, but still significant.

Same goes for EU safety standards. I’m always reassured to see the EU label on a Chinese-made product. That doesn’t guarantee that the gizmo actually lives up to EU norms, but it does make it more likely than if the EU norms didn’t exist and weren’t a condition of doing business in the common market.