Europeans usually either love or hate the European Union. In my opinion, it is a great idea and a worthy project, besides being intelectually rewarding for me as a professional - where would I be without the tons of interesting case law it produces, the stuff of so many hour-long arguments? But there is more worth to the EU than its being intriguing from an academic point of view. The EU adds a furhter dimension to the personal freedom of its citizens. Free movement, free enterprise - those are not just legal terms, but give a person more options in his or her daily life. You want to travel, do business, buy property, study, work - Spain to Finland, UK to Greece no authority has the right to hinder you in the slightest. North to South. East to West.
It is, thus, paradoxical that so many Europeans continue to see the EU as an undemocratic, distant, prohibiting bureaucracy. Paradoxical it may be, but it is also understandable. The average citizen has very little insight or influence over how the EU functions.
This is partly the case because most of the legislative and regulative work is done by the Commission. It is staffed by the governments and bureaucracies of the Member States, not directly elected.
The one entity, however, that IS directly elected, is the European Parliament. It used to be an institution of very little consequence until some years ago. All it had a right to do was advice the Commission, in other words: produce loads of paper no one read.
The new European constitution foresaw a dramatic strengthening of the rights of the Parliament, giving the institution legislative power. This would have enabled the citizen to have direct influence on EU politics through his elected representative. The legislative process would have become considerably more transparent and would have ceased to look like constant haggling between heads of state.
But guess what? We didn't want it! We! The bloody citizens of Europe! We let it pass! The proposed consitution was rejected by referendum in Member States of paramount importance, France and the Netherlands. Few of the others even dared to expose the constitution to people's vote.
What is worse, we continually weaken our own chance of being heard at EU-level by not voting at elections for the European Parliament. It is such a neglectable institution because we neglect it. We do not vote. We do not take the chance to influence EU-politics when we have it, and then we complain about the EU being distant, bureaucratic and generally a pain in the arse.
The solution is not - and never has been - to scrap the EU and return to protectionistic politics. The solution is to reclaim what is ours. We have to use every democratic tool to gain representation at EU-level - we have to do the obvious. Go vote.
The next elections for the European Parlament are on June 4th 2009. Find out who your MEP is here. Find out how to vote here. And most importantly: GO VOTE! Be a citizen.