OUR HABIT OF APPROACHING POLITICS ONLY ‘FROM ABOVE’

As regards the institutions designed to guarantee democracy Ash makes the same point as so many commentators before him. ‘Voters are deeply disillusioned with their current politics and political elites’ both within the member states and in the EU itself. That there is ‘scant sense of popular representation’ was, for example, the message of the last elections to the European parliament.
Ash focuses on the generational divide and is disappointed about the books written by ‘people on the wrong side of 50’. There is, for example, a tendency to imply ‘that everything was better in their day’. He is also frank in admitting that he is grateful to some of his own young critics. ‘Go on, be angry. Be mad about us. But change Europe. It needs it.’
An essential part of Ash’s message refers to different priorities. The younger generation ‘likes Europe, but it is not their great cause or dream’. Instead, they become passionate about other issues: the environment, sexual equality, animal rights, for instance. Yet, ‘if the basic freedoms they value in the EU were suddenly revoked, they would surely mobilise to defend them’.
The problem for Ash is that Europe’s decline, if it happens, is probably not going to be like that. Rather, the ‘institutions will remain, but be hollowed out’. In my opinion, this has already taken place: citizens have more or less lost their trust in the once democratic institutions. Regaining that trust without a profound change in politics seems to be an impossibility.
The challenge is certainly not as easy as (probably) the editors of Guardian Weekly present it: ‘those who have grown up with European freedoms must now be heard’. Ash himself hints at the same direction when writing that ‘we older Europeans don’t ask the younger generation often enough what kind of Europe they really want’. Listening more carefully to citizens has been the pious hope of reform-minded people since the end of the 20th century.
If ‘we older Europeans’ (politicians and political commentators like the present writer) want to save democracy we have to give serious thought to what ‘from below’ means in politics. We have to get rid of our tendency to think unintentionally only ‘from above’. It’s time to get accustomed to conditions where our role is, at best, an indirect and minor one.
What we can do is to contribute to the emergence of circumstances in which the citizens set in motion reshaping the political system on their own initiative and as they see it fit. We can also try to convince them that it would be in their own interest if their alternative would make possible both the democratic use of public power and democratic governance.

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