The EU seems incapable of undertaking economic reforms and defining its place in the world. At the same time, public support for the EU has declined dramatically in the last decade and throughout Europe citizens feel they cannot influence what goes on in Brussels. What the EU needs, Simon Hix argues in his new book What’s Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix It (Polity, 2008) is ‘limited democratic politics’. More open political competition would promote policy innovation, foster coalitions across the institutions, provide incentives for the media to cover Brussels, and enable citizens to identify who governs in the EU and to take sides in policy debates.
The EU is ready for this new challenge. The institutional reforms since the 1980s have transformed the EU into a more competitive polity, and political battles and coalitions are developing inside and between the European Parliament, the Council, and the Commission. This emerging politics should be more central to the Brussels policy process, with clearer coalitions and identifiable winners and losers, at least in the short term. For example, there should be a genuine contest for the Commission President. The risks are low because the EU has multiple checks-and-balances. Yet, the potential benefits are high, as more open politics could enable the EU to overcome policy gridlock, rebuild public support, and reduce the democratic deficit.