BRUSSELS – The tsunami that has swept across financial markets is a global catastrophe. If handled correctly, however, the crisis may yet raise the esteem of the European Union and its institutions.
The EU’s legitimacy problem has two different aspects: apathy, leading to a low turnout in the European parliamentary elections, and outright euro-skepticism. The voter-turnout problem partly reflects frustration about the present state of the EU, and also people’s impression that they can exert little influence by voting one way or the other.
Euro-skepticism, on the other hand, and the looming threat of anti-European populism, is directly linked to the idea that the EU is not merely incapable of offering a solution to the crisis, but in fact is part of the problem. So, although the EU represents our best hope of ensuring that Europe is internationally competitive in today’s increasingly difficult environment, it is actually being blamed for globalization.
Many people confuse these two aspects of the EU’s legitimacy problem, and believe that somehow turnout in European elections can be increased by pointing out to people how good and important the EU is. But in most cases, this is not possible.