WASHINGTON, DC – British Prime Minister David Cameron’s “Europe” speech, delivered on January 23, was powerful, polished, contained a bold vision, and offered good arguments. In particular, he got three things right. But translating those arguments into institutional reality will be a nearly impossible challenge.
First, Cameron is correct to emphasize the urgent need for a renewal of popular support for the European Union. The percentage of Europeans who believe that the EU is “a good thing” is dropping steadily.
Democracies require real debate. Yet too many decisions about the future of Europe and the eurozone are made in highly technocratic settings, with most citizens not really understanding what is going on, let alone feeling that policymakers care. One can debate whether a referendum is the most appropriate vehicle for asking for their consent, but ask one must.
As Cameron put it: “There is a gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years and which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is – yes – felt particularly acutely in Britain.” Addressing the political challenge head on is much better than trying to evade the debate.