Less Constraint of Popular Democracy, More Empowerment of Citizens

While I share Müller’s concern about the situation in Hungary and Romania, and agree that a ‘Copenhagen Commission’ might be a good addition to safeguard the basic democratic values in the EU, I differ significantly in the assessment of the nature of the solution. Below, I will first discuss this difference in approach, which focuses less on constraining popular democracy and more on empowering citizens, and then offer some comments on the possible structure and power of the ‘Copenhagen Commission’.

Müller’s argument, as in his fascinating book, is one based on the ethics of containment – that it is necessary to contain the excesses of popular sovereignty. It is about constraining the capacity of popular democracy to be illiberal by removing agency from parliaments, and instead allocate power to other types of government, whether judicial (in the form of constitutional courts), expert based (agencies), administrative (as the EU is sometimes seen), or even the market itself. In his argument on the Hungarian situation, Müller essentially suggests yet another (external) constraint on the capacity of a ‘democracy’ to ‘become’ structurally illiberal.

In my view, this is both the wrong strategy and the wrong language to use. The ethics of containment that is not only implicit in the Union’s institutional nature, but also in its legal norms, and, in a recent addition, in fiscal and budgetary policies, has a dangerous seed in its core: it limits self-determination, both on the level of the individual citizen and on the level of the polity.

We do not have to look very far for examples of this: suffice to look at the extent to which southern debtor states are subjected to stringent and harsh externally imposed policies in the most politically salient domains of all (taxation, welfare spending, pensions) without any meaningful possibility of dissenting, even when an internal democratic majority would want to ...

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