I don't normally write amazon reviews so this is partly just to counteract the incredibly misleading one-star review that is already there. That review, although clearly by a raving Euro-sceptic (as his/her reference to the Irish vote shows) may be giving out the wrong idea. This book is an excellent analysis of the Eu's democratic/legitimacy deficit and addresses the fundemental problem that while the EU is procedurally very democratic (elected Council, elected Parliament, indirectly elected Commission), moreso than the UK, it lacks a 'European public' necessary to make these institutions work properly. He does not say that the system is perfect (far from it, hence the title 'what's wrong with the EU) and does not think the US system is perfect, just the only system that we can reasonably compare the EU to (although the EU is unique and thus comparisons don't work).
If Hix is pushing any agenda at all, it is to stop the EU being run by 'faceless Brussels bureaucrats', something surely everyone wants?!
This is an excellent book and as someone who did their Masters degree partly on European Union politics I found it incredibly useful both for the points it makes and the style used to make them which is eloquent and accessible.
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Professor Hix is one of my teachers at university. This book is excellent at the task of deconstructing the facets of the EU which need to be remedied. The essential thrust of his argument is that the EU's democratic deficit needs to be eliminated through democratising key institutions and enforcing political contestation of policy on a greater level that currently exists. He is fair to acknowledge that the checks and ballances which are currently at work within the EU ensure that the overall direction of the EU is neutral. Without these changes, though, the EU will remain undemocratic, in a state of an 'enlightened despotism'.
I would have to disagree, however, at the discussion of the extent to which democracy should permeate the EU. Professor Hix states that 'limited democratic politics' is what is best for the EU currently. I believe that all politics should be democratic and when a supra-national entity removes sovereignty from a state, or enforces its own regulations and ideology, the changes cannot be greeted with legitimacy.
I think Professor Hix begins on the wrong track when attempting to show that the EU is more necessary than ever. He is right that co-operation between countries within Europe is necessary for us to prosper and hold our own against China, India, the US etc. But engaging in a political and economic union of this scale offers very few additional benefits that simple co-operation and trade agreements can offer. This can allow national leaders to bargain with each other on a mandate from their home electorate.
This would be a better way of doing things with Europe
This book gives an in depth overview of the scenario in Brussels. It highlights the functioning of the EU institutions mainly the EU Council, Commission and Parliament. Of most interest is the recommendations given by Simon Hix and his arguments in favour or against his own suggestions. It is an excellent book.
Simon Hix is the Professor of European and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He chaired a working group for the Cabinet Office during the Convention drawing up the EU Constitution.
Hix sees three problems with the EU: policy gridlock, lack of popular legitimacy and the democratic deficit. He notes, 'In substantive terms ' the EU is closer to a form of enlightened despotism than a genuine democracy.' Yet he calls its political design 'pure genius'. He also thinks that 'the US has an ideal political-economic model', which gives some idea of his political nous.
In response to the EU's problems, he proposes to change the European Parliament's procedures for choosing its president and committee chairs, to make the Council's proceedings more open to the public, and to have a more open contest for the Commission's president. He explains patronisingly that through these reforms, 'citizens will begin to understand and engage with EU politics.'
He also mentions that the EU is 'a driving force of global economic and political integration'. He calls for the liberalisation of labour markets, welfare states, public services and energy industries, although he admits 'the downward pressures on public spending, corporate tax rates and wages that result from market integration and liberalisation'. He notes, 'one group in society that has benefited enormously from European integration is the economic, political and social elite.'
His proposed reforms completely ignore these economic realities, but these, not the EU's institutional failings, explain why public support for the EU has fallen since the early 1990s to just 50% across the EU and 30% in Britain.
Hix rejects the Lisbon Treaty, writing that 'the new treaty reforms are unlikely to bring the EU closer to the citizens, and may even undermine the legitimacy of the EU further if a second attempt to ratify a new treaty is rejected. And, even if the new treaty is ratified and eventually enters into force, the minor institutional changes are not significant enough to enable the EU to overcome policy gridlock or make the EU more democratically accountable.' But his minor procedural changes would do no better.
Of course, like all EU fans, he opposes referendums, calling them 'a crude and ineffectual mechanism for expressing citizens' preferences on policy issues'. Hardly ineffectual - the Irish No to the Lisbon Treaty indeed 'undermined the legitimacy of the EU' - in fact it has changed everything.
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