10. Why is civic participation so weak in the European Union? This question remains difficult to answer because, so far, political scientists have not been able to identify clearly the incentives and disincentives of participation. Two sets of factors, both related to the cognitive conditions of democracy, seem to play an important role here (Mayer and Perrineau 1992): the institutional structures, and the polarity of the party system. Concerning the former, research has shown that the institutional clarity of a political system encourages participation (Przeworski, Stokes & Manin 1999): the turnout is usually higher in presidential elections, reduced in the last instance to a choice between two men, than in legislative or regional elections. The EU, in contrast, is one of the most complex political systems. It is based on a subtle balance of power within the institutional triangle, which diffuses responsibility, and also includes a large set of channels of representation (Council, EP, CoR, ESC, Cosac), which fragments deliberation.
11. Secondly, the polarity of the party system also seems to be an important factor of mobilisation: first, because it simplifies the electoral choice; second, because clear ideological conflicts socialise citizens, who understand complex political issues through simplified and normatively coherent discourses. In sharp contrast, the Community method hides political conflicts. The monopoly of initiative conferred upon the Commission produces consensus-oriented decision-making. The Commission consults a large set of actors, including governments and MEPs, before making its initiative public. When it presents its programme or its proposals to the public, it defines it as a subtle compromise, which embodies the "common interest", and often argues that "there is no other choice". This is also true for the white paper itself. The Commission argues that, to stimulate public interest in European affairs and public debate, the clarity and coherence of European policies need to be underlined through long-term objectives. Among these, it mentions "sustainable development, human capital, knowledge and skills; the strengthening of both social cohesion and competitiveness; meeting the environmental challenge ; the supporting of territorial diversity; and contributing to regional peace and stability" (p. 28). Who, apart from purely anti-European citizens, could disagree with such a vague and encompassing set of objectives? And if nobody disagrees, why should there be public debate? The Community method, based on a long process of informal negotiation and the elaboration of compromise before political discussions take place, is a very powerful disincentive for political deliberation (Magnette 2000). Citizens who do not understand both what the issues at stake, and what the choices that could be made, actually are, and who also fail to see what the impact of their participation could achieve, are not likely to be active.
The political system of the EU is not immune to conflicts. Deliberation in the EU takes place in such a large number of different places, at so many different moments of the policy process, and between so many different actors, that it is widely dispersed, and very difficult to understand. The problem is acknowledged by national institutions, too. However, the difference is that the complex set of actors, policy networks, institutions, and procedures which make national decisions is, in the eyes of the public, simplified by politics. Citizens understand public issues through the image given by political leaders and the media, not by personal experience.
12. How could this kind of pedagogic dramatisation of politics be produced in the European Union? It is often argued that a constitutional revolution is the only answer to this question (Habermas 1999). The European Union can only be politicised, and thereby give rise to active citizenship, if it follows the classic European parliamentary model. A coherent executive, derived from and accountable to a double legislative body, able to lead the policy process and personalised, would be much more understandable than the present Community model. Choosing the leader of this executive would become a crucial issue that would stimulate both the organisation of political parties and the media at European level. Citizens would feel that they were able to select their leaders and to "throw the scoundrels out" (Weiler 1999: 329). Thus, a European public sphere would emerge around the centre of the political system, as it did in the genesis of national public spheres. As the European Union would not suppress national systems, a double level of politics, and increased sense of belonging would form, following the federal model of the United States or the Federal Republic of Germany. This is, in substance, the argument underpinning the present constitutional debate. It can be read between the lines of Mr. Joschka Fischer's famous speech, or of Mr. Jacques Delors's proposal to politicise European elections.
13. It is also one of the implicit arguments of the white paper itself. The paradox of "European governance" is that, although it pretends to limit itself to "adapt governance under the existing treaties" (p. 3), it proves unable to avoid questions that are bound to the reform of the treaties. This shows that the distinction between the "rules of the game" and the way they are used cannot easily be drawn. The Commission has tried to connect the careful discussion on governance to more politically sensitive constitutional issues, and the scenario that it defines is clearly influenced by the federal model. The European Council should focus on "shaping strategic objectives"; the Commission, whose executive missions and responsibility to a double legislative organ should be clarified, should give priority to policy initiation and execution; the Council and Parliament, put on an equal footing, should define the essential elements of policy and control the way in which these policies are executed. One of the preparatory reports even insisted on the necessity to "put a human face on Europe" (Commission 2001b: p. 5, 13, 15, 19). While it argued that this would simply "revitalise the Community model" (p. 29), the Commission also acknowledged that this model "follows that of national democracies" (p. 34). The old federal argument, according to which the underlying truth of the Community model is a kind of federal state, is clearly restated here.
14. Two kinds of difficulties are, however, raised by this kind of scenario. First, it is obvious, when one examines the reactions to this model among political leaders - those who collectively form the constitutional power in the EU - that it is still far from being the object of consensus. This does not mean that it is not possible, but that it will certainly require time. Secondly, this scenario might be contradictory. If, for example, the Commission became the central organ of the Union, and its "government" was supported by a clear-cut parliamentary majority, could it remain the "guardian of the treaty"? In other words, could a politicised Commission be the neutral controller of the other institutions and Member States? There seems to be a political dilemma here: or the Commission remains neutral, and the Union cannot be politicised; or it becomes a kind of European government, in which case its role needs to be fully rethought9.
15. This, however, is a dilemma which is more apparent than real. It is largely due to a widespread, but partly incorrect, analytical distinction. Many scholars and political leaders indeed oppose both a politicised democracy, which can only be majoritarian, and a consensus democracy, which cannot be politicised. This point was recently recalled by the Commissioner Pascal Lamy and others in Le Monde. In order to "personalise and to clarify democratic antagonisms", they argued: "Une Commission "reformatée" devrait être politiquement homogène pour que son action soit claire et comprise et bénéficie d'une opposition elle-même bien visible. Il faudra dépasser, pour assurer à la fois la cohérence de son action et l'intérêt des opinions publiques, le principe d'un exécutif à la manière suisse, où toutes les tendances « raisonnables » sont représentées et, se surveillant sans relâche, se paralysent souvent. Cessons donc de prôner à Bruxelles les effets néfastes que provoque en France notre malencontreuse cohabitation".10 In other words, the majoritarian model would be the only alternative to the consensus style of EU decision-making and the lack of interest that it generates. This argument is often repeated in political and academic discussions and has had a deep influence on institutional reforms in the EU (Dehousse 1995). It is even shared by those who think that, because the EU cannot be politicised, alternative forms of democratisation must be found (Majone 1996; Héritier 1999). However, this does not explain how the Commission could become "politically homogeneous" while being appointed both by the European Parliament and the European Council: the EP itself has never been able to become structured along majoritarian lines; and it is extremely hazardous to suppose that the same majority could be found in the EP and within a European Council composed of fifteen - and soon thirty - governments derived from different national elections. The non-majoritarian nature of the Commission is not just a political choice, it is the consequence of the highly complex nature of the EU. This does not mean that a bi-polar model could not eventually emerge in the EU - it did not really emerge in France before the mid 1960s - but, in the meantime, it remains necessary to wonder if and how the EU could be politicised.
16. Comparative analysis of European experiences show that the opposition between consensus and politicisation is not so clear-cut. The classic distinction made by Lijphart between majoritarian and consensus democracies is often misunderstood. In several "consociative" countries, governments have often been made up of very large coalitions, associating two or more parties from both the left and the right-wing. This does not mean, however, that these countries have been dominated by consensus, the absence of public deliberation or civic apathy. Strong political parties have indeed been able to discuss their divergences in public, even though they were part of the same "majority". Within a liberal-socialist government, for example, vivid oppositions on taxation or social policies are frequent and publicly exposed, and citizens do generally understand the issues at stake. Moreover, majoritarian governments, too, are often coalitions of parties who publicly disagree. In other words, a lively deliberation on public issues, opposing clearly distinguished visions, is compatible with a form of government based on compromise. So far, nothing has demonstrated that this kind of politicisation produces less civic interest than the classic majoritarian kind does. When compromises follow a good public process of deliberation, and when their logic is clearly explained, the issues and the responsibilities of the different actors can be understood.
17. Though this cannot be empirically demonstrated, a majoritarian model, where possible, might be the best solution: alternation limits corruption, offers the clearest political choice and convinces citizens that they can both choose and dismiss their leaders (Przeworski, Stokes and Manin). But given that a bi-polar model does not seem to be adaptable to the complex structure of the European polity (Telò 1995), an "alternative" kind of deliberation could be encouraged at EU level, and could be done under the existing treaties. The Commission could remain a large coalition of the major European parties, and thereby preserve its power to initiate and execute policies even when there is no clear majority in the EP or Council. But it would help clarify the issues if it decided, under the existing treaties, to change the style of its actions. When it presents its programme, or a given policy, or even a given decision, it could choose to explain the different possible options, and their ideological roots, rather than define a ready-made compromise. In so doing, it would preserve its "neutral" profile: as a collegial organ, its role would be to identify different possible options, based on different ideological assumptions, and to explain them in order to stimulate and structure deliberations. If this were clear, political parties within the EP - and maybe within the Council - would be encouraged to clarify their own positions, and the extent of their disagreement. Thus, European policies would appear not only more coherent, but also more open, and could generate public interest and civic mobilisation.
18. The suggestions made in the white paper in order to clarify the framework of EU deliberation would support such a strategy of politicisation. Cross-cutting policy agendas would draw the issues more broadly instead of fragmenting them; key events reducing both the number of occasions and places where deliberation takes place would help to simplify the process of political opposition and compromise. True, this kind of politicisation would not give the EU the majestic simplicity of Westminster, but it could, nevertheless, clarify the issues and the politics of the EU, without requiring a constitutional revolution which is not supported by large political forces today, and which is maybe not adaptable to the subtle diversity of European polity.
9 In this prospect, the logic of the delegation of executive tasks to independent agencies, blueprinted by the white paper, would have to be extended to a large set of new competencies. See Everson & Majone (2000).
10 Pascal Lamy, Jean-Noël Jeanneney, Henri Nallet and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, "Europe: pour aller plus loin" Le Monde, 20 June 2001.