I’ve recently written an article on referenda for Zeit Online. Here is how it starts.
Two leading scholars, Wallace and Smith, once described the European Union as an “enlightened administration on behalf of uninformed publics, in cooperation with affected interests and subject to the approval of national governments.” The EU legitimised its policies through system-efficiency and not citizens’ participation. Nation states were clearly unable to solve certain problems on their own and therefore an effective European policy could count on what Eurocrats used to call a “permissive public consensus.”
This common “democratic” wisdom does not hold true any longer. Most citizens no longer trust the EU to act on their behalf in a discretionary manner. The EU can no longer claim to be an effective actor coping with migration flows, financial bubbles and terrorist plots. Europe is desperately searching for new ways of legitimising its policies and of connecting to its citizens.
This explains the rising popularity of Europe-related referenda beyond Denmark and Ireland, where referenda are not optional, but required by law in certain cases.
Several months ago we had a referendum asking Greek citizens to support a deal negotiated by their government with European creditors. In April a referendum will ask Dutch citizens whether they approve the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine. In June a referendum will ask British citizens whether they want to stay or leave the EU. A referendum will also be held in Hungary on whether to accept mandatory EU quotas for relocating migrants.
You can read the rest of this article on Zeit Online.