The EU referendum and some paradoxes of democratic legitimacy

27678701211_6125a9b158_zIn parliamentary democracies referendums generate alternative, competing sources of legitimacy. This has been clearly demonstrated by the EU referendum result, with the public voting to Leave despite a clear parliamentary majority for continued membership. Nat le Roux, Strategy Director of The Constitution Society, discusses this paradox and suggests that it would not be unreasonable for some MPs to choose to vote against the invocation of Article 50.  

In a parliamentary democracy, referendums are potentially destabilising because they generate alternative, competing, sources of democratic legitimacy. A majority of elected representatives may hold one view on a matter of major national importance. If a referendum demonstrates that a majority of the public hold the opposite view, which manifestation of democratic legitimacy should trump the other? Continue reading

The price of solidarity: is Brexit worth it?

solidarityA misunderstanding of history and of historical time has put European solidarity on the chopping block. Think carefully before allowing the axe to swing, pleads Jan Kubik, Director of the School of Slavonic & East European Studies at UCL.

In his review of Niall Ferguson’s Kissinger, Graham Allison quotes from the book: “in researching the life and times of Henry Kissinger, I have come to realize that my approach was unsubtle. In particular, I had missed the crucial importance in American foreign policy of the history deficit: The fact that key decision-makers know almost nothing not just of other countries’ pasts but also of their own. Worse, they often do not see what is wrong with their ignorance”. Allison continues: “Ferguson’s observation reminded me of an occasion three years ago when, after an absence of four decades, Kissinger returned to Harvard. Asked by a student what someone hoping for a career like his should study, Kissinger answered: ‘history and philosophy’ – two subjects notable for their absence in most American schools of public policy”. Continue reading

Undecided on the EU referendum? These are the three questions to ask yourself

If there is one thing people can agree on as they prepare to vote on the UK’s EU membership: comprehensive, comprehensible and trustworthy information is in short supply. Every day, the quality of the debate sinks to a new low – yet the stakes are as high as ever, writes Uta Staiger, Executive Director of the UCL European Institute.

How, then, are you supposed to make your decision on June 23? What questions should you ask yourself when you enter the polling booth?

Ultimately, I suggest, there are three core questions you need to consider as you make up your mind. Will you (individually and collectively) be better or worse off? How do you feel about your country, where it is headed, who it is made up of and how it interacts with others? And what does sovereignty really mean to you? Continue reading

Brexit referendum folly

Stefan Rousseau/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.Jan Zielonka, Professor of European Politics at the University of Oxford, writes that the consequences of the Brexit referendum are bad for both Europe and Britain, regardless of the result. This piece is part of the UCL European Institute’s commissioning partnership with openDemocracy on ‘Brexit Divisions’.

The EU referendum in the United Kingdom was intended as a festival of democracy, but it has proved to be an exercise in political madness. Brits pride themselves on being sensible and pragmatic people, but they embarked on a sentimental journey into the unknown. Rational arguments are being set aside while populists are having a party. The prospect of a referendum with an uncertain result has already caused a great deal of disarray, and those who count the costs of a possible Brexit should realise that major damage to Europe and the United Kingdom has already been done. Continue reading

Toward a citizens’ Europe

Matt Patterson/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by-nc)Thijs Berman, former MEP and journalist, argues that EU referendum debates in the Netherlands show that decades of democratisation have led to a new kind of a citizen that demands to be heard. This piece is part of the UCL European Institute’s first guest editor week on openDemocracy.

Those in the Netherlands who were in favour of the EU’s draft constitutional treaty in the 2005 referendum campaign most often naively underestimated the challenge. When the treaty was rejected by a large majority, the outcome came as a cold shower to many of them. Continue reading