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EU's 'death' is greatly exaggerated

As the Continent's voters elect a new parliament, some of them trust the EU more than their own national leaders.

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The news of the European Union's death is greatly exaggerated. Despite forecasts of a miserable turnout in next week's European Parliament elections – and therefore a fatal "democratic deficit" – the EU is alive, well, and, yes, very democratic.

True, the low 46 percent turnout in the last European parliamentary elections in 2004 will probably dip down to an embarrassing mid-30s this time around. But it is offset in two ways.

The first is that representational democracy gives national parliaments and their governments a very strong say in the EU. Voters do elect these governments. They confer on them the power to "pool" national sovereignty and transfer, for example, external economic representation to the European Commission. The commission then speaks on behalf of all 27 EU members and gets them a better deal in world trade negotiations than they could achieve singly. European consumers benefit.

The second offset is both more complex and more unexpected. Opinion polls reveal a phenomenon in the tier of southern member states in particular in which citizens trust the EU far more than they trust their own national governments, points out Pedro Magalhaes, a pollster and analyst at the University of Lisbon's Social Sciences Institute.

In Portugal, Italy, and Romania, citizens perceive the EU as less corrupt and arbitrary than their own politicians. They appreciate the economic development the EU has brought them, and the dwindling of graft as these Mediterranean countries have carried out reforms to qualify for EU grants.


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