Nobody Cares About the European Parliament; But They Should!

Henry Farrell has a great European Parliament Elections 101 post up, which includes this interesting observation:

Elections to the Parliament tend to be, as Simon Hix describes it, ‘second order elections’ — that is, elections in which voters punish or reward (with the emphasis on the former) their current national governments. This disconnect is highly annoying for fans of European federalism, who would like to see the European Parliament providing the EU with a patina of democratic legitimacy. But this is unlikely to happen as long as voters don’t care about the European Parliament, which apparently they don’t. What is interesting, is that the political science evidence suggests (again thanks to Hix and his colleagues) that the European Parliament is becoming more and more like a national parliament in some ways, with Members of the European Parliament voting on the basis of cross-national ideological alliances much more than shared national interests. So there is an important disconnect here, which should be of some theoretical interest — that even though MEPs are still not regarded as representatives in a ‘real’ Parliament, they behave as if they were when they get to Strasbourg and Brussels.

I increasingly worry that the fairly problematic institutional framework that governs the European Union is going to be a problem for all of us. Without anyone really digesting this information, over the past 10–15 years the United States has been eclipsed by the EU as the world’s most significant economic actor. But the EU in various ways lacks the capacity and legitimacy needed to respond in a forceful way to the global economic meltdown, and the European Central Bank appears to feel an overwhelming need to establish credibility as an inflation-fighter.

It’s pretty conventional in American punditry to write about the indispensability of American leadership. But normally the point is that we’re indispensable because we’re so damn big. Now it’s more like we’re indispensable because even though we’re only second-biggest, the other guys can’t really do anything. It’s not a good situation.