© Peter Jósika
European society is changing dramatically. Most of our ancestors were born into predetermined social and economic structures and had little scope to alter their lives considerably. Europeans today have substantially more control over their destiny. The underlying concept behind this development is the principle of self determination.
Personal self determination includes the freedom to choose our educational and professional path, the people we associate with, the language we prefer to speak, the place we want to live in, but also our religious, sexual or political orientation. All these freedoms are recognised as fundamental rights in Western societies, although they were restricted in the past and remain contested in some parts of the world today.
An important part of personal self determination is the concept of collective self determination. We all belong to a variety of collectives, be it a nation, a region, a commune, a religious group, a family or the company we work for. While in the past most collectives were governed by predefined hierarchies, often based on class, gender, age or race, there is growing pressure to increase democratic participation. This is to ensure that all members of a collective have a voice and can attain at least a certain degree of self fulfillment within the collective.
This trend has also reached public life and politics. Half a century ago democracy meant little more than the right to vote for a political party that represented ones social class or a general political view. The modern notion of democracy is substantially more participatory. People want to be directly involved in the decision making process. They expect for politicians to maintain constant two way contact with their constituencies and for important matters to be put directly to the people.
To a limited extend politics has adapted to the need for more grass root democracy by strengthening direct democracy and community involvement in certain areas of the decision making process. However, our overall political structures remain stuck in the early 1900s. They are marked by Europe's ongoing division into ethnic nation states with centralist political systems that are far removed from the people and the needs of an increasingly individualised and multicultural society longing for more self determination. The calls for secession or more autonomy in many regions across Europe are only the tip of the iceberg, but they highlight how out of step the nation states are with the needs of our time.
Therefore, it is not only the often critizised EU that needs to be reformed, but much rather the centralist nation states themselves. While many parts of Europe would benefit from a leaner but also stronger EU in certain fields, it is equally important that we strengthen communes and regions as they are not only closer to the people, but also much closer to most issues that affect them.
Competencies across all levels of government should generally be divided on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity as already defined in the Treaty of Lisbon. In other words: We need to bring the decision making process to the people by giving local and regional government substantially more power. This should translate into more grass root democracy, less nationalism as well as a more flexible and need-based approach in economic and fiscal matters.
In turn this will enable for Europe as a whole to become stronger and more effective, and for Europe's regions and communes to become more responsible, self sufficient and competetive. Such a EU-wide decentralization process is not only long overdue, but of critical importance to Europe's future.
Peter Jósika is a Swiss based author. He can be reached via his website www.europaderregionen.com.