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Jonathan Power: Europe, The Great (Christian) Republic?

Since the European Union parliamentary elections some two weeks ago, Europeans have been putting themselves through a bout of navel gazing and introspection. People are asking what exactly is the purpose of the European Parliament when every country has its own legislatures, both national and local? Why did a record low number of voters turn out? Why did eastern Europeans—only recently liberated from the yolk of dictatorship which denied them the vote—cast fewer ballots than anyone else (with only a couple exceptions)? Why do the British talk as if membership to the European Union is a yoke around their necks? More broadly, what is Europe? Writing in 1751, Voltaire described Europe as “a kind of great republic, divided into several states, some monarchical, the others mixed but all corresponding with one another. They all have the same religious foundation, even if it is divided into several confessions. They all have the same principals of public law and politics unknown in other parts of the world.” In a way that Charlemagne, Voltaire, William Penn, and William Gladstone—the early advocates of European unity—could only dream, a united Europe has become a reality with half a billion members.

Jonathan Power: Can the European Parliament Help Change Europe?

Welcome to the new era of democracy. Elections for the European Parliament, whose 736 elected members represent the 500 million citizens of the 27 member states of the European Union, take place at the end of the week.

Not since the time of the Roman Empire has there been such an agglomeration of the peoples of the world. This election will be the biggest transnational election in the history of humanity.

But a tower of Babel it is not. The Parliament is the under-reported Cinderella of the European Union. When the Treaty of Lisbon comes into effect, after what seems likely to be a successful Irish referendum in October, a re-ordering of the governance of the EU will give the Parliament more power, and will strengthen the authority of the Council of Ministers with a permanent president. (Finally, as Henry Kissinger wryly observed, he'll only have only one phone number to dial). To some it appears to be a contradictory development, but there is no reason why both should not be able to tolerate each others' new powers.

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