The EU debt crisis has clearly shown that the monetary union cannot be upheld without coordinated fiscal and economic policies. However, there is an additional hold-up, as further «top-down» integration driven by the political elites runs into growing opposition. Many citizens are under the impression that their voices, and those of their national parliaments, are being sidelined in favour of ever-greater centralisation – and that, in the process, democracy is being eroded. In the long term, it will not be possible for national governments to rule via decisions taken on a European level, as policies decreed by the European Council are not the result of public debate and transparent processes. Thus the debt crisis may easily trigger a crisis of EU legitimacy.
The response must be to strengthen European democracy, as the EU will not be able to gain legitimacy only by virtue of its economic qualities but will also have to prove that it can enable its citizens to participate in democracy. This requires greater participatory and oversight rights for the European Parliament and the national parliaments; more direct means for citizens to make their voices heard; and the development of European political parties and transnational ballots for European elections – only then will it be possible to create a truly European public. Competition between political alternatives is the cornerstone of and the driving force behind a vibrant democracy – in Europe as well as at the national levels. There has to be genuine political competition on issues regarding the future of Europe.