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European politics at the cross-roads

A new survey shows that there is a “crisis in European democracy” as faith and trust in politicians plummets to new lows. No surprises there but, equally, an opportunity to create a different future.

The Guardian/ICM poll of five European Union countries confirms that the sharp decline in relations between the political class and people in Britain is, in fact, a near universal feature.

Bad enough during the credit-fuelled 'boom years', when governments were singing the praises of the seemingly invincible market economy, the recession precipitated by the 2008 meltdown has obviously accelerated negative attitudes to politicians and through them to state structures.

The survey reveals:

The political vacuum that has appeared across Europe – and no doubt in the United States where one poll rated comedian Jon Stewart the country’s most trusted person – is going to be filled sooner or later.

The question is, by who and how? The poll findings can be seen as a reflection of the exhaustion of the present, bourgeois political process, with its limited, essentially superficial democracy. It provides for representation but without power, which stays firmly in the hands of the governing classes and, significantly, the financiers and corporations who dominate the economy.

Europe’s ruling classes are in general riding out the recessionary storm while ordinary people are heading for the dole queue, seeing their services smashed up and their incomes plummet as price inflation takes off. Bankers collect their bonuses while households in Britain collect their food parcels.

The survey actually reveals that the crisis is not in democracy itself but in what passes for democracy. Restoring faith and trust in an exhausted political system that is past its sell-by date is a fruitless task and would, in any case, still leave real power out of reach.

Creating more advanced forms of democracy such as People’s Assemblies that embrace the workplace and put citizens in control and charge of society’s resources, is the challenge that lies immediately in front.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor
15 March 2011

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