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09/2023: European Democracy – 1848 and Today  

In 1848, revolutions in Europe created a democratizing wave across the continent, bringing citizens into the political fold to a then unprecedented degree. On 12 September 2023, Franco-German experts and politicians met in the Paulskirche, the location of the first German national assembly, to unpack the European dimension of 1848 and to discuss the relevance of the events for today’s democracy and its supranational dimension: How has a European public sphere evolved? What did nationhood mean back then and in the Europe of today? How do national parliaments and the European Parliament create a system of accountability to citizens and democratic representation on EU policy decisions? Do we need further reforms?  

Two conclusions emerged from the discussions that will be relevant for future events and debates on 1848 and supranational democracy:

First, 1848 shows the stimulating power of Europe as a space for thinking and creating. Europe at the time was much more European than perceived by many when looking back. A division between national identity and a sense of supranational belonging was not a dominating issue. Nationalism developed its full force only later. When remembering 1848, the European dimension should play an important role, complementing the national narratives. Moreover, 1848 and the close European exchanges and the revolutionary changes can be a point of orientation for a historical consciousness as Europeans. The struggle for democracy and the evolution of public sphere(s) is an important part of European history and could thus also be a reference point for what constitutes the ideational foundation of European integration and today’s Union.

Second, the discussions have highlighted the importance and challenges of a well-functioning democracy. Without a living supranational democracy, there is a risk that the European Union (EU) will be perceived as technocratic and undemocratic. In order to achieve this goal, the existing instruments are to be used in full, but the question of further reforms should also not be avoided. Both, the national and the European channels of accountability and decision-making play important roles in legitimizing EU policy decisions. Views on their respective weight and relevance vary and are often linked to the question of how much a European public sphere has complemented the national ones. Yet, 175 years on from the 1848 elections and just nine months before the next European Parliament elections, it is clear, that citizens have not only the right but also the responsibility to inform themselves and to vote for their direct representatives at the European Parliament. They can ideally use the European elections to also engage their national politicians in an exchange on key EU policy topics. With the new Commission, the EU’s political agenda for the coming years will be shaped. Part of that discussion is likely to be the question of institutional reform in a Union that is expected to grow in membership and to face supranational challenges.

External Links

You can find the full programme here.

You can find the full speech given by State Minister Anna Lührmann here.