The Crisis of Democracy's Checks and Balances

Understanding and Addressing Popular Representation

Why do so many experts talk about the crisis of democracy? Where does this widespread scepticism and disappointment about popular representation come from? Are we at a turning point in history, and what can we do?

Many intellectuals believe the latest crises in the West are symptoms of the failure of liberal democracies. After decades of uncontested expansion, the number of democratic regimes is shrinking, and they often turn into autocracies or dictatorships. Yet, countries like Georgia and Ukraine, as well as Iranian protesters, still fight for their freedom and democratic institutions. But what do they advocate for? What is democracy? And how could we use it to effectively expand freedom and improve quality of life

There is a widespread misunderstanding about what ‘democracy’ means. Some think it is the system of government led by ‘the people’ of a nation, but who are these people? Does ‘people’ refer to the whole population or the majority shares one can find on any specific topic? Are ‘the people’ what is commonly known as ‘society,’ or are they diverse and irreducible individuals? And what is a nation? Is it a widely ethno-nationalist organisation as the EU Member States tend to be, or is it simply a country defined by arbitrary boundaries and collecting different political groups and interests? Most importantly, does democracy represent the government of the majority, or should it safeguard minority rights?

These ambiguities led to the assumption that democracy is but a political system where governments are periodically elected and where this “popular ratification” legitimises any action: even unconstitutional policies or the infraction of international law. In the name of their majoritarian support in the population, the past governments of Poland and the present in Hungary have protected their leading constituencies by repeatedly undermining the Rule of Law and violating their citizens’ fundamental rights. Can one still believe in democracy if these are its outcomes?

Contemporary democracies are far more complex than bare electoral mechanisms. Liberal democracies are, first and foremost, systems of checks and balances between powers. As in Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws, the executive (the government), the legislative (the parliament), and the juridical powers should be split, controlled by one another, and bound by the law and the constitution. Moreover, democracies should protect and give voice to citizens, minorities, as well as the so-called majority. Finally, power should be checked by public opinion, therefore education, press freedom, initiatives of direct democracy, citizens’ engagement, and civic participation should not only be allowed but more consistently implemented.

How can these practices be fostered? No form of power is interested in giving others part of its influence, control, or sovereignty. Citizens must then advocate for their rights on their own: this is what Eumans was born to achieve. Through grassroots and civic engagement tools, Europeans can compel governments and parliaments to formally consider petitions and European Citizens’ Initiatives (ECIs), thus putting citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms at the core of the legislative action. Using referendums and ‘good lobbying,’ Europeans can request preventive impact analyses on any law and policy to improve the institutions’ accountability and liability. By advocating for the implementation of civic AI systems (e.g., inclusive and unbiased algorithms for healthcare, public services, and research), citizens can translate humanistic values and fundamental rights within decision-making systems, while making the EU, its institutions, its law-making process, and its policies more transparent, accessible, and open (e.g., through a chatbot helping interactions with the EU bodies and regulations). Finally, by claiming the organisation of citizens’ assemblies on cogent and divisive issues (climate-change measures, digital transition, civil rights, education, etc.), people can discuss these topics while gathering all stakeholders at the same table, and make determining choices while avoiding the polarising mechanisms linked to the construction of electoral consensus.

This is a form of democracy worthy of believing in and advocating for, and this is what Eumans is fighting to preserve and strengthen in the European Union. Eumans stands for a system providing efficient governance but does not recur to popular sovereignty as a tool for increasing power and subjugating people. In a nutshell, Eumans aims to build a European community of well-informed, empowered, and free citizens.

Help Eumans concretise its mission: make the change, be the change!