The EU has been very much in the news because of the sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone. Yet, the euro is not the only hallmark of the EU. The EU has been awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize as a timely reminder to those overwhelmed by the crisis in the Eurozone that the EU is fundamentally a peace project, and that for over six decades, the EU has contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”. As a matter of fact, Friedrich Hayek’s definition of political democracy as “a method for peaceful political change” has strikingly become true in the second half of the 20th century in a continent that previously in the same century was torn apart by two disastrous wars.
In the seminar on The Road from Liberal to Political Democracy in the European Union, Prof van de Velde started with the statement that democracy is not an established fact but a movement. Democracy is a pathway towards liberty and equality and a method for peaceful change. He cautioned that democracy is not a dogma and not an end in itself. One should not define democracy by its outward appearance but should instead define it by its end goals – liberty and equality.
He then elaborated on the Aristotelian pillars of democracy and the three forms of democratic regimes – formal, liberal and political and– based on the matrix of negative or positive equality and negative or positive liberty.
In the second part of his seminar, Prof van de Velde turned the attention on the state of democracy in Europe and the challenges faced with regards to issues such as tolerance, education and inequality. Focusing on the latter, he argued that positive efforts by democratic regimes can reduce actual inequality, at the same time acknowledging the rising inequality that is happening in many of the EU member states. The combat against inequality thus remains an ongoing task, and the keys to addressing inequality are through education and employment. In many of the several EU member states, the high unemployment particularly amongst the young people is thus a worrying trend according to Prof van de Velde. Democracy also needs a strong middle class, and the shrinking of the middle class is a worry.
Asked if democracy is on retreat during the question and answer segment, Prof van de Velde reiterated that democracy is not a given fact but a constant movement. Democracy has existed for many centuries starting from a small community like a caravan on a sandy pitch. Now, there are many of these caravans at different points of the journey.
About the speaker
Professor Edgard Van de Velde obtained his Master’s Degree (1972) and Ph. D. (1984) in Public Management Sciences at the Law School of the University of Gent, where he was Assistant-Lecturer Public and Comparative Constitutional Law from 1975 till 1984. He was Visiting Professor in Public, European and Comparative Constitutional Law at EHSAL Brussels from 1985 till 2008. He has been guest professor at the universities of Salamanca and San Sebastian (Spain), Salerno (Italy), Tübingen (Germany) and Prague (Czech Republic). He has an extensive bibliography on the comparative study of democratic regimes. He was member of the cabinet of the Minister for State Reform (1979-1980) and pre-advisor of the Flemish parliament (1995-1996). From 1996 till 2006 he was appointed successively as General Manager and Managing Director Bankinsurance in the General Savings and Pension Fund (ASLK-CGER) and Fortis Bankinsurance Belgium. He is retired since 2008.