The EU is often criticized for its democratic deficit – this in spite of the fact that all five key EU institutions are held either directly or indirectly accountable to voters (Parliament is elected, the European Council and the Council of Ministers are run by elected government leaders, and the leaders of the Commission and Court of Justice are appointed by the governments of the member states). Far more informative as a route to understanding the EU is the knowledge deficit. Put simply, most Europeans know and understand little about how the EU works.
Much the same could be said about their knowledge of their own home governments, and the complaints about how little citizens know of public affairs date back at least to the ancient Greeks. It was Winston Churchill, after all, who said that the best argument against democracy was a five minute conversation with the average voter. But while the problem is bad enough at the national level, it is worse at the EU level, opening the door wide for myths and misconceptions to creep in. And, most ironic of all, the EU is routinely criticized for its elitism, and yet the average European has so little independent knowledge of the EU that they open themselves up to manipulation by political leaders, parties, the media, and interest groups: the very elites against which they rail in the first place.
There can be no sensible or reasonably informed debate about the EU – or certainly no debate that is not dominated by political and special interests – until European citizens learn about the EU, arm themselves against narrow agendas, and have their own independent views on the EU. Problem is, how do we make that happen?