Democratic Deficit in the European Union

“Most voters seem to take the opportunity to give the incumbent national government a ‘good kicking’ during European elections, as seen in the UK, Spain and France, rather than vote on a broad manifesto of ideas. This is fuelled further by MEPs campaigning on local issues rather than European ones. ” This is an example of part of the democratic deficit in the European Parliament. To further show how there is a democratic deficit in the European Parliament I will explain how it is largely inaccessible to its European citizens and how the European Parliament lacks the power that it requires to resolve the problems in the Union.

I will then describe some unsuccessful attempts at solutions and conclude with some possible future remedies. While the European Union was originally made as a project to unite European nations against the possibility of future wars, the initial focus of the Union was on trade and economic union. However, as more and more nations joined and its mandate expanded in scope, an incongruity between popular democratic representation and expansion has developed.

‘Democratic deficit is a concept used principally in the argument that the European Union and its various bodies suffer from a lack of democracy and seem inaccessible to the ordinary citizen because their methods of operating are so complex. ’ When the European Union is criticised for its ‘democratic deficit’ it suggests that the Union’s decision making is undemocratic. National government’s often make themselves out to be blameless by holding a faceless monster, the ‘Brussels bureaucracy’, responsible when explaining unpopular decisions from the EU to their citizens.

This leads to an assumption that there is a dominant authority which makes all decisions and that that authority is not democratically accountable. The European Union’s power is divided between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, although these are divided somewhat disparately. These three bodies are designed to check and balance each other. Within the EU the European Parliament is only directly elected body, whilst the two other main institutions, the Council and the Commission remain unelected.

In each of the member states, citizens have the opportunity to influence national policy making through their elected officials. In the EU’s multi-tiered system, however, the closest a citizen comes to having any influence on policy decisions is through their elected representative to the European Parliament. However, the public’s elected European Parliament representatives have little or no power when it comes to policy making decisions about the EU. This power is instead with the national politicians and national governments in the Council and the Commission.

“One of the Parliament’s roles, as a chamber made up of elected representatives, is as ‘voice of the people’, linking the political system to the public. ” The EU’s decision making process permits very little input from European citizens. There are arguments that the European Union is either too far removed from the public or is too complex for citizens of the member states to understand and therefore form reasoned opinions about the actions of European officials.

In addition to the complexity of the process, it is also argued that the nature of the policies in which the EU is involved are overly technical, which discourages citizens from engaging with the process. According to these arguments, the end result is that the European Union has alienated European citizens. This is made worse by the informal nature of negotiations that often take place among and within the key policy making bodies in the EU, which leads to a less transparent system with a more unpredictable policy making process.

“Although the European Parliament is elected, most voters generally have a very low knowledge about the European Union and little interest in it. Election turnout for the Union as a whole has dropped to around 45%. ” Before the establishment of the European Economic Community, a separation of powers existed between executive and legislative branches of national governments. The balance between these two branches differed from country to country.

With the gradual development of the EEC, more and more areas of public policy were transferred from national governments to the community with the result that the overall powers of the executives within member countries of the EU have increased while parliamentary powers have decreased. The main argument is that the parliament is too weak, while the council is too powerful. The executive branches, the Council and the Commission, “are not drawn from Parliament and are thus not accountable to it in the way it would be, for example, in the UK through a vote of no confidence.

The two branches are completely separate, which can mean that there is not an effective check as there was meant to be. The Parliament is too weak to hold either of the executive branches to account, meaning that they can pass legislation without the consent of the Parliament, except when co-decision applies on matters pertaining to qualified majority voting in the Council. ” Compared to many national and sub-national legislatures, the European Parliament has a relatively low profile. In the past, some scholars of the European Union judged it to be less important than other governing institutions of the Union.

However, since the mid 1980’s the European Parliament has undergone many substantial changes, probably more than any other major European Union body. The Parliament’s powers have increased in every new treaty since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. These changes have greatly enhanced the importance of the Parliament within the Union’s governing structures. Solutions to combat the democratic deficit in the EU have failed to do so and have not even addressed the underlying root causes. This was demonstrated recently when Margot Wallstrom was appointed the new Commissioner for Communication.

She had previously been responsible for the environment portfolio. As the Commissioner for Communication her main focus was in engaging with the public through civic groups. This was meant to create a necessary link with the disconnected and uninterested European citizens. However, many of these civic groups were directly financed by the Commission. As one commentator points out: “…Suppose the environment or social-affairs directorates are thinking of issuing new directives and want to be seen to take account of the views of European citizens.

What could be easier that picking up the phone and arranging a meeting with the local (Commission-funded) NGO [non-governmental organisations]? ” These Commission funded non-governmental organizations supposedly being a voice for European citizens would clearly have a conflict of interest as they depend on the Commission for their financial lifeline. The European Parliament is no longer a small part of the European Union’s political system. It plays a significant part in making EU policy.

However, while the Parliament has been successful in increasing its importance and power for itself, it has been less effective in creating a rapport with and gaining support of the European people which it represents. Addressing this, rather than increasing its powers should be the elected Parliament’s main task in the future. To do this the first step should be to increase efficiency and reach effective solutions to policy problems as the governing process has been spread out to cover a wide variety of policies at the expense of maintaining democratic principles.

Although the European Constitution and Lisbon Treaty have been defeated, it is through the creation of such legal framework that a regulatory setting will be promoted and the use of more formal means, which would be guaranteed by a constitution, would ensure equality of representation for all European people. These formal means would clarify the roles of each of the EU’s institutions for the public and overcome a key flaw in the multi-level governing system.

“The subsidiarity principle is intended to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen and that constant checks are made as to whether action at Community level is justified in the light of the possibilities available at national, regional or local level. Specifically, it is the principle whereby the Union does not take action (except in the areas which fall within its exclusive competence) unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level.

It is closely bound up with the principles of proportionality and necessity, which require that any action by the Union should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaty”. It should be taken into account that many citizens lack the practical know-how to launch effective lobbying campaigns as well as being lacking in resources and political connections to make any impact in the complicated European institutions.

The structure and process of negotiations among and within the institutions should also be formalised and the subsidiarity principle should be strengthened, so as to encourage and ensure more input from all levels of participants regardless of there means. This will bring some level of accountability to the EU’s institutions and help solve problem with transparency.

Most information on EU activities is transmitted to the public in a nationally biased way, making it difficult for the European citizen to get objective information. The mass media has been effectively used by many anti-EU critics however, it is crucial for the EU to use this medium as well as others to create a wider forum to engage the public and effectively disseminate objective information regarding EU issues and procedures.

Whether Europe has a real or perceived democratic deficit is not an issue as “the perception of a democratic deficit itself represents a democratic deficit. ” Ultimately to make the Parliament more effective, “the Council should be made directly accountable to the Parliament. The Parliament could also be given the power to appoint and dismiss individual commissioners. This would most certainly improve the relationship between the different branches of EU government and make the institutions more accountable to Parliament and in doing so, [make them accountable] to the EU public too.

” Bibliography: Is there a democratic deficit in the EU? What are its implications and how could it be reversed? [Online]: http://www. wimbledoncollege. org. uk/LearningResources/Politics/EUDemocracy. doc Mitchell, The European Union’s “Democratic Deficit”: Bridging the Gap between Citizens and EU Institutions (2005). [Online]: http://www. eumap. org/journal/features/2005/demodef/mitchell Europa – Glossary - Democratic deficit, [Online]: http://europa. eu/scadplus/glossary/democratic_deficit_en. htm.

Mair, “Popular Democracy and EU Enlargement”, in East European Politics and Societies, Vol. 17, No. 1 (2003) at p. 61 Cini, European Union Politics, 2nd Ed, (Oxford University Press) (2007), P175, P186 Neunreither, The democratic deficit of the European Union: towards closer cooperation between the European Parliament and the national parliaments (1996). Charlemagne, “A rigged dialogue with society”(2004), The Economist. Team: The European Alliance of EU-Critical Movements, [Online]: http://www. teameurope. info/node/110.