Democratic Deficit In The EU Essay Research

Democratic Deficit In The EU Essay, Research Paper The European Union continues to play an important role in traditionally domestic areas of policy, but many people however see the union as distant, and believe they have

Democratic Deficit In The EU Essay, Research Paper

The European

Union continues to play an important role in traditionally domestic areas of

policy, but many people however see the union as distant, and believe they have

extremely little involvement and influence. The only body over which they have

any control, the European Parliament, is by far the weakest, and important

decisions are seen as being taken behind ‘closed doors’. This lack of public

accountability in the European Union is known as the ‘Democratic Deficit.’ The

term, ‘Democratic Deficit’ refers to, "The growing gap between the

power and authority of EU institutions"[i].

As more aspects of national sovereignty are transferred to the European level,

the ability of citizens to influence and supervise this new power base has

declined significantly. Politicians began to take the issue of the democratic

deficit seriously from 1992, when Danish voters failed to ratify ‘The Treaty on

European Union’; Leaders could no longer afford to continue to appear

unaccountable.The question of

the democratic deficit involves not just a discussion of the role of the

European Parliament, but also an examination of the roles of other

institutions, and especially the need to look at the way in which these

institutions relate to each other. The main emphasis lies with the three main

"institutions" of the European Union – the Commission, the European

Council and Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.It is the

connection between the European Union?s institutions where the ?democratic

deficit? has gained the most publicity.?

The erosion of the national governments, over policy areas, has been the

result of the quickening of European integration.? Continual amendments to the institutions powers have meant that

areas were national governments used to govern have now been transferred to the

European Union.? Relatively

unaccountable institutions have taken over responsibility from the accountable

national governments of the member states. ? The

European Commission is perhaps the epitome of this. With members, made up of

largely, of old white males, un-elected, appointed by national governments this

institution is anything but democratic. Yet it wields an increasing amount of

power in the European Union of today. It has the exclusive, and jealously

guarded, right to initiate legislation. It implements community policy, manages

the European Union?s budget, conducts external relations on behalf of the

European Union member states and is widely regarded as the "guardian"

of the euro-federal ideal. Dinan describes it as a "strategic authority

established by the founding fathers to ?guarantee continuity of the integration

project despite the political or geopolitical hazards??[ii]. The

Commission, which has the substantial power and responsibility of proposing and

forming laws, is, according to McCormick, "Appointed, without reference

to the people?[iii].? This mighty body has a President appointed "as

a result of a strange and informal little power dance among the leaders of the

member states?[iv] The

Commission has no mandate whatsoever from the people, European voters do not

elect their commissioners, member governments appoint whomever they wish. The

cynical would perhaps suggest that these people are not always the most

appropriate, but those who national governments want out of domestic politics.

Those below the ‘College of Commissioners’, the ‘Directorates General’, have

the power of implementation over dozens of policy areas, yet these powerful

people are virtually unknown to the public, and are not held accountable by

them. The Parliament also lacks the legal authority to hold the Commission

accountable for its actions; it does have the theoretical power to dismiss the

entire College of Commissioners, but in reality, it would never do that because

chaos would ensue. Parliament, although slowly growing in influence, is almost

a token body, with which the union could function without. The true powers lie

mainly with the Commission and Council of Ministers.In

1974, Valerie Giscard d?Estaing, the French President, famously declared,

"the European Summit is dead – long live the European Council". Just

as the European Commission can be viewed as the manifestation of

euro-supranationalism, the European Council can be seen as the epitome of the

intergovernmental ideal. Basically the Council consists of the leaders and

foreign ministers of the nation-states of the European Union together with the

Commission president and a vice-president. Each nation of the European Union

takes it in turn to control the presidency of the council for a six-month

period, often providing valuable political benefits to the national government

on the hosting back home. The European Council also has a proven track record

of effectiveness, as many decisive turning points in the history of the

European Union came about at Council meetings, such as that at Maastricht in

1991. An important point to make in regard to the European Council is that

national governments, since the SEA, no longer have the right to veto proposed

initiatives, rather decisions are taken using a system known as "Qualified

Majority Voting", hereafter referred to as QMV. The Council of Ministers

theoretically mirrors the European Council, dealing not with national issues

but with sectional affairs such as agriculture or transport. However it is less

effective than the Council, the preponderance of ministerial advisers often

creates what Roy Jenkins has referred to as a "football pitch"

effect. Yet it still plays a valuable part in co-ordinating the efforts of

national governments on a continent wide basis. McCormick

states that, ?In many ways, its powers make the council more like the

legislature…than the Parliament?[v]. Parliament

has no authority to ratify appointments, and indeed has no influence over

selecting candidates. This directly elected European Parliament, the only body

with Europe-wide legitimacy, finds itself excluded from critical legislative

and policy decisions that affect the whole of Europe; the public can be

affected by measures over which they have absolutely no direct control. Perhaps

the most significant exercise of undemocratic power involved the Single

European Currency. The currency project was directed by certain heads of

government, senior ministers, commissioners and representatives, but general

support for the ‘Euro’ in Europe is relatively low, and the project went ahead,

over many objections and fears. Even if the public had sent anti ‘Euro’ MEP’s

to Parliament, it would not have been able to stand in the way of the momentum

generated by the key leaders. Most Europeans were not asked official opinion,

and indeed permission in referenda, The citizens of the ‘Euro 11′ have had

almost no way to halt this profound change. John

Major in 1994 commented that, ??the European Parliament sees itself as the

future democratic focus for the Union.?

But that is a flawed ambition, because the European Union is an

association of States, deriving its basic democratic legitimacy through

national Parliaments?it is national parliamentary democracy that confers

legitimacy on the European Union?[vi].? John Major was wrong and although national

parliaments can ?pull-out? of the European Union at any time, they have very

little control over which powers they abandon to the European Union?s

institutions.? The continued attrition

of the national parliaments powers is not directed by the national powers but

by the over zealous institutions of the European Union, trying to put in place

the mechanism for further integration! ? It

is the common belief that in order to eliminate the ?democratic deficit? within

the European Union, power will have to be taken at the expense of the national

Parliaments; this is not necessarily the case.?

It has been the case in the past that with the introduction of the

?Qualified Majority Vote? that the European Parliament has not gained the

sufficient power of that taken from the national Parliaments and therefore the

influence of the national Parliaments has been reduced over community

decisions.? . Public disquiet over what

Dinan refers to as "the elitism and obscurity of Community

decision-making" seems to lend urgency to the need to make Community

institutions more accountable to the people.It

is the belief of many commentators that in order to reduce the lack of

accountability within the European Union, the European Parliament has to

receive more power.? Were this to be

done small countries would undoubtedly lose out. Ireland?s 15 MEPs (Member?s of

the European Parliament) would have at best a peripheral influence in a

Parliament of more than 600, and this is with a seat/population ratio heavily

tilted towards small nations. The European Parliament itself is hardly

representative of the feelings, hopes and desires of EU citizens. Political

Scientists have identified European elections as "secondary

elections", with lower turnouts than national elections and usually fought

on strictly national issues. The

question we are examining ought not be how to reform the community institutions

so as to make them more "democratic" as that is an impossible and

costly task. Rather we should be looking at how we make the governance of the

people of Europe more democratic, how do we involve the people of Europe in the

decision-making process.National

Parliaments are oft dismissed by the more ardent euro-federalists as an

antiquity, a relic of a bygone age, at best their place in the "New

Europe" will be at a level approximating to that of State legislatures in

the US. Yet surely national parliaments are the most democratic institutions in

the European Union today? National Parliaments are rooted in both History and

Legitimacy. They epitomise the democratic principles of a nation, indeed many

would claim that they epitomise the nation itself and perhaps this would

explain the disdain of euro-federalists.?The

?democratic deficit? will have to be resolved by an imaginative blend of public

representation and involvement at the regional, national, and European levels,

involving parliamentary bodies from all three spheres?[vii].? The

European Parliament, at first sight is a democratic institution. However, as I

have demonstrated, the citizens of the Union view it at best with disdain, some

even with hostility. The idea of a Parliament of Europe, to represent the hopes

and aspirations of Europe?s people is indeed a noble concept. However, it is a concept,

which the people are not ready for. The notion of co-operation between the

groupings in the Parliament is an attractive one, yet does it really make a

difference which way we, as European Union citizens, vote if the composition of

the Parliament makes little or no difference to the manner in which it conducts

it?s business? Ultimately, the people of the European Union do not want a

powerful European Parliament, most wish for questions of vital national

interest, to continue to be resolved at a national rather than a supra-national

level. That said Parliament does have a role in addressing concerns common to

all European Union citizens, issues such as the environment and human rights,

which at present are dealt with largely by the faceless Commission.If

we are to resolve the question of the democratic deficit I believe it is

important that we achieve the right balance between the various institutions of

the European Union. National Parliaments are getting increasingly overlooked,

yet they continue to wield much more historical legitimacy than any European

Union institution.So

in answering how the democratic deficit can be eradicated without reducing the

powers of the national Parliaments, the answer is simple. Listen to the

citizens of the European Union and not to the European Union?s

institutions.? Dinan addresses the

problem in a simple and straightforward way, when asked the question ?Will

the democratic deficit ever be rectified?? he answers, ?Certainly not

simply by giving more power to the European Parliament.? The European Union is not a state, and it?s

institutional framework and political system will never correspond to that of a

classic liberal democracy?[viii]. From this it is

clear that the democratic deficit will never be resolved until the European

Union is willing to admit that the national parliaments are still the most

democratic institutions in Europe.? If

the balance is to be met, then the whole framework of the European Union?s

institutions has to be addressed, as it was never meant to be a political

arena, only economic and that is the reason behind the Commission becoming too

powerful without the proper jurisdiction!!! [i] Michael

J.? Baun, An Imperfect Union.? Page 86. [ii] Desmond

Dinan, Ever Closer Union.? Page

210. [iii] John McCormick,

Understanding The European Union.?

Page 152. [iv] John

McCormick, Understanding The European Union.? Page 152. [v] John

McCormick, Understanding The European Union.? Page 97. [vi] John Major,

?Europe: A Future That Works?.?

William and Mary Lecture, Leiden University, September 7th,

1994. [vii] Desmond

Dinan, Ever Closer Union.? Page

298. [viii] Desmond

Dinan, Ever Closer Union.? Page