I think the election process itself has more significance in the issue of democracy as the election process is different between member states and thus there is no uniformity in the way in which MEP’s are elected. A greater argument is regarding the low vote turn out; the low number of votes suggests that European Parliament is unlikely to be representative of the member states. The fact that few citizens feel it important enough to vote for the European Parliament is perhaps indicative of its lack of democracy; they do not view European Parliament to have enough power over their lives to give good reason for voting in European elections. Indeed it seems as if the European Parties are not themselves convinced of the worth of European Parliament as they are reluctant to put much money in their campaigns. This adds an additional problem to elections; members of European Parliament are elected in national elections and within these elections, rarely do the parties campaign on European issues. Therefore voters are unlikely to vote for the candidates that show the best capabilities within the EU. To overcome the lack of democratic legitimacy within elections, European Parliaments powers would have to be increased, in turn increasing its relevance to the citizens and thus giving citizens reason to vote. However, despite the competencies of the European Parliament being expanded, the vote turn out is increasingly getting lower. This suggests that the increased competencies are not enough for European Parliament to be considered as having impact on the citizens and its accountability would have to be increased more significantly for citizens to start recognising its worth.
My second reason for supporting the view of the ‘democratic deficit’ concerns the privileges currently allowed to the European Parliament. One of the powers conferred upon the European Parliament is that the council of ministers must consult the European Parliament on matters and is obliged to consider European Parliament’s opinion. The flaw lies in the fact that the council is not bound to follow European Parliament’s decision and often parliamentary views are overlooked. This has led European Parliament to refuse to give their opinion and thus the bill cannot be made into an act. In these circumstances however, the European Court of Justice states that European Parliament has a duty to cooperate and if there is an urgency to adopt an act and European Parliament refuses to give its opinion, the council can adopt the act without their opinion.
As such there is a democratic flaw in laws that are passed using the consultation procedure such as Agricultural issues.
A further argument in agreement with the issue of a ‘democratic deficit’ relates to the co-decision procedure, introduced by the TEU to increase Parliaments powers. Within the co-decision procedure the bargaining powers of European Parliament have been improved and European Parliament has much more of an active role in the legislative process. If European Parliament agree with a proposal and council also agree by way of a qualified majority, the act is deemed adopted. European Parliament may even make amendments which, if accepted by the council, will be adopted. Even when council rejects European Parliament’s amendments or the proposal itself, there is still a possibility that the act will be adopted through the conciliation committee procedure. If the co-decision reaches this stage, both council and European Parliament must accept the act for it to be adopted. It is evident that this procedure improves the democratic credentials of the community; If there is a debate over a proposal, both European Parliament and council must inevitably agree for the act to be adopted. European Parliament has been given greater powers and ultimately may veto a piece of legislation. Although the areas in which the co decision procedure is used have been increased the procedure is not a remedy for the ‘democratic deficit’; the conciliation committee proceedings are not open to the public, which questions how democratic the procedure really is.
I think there is great weight in the arguments concerning the current powers of the European Parliament; since it is the only institution that can authentically ‘speak’ for Europe it should have much more privileges in the EU decision making process. This would mean equal powers of co-decision with the council on all legislative matters within the EU. One argument against such a proposal is that although European Parliament speaks for the citizens, the Council speaks for the EU’s member states. If European Parliament were to be given more powers at the expense of Council, it could be said that the intergovernmental nature of decision making would be eroded. The sovereign powers of individual member states need to be protected and this is achieved in the Council. However, in areas that are more greatly concerned with individual citizens rather than Europe as a whole, European Parliament should be given greater powers.
The liberal critique, Weiler acknowledges European Parliament’s ‘formal absence of powers’ and suggests a ‘structural remoteness’ from the ‘peoples’ it claims to represent. Ian Ward adds that ‘a need for institutional reform….is critical. And it must be a tectonic reform, one that is sufficiently sizeable that it can shift the current plates of institutional balance.’ Does the draft constitution tackle the problem of the democratic deficit with regards to the EU? If so are the changes it proposes ‘sufficiently sizeable that it can shift the current plates of institutional balance’?
With regards to European Parliament, the draft constitution proposes some changes. Firstly the Presidency must report to European Parliament after each of its meetings; this proposal seems to have little significance as it does not allow European Parliament any say in the matter in hand. The same applies to the proposal that Special Representatives may provide briefings to the European Parliament; European Parliament is merely consulted, in fact the opinion of European Parliament does not even have to be considered.
A critical change is the removal of the current right of each country to appoint at least one representative in Brussels and the removal of the national veto power. Citizens already don’t feel that they can exert control over the decision making of the EU due to the lack of powers of the European Parliament. When the Constitution caps the number of commissioners and removes the ability of member states to veto a decision, the citizens will feel as if they have even less influence over Community decision making. This problem could however be overcome with the Constitution Article I – 19 section 1, which states that European Parliament shall elect the President of the Commission. This will mean that European Parliament will have some control over the proposals in the EU. However, I question the significance merely electing the President will have, after all the president is not able to vote in council. It would make more democratic sense if European Parliament had some say in the election of the council or if the council was to be directly elected. A further problem concerning the President is that it is doubtful that there will be democracy within the elections; it is highly unlikely that citizens will vote for a commission president that is not of their nationality. British will vote for a British President, A French for French.
Another idea included in the draft constitution is the idea of a ‘yellow card’. This is given to national parliaments to hold up if they think a piece of legislation would be better handled at national or regional level. This could allow national parliaments to scrutinise EU legislation more closely. It has been suggested that this could have a positive effect on European Parliament as they could tap into the media attention that surrounds national Parliaments but has yet to reach Strasbourg; this media attention could incite citizens to vote, thus creating more democratic legitimacy within the European Parliament.
There are some measures that are not introduced by the draft Constitution which I think would have been significant in reducing the ‘democratic deficit’ within the European Parliament. For example a parliamentary assembly with full powers of scrutiny over EU decision making would give decisions made within the EU a greater democratic legitimacy. A body elected by the people demands respect. The institutional changes required to make European institutions more democratic have scarcely figured in the debates in Brussels and even less so in the draft constitution so that the European Parliament will still fail to command the respect it deserves even after the draft Constitution comes into force. I think that perhaps Europe is too large and diverse to ever attain democratic legitimacy and that there can never be the existence of a European People embodied within the European Parliament.