Is there a democratic deficit in the EU? What are its implications and how could it be reversed?

Authors Avatar
Is there a democratic deficit in the EU? What are its implications and how could it be reversed?

When the Santer Commission resigned in 1999 many political commentators thought that the EU's key areas of democratic deficit would be addressed. However, 7 years later with the Andreasen scandal still in progress, little seems to have been done. Within the EU there is only one directly elected body, the European Parliament, whilst the two other main legitimising institutions, the Council of Ministers (CoM) and the Commission (Com) remain unelected. The implications upon the functions and roles of these institutions and their need to be reformed, especially in relation to the weakness of the European Parliament in relation to the Commission, has urged many commentators argue that there are issues of transparency and accountability which need to be reformed for the democratic deficit (D.D.) to be resolved. This is recognised and solutions are offered by the Constitutional Treaty (C.T.) which is in the process of being ratified by all member states.

Despite being the only fully elected body in the EU the supranational European Parliament often deals with criticism for having a democratic deficit for many reasons. One of these reasons is that the Executive (the Council and the Commission) are not drawn from Parliament and are thus not accountable to it as they would be, for example, in the UK through a vote of no confidence. The two branches are completely separate, which can mean that with there is not an effective check. However Parliament is too weak to hold either executive to account meaning they can pass legislation without the consent of the Parliament, except when co-decision applies on matters pertaining to QMV in the Council of Ministers (for example, environmental policy is an 'EU competency'). This power has grown with each successive treaty since the SEA in 1986 which introduced QMV however key 'red lines' are the preserve of the Council of Minister which retains sovereignty through unanimity on key issues such as taxation when it stays intergovernmental in its nature. The Parliament can only dismiss the whole Commission rather than one member, as almost happened in 1999 (when they jumped before they were pushed) when only 4 out of 20 Commissioners were involved in the scandal, which means the commissioner's accountability is weak. Furthermore the E.P. does not have the same expertise as the Commission and scrutiny is relatively weak. It's only other power is to ratify the budget which it always does despite concerns by the ECA.
Join now!

Another undemocratic point to make about the European Parliament is that despite being 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%, hardly enough to claim full democratic legitimacy and turnout, unless compulsory such as in countries like Luxemburg, is lower than at general elections, especially in the UK. Whilst in 2004 turnout did increase in the UK (39%), this was probably more to it being 'Super Thursday' than any real desire to engage in European ...

This is a preview of the whole essay