The most important EU institutions include the , the , the , the and the .
It is said that the EU suffers from a democratic deficit. A democratic deficit is considered to be occuring when organisations or institutions are seen to be falling short of fulfilling the principles of democracy in their practices or operation.
There are two distinct approaches taken to the democratic deficit; whether the voters get what they want and whether the policies are reflected in the output. Alternatively if the voters are adequately represented in the process and have means to exercise influence on it.
Those who argue that the EU suffers from a democratic deficit often attribute this to the inadequacies in the functioning of the major institutions involved in the EU.
The Council of Ministers, which is one half of the EU’s bicameral legislature (the other half being the European Parliament) is made up of national ministers and meets in secret when agreeing legislation. It is a co-decision procedure when passing legislation. The problem with the Council is that it has no scrutiny of its legislative decisions at EU level, and many last-minute negotiations are conducted by diplomats.
There is no requirment for national parliaments to scrutinise the performance of their government ministers in the Council, though most do this to some extent as a matter of course. This shows undemocratic features of the Council.
Areas like the Parliament and Council do not have codecision between them, the European Parliament only has the power to reject or approve proposed legislation, before the Council of Ministers takes its decision.
Another problem is the European Commission is led by Commissioners who are proposed by national governments and approved by the European Parliament, rather than being directly elected by the citizens. Although the commission has no legislative power, it is esentially the executive of the European Union and is the only body powered to draft a legislative proposal. Many people have argued the commissioners wield more power than is justified by their limited democratic mandate. Sometimes when politicans have failed in their own country, they have been pensioned off to the commission, and they have little control over the thousands of bureaucrats who are regarded as strong dictators.
These are all a number of reasons why the supranational institutions of the European Union have been regarded as the main causes to the democratic deficit.
Another key issue to the debate is the European Parliament elections. The EU does not seem to have political parties with a clear sense of direction and visible leaders of those parties. Without these two fundamental facts voting becomes a waste of time.
A key example would be the EPP (European Peoples Party). The European Governement decided on the basis with the existing treaty to accept taking the results of the election in to account when proposing a candidate for the President for the next commission to the European Parliament. The EPP decided to mention 5 people who might become the candidate for the vote. Would you ever think of 5 people being elected as the Prime Minister when going in to a national election, it is ludicrous!
The parliamentary elections are not helping the democracy situation in the EU.
There are several suggestions made to the European Union to help reduce the democratic deficit rather then widen it.
First thing, to create serious European political parties with recognisable programmes and visible leaders. There msut also be a fundamental structural change. A list of candiadtes in all member states should be put together for the next commission president. Then all EU citizens can vote for any other citizen of the Union’s member states. The rest would be up to the political parties. This would create a simple structure that everyone could follow.
Democratic deficit may exist due to a lack of transperancy and an excess of delegation in the legislative process as I outlined above.
A solution to the democratic deficit consists of giving more power to the European Parliament as it is the only elected institution.
There was a new constituional treaty propsed in order to reduce the democratic deficit. However this treaty failed after a rejection of the draft first by the French and days after the Dutch voters in 2005. It was rejected mostly because there was no change to the principle of EU laws and that the European Commission would remian the sole initiator of legislative proposals.
I conclude that EU policies are not fundamentally undemocratic, but that the way the process itself is conducted may give rise to a democratic deficit. Furthermore, I would argue that the EU is able to pursue its policies in spite of a lack of democratic accountability in the legislative process, precisely because the policies themselves are not undemocratic.
Bibliography & References
Hix, Simon (1999) The Political System of the European Union. London: Macmillan
Crombez, Christophe (2001a) `Democracy in the European Union'
Diamond, Desmond (2005) Ever Closer Union: Introduction to European Integration
Horvath, Zoltan (2005) Handbook on the European Union