"To What Extent Does Democratic Deficit Exist in the EU"

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To What Extent Does Democratic Deficit Exist in the EU”

        An argument against a Federal Europe is that the European Commission is over-bureaucratic and that the European Parliament is an expensive burden. Opponents of federalism note that there is only one chamber in the Parliament and that the Commission takes on both a legislative and an executive role. With Commissioners being unelected and MEPs being not really accountable to the electorate, EU institutions seem remote from ordinary people and to transfer more power to them would be to transfer power to “faceless bureaucrats”. Archer and Butler describe “the shift in decision making powers from the national to the EU level, without accompanying strengthening of parliamentary control over the executive.” Thus this essay will analyse whether this assessment of the extent of democratic deficit, exists or not.

        The European Commission is the politically independent institution that represents and upholds the interests of the EU as a whole. It is the driving force within the EU’s institutional system: it proposes legislation, policies and programmes of action and it is responsible for implementing the decisions of Parliament and the Council. Thus the Commission acts as both an executive and a bureaucracy. The Commission is led by a group of 20 commissioners, who serve five-year teams and jointly function as something like a European cabinet, taking a collective responsibility for their decisions. The commissioners are appointed by their national governments, but they are not national representatives and must swear and oath of office, renouncing all defence of national interests. Appointees must be acceptable to the other commissioners, to other governments and to the European parliament.

The Commissions key task is to ensure that EU policies accord with the treaties, and it does this in 5 ways. It has the powers of initiation that is; it has the sole power to initiate new legislation, and can also draw up proposals for entirely new policy areas – as it did with the Single European Act – and pass them on to Parliament and the Council of Ministers for discussion and adoption. The commission also has powers of implementation. Once a law or policy is accepted, the Commission is responsible for ensuring that it is implemented by the member states. While is has no power to do this directly, it does have the power to collect information from member states, take any member state to the Court of Justice and impose fines or sanctions on them if the spirit of the treaty, or subsequent EU law is not implemented. Until 1993, compliance was based on goodwill and agreement to “play the game”, but Maastricht gave the Commission new powers to take non compliant states to the Court of Justice. Thus by spreading powers across institutions there has been a reduction in the democratic deficit. The commission is also to act as the conscience of the EU. It is expected to rise above national interests and to represent and promote the general interest of the EU. The Commission also manages EU finances, playing a key role in drafting and guiding the annual budget through the Council and the Parliament. Finally the Commission acts as the EU’s main external representative in dealings with international organisations.  

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Euro-sceptics would say that a democratic deficit certainly exists around the Commission, as they are, a collective of faceless bureaucrats, making key decisions, without proper scrutiny from outside agencies. This maybe true of the Commission when it was in its infancy, however since the resignation of the Commission in March 1999, there has been a growth of European Parliament’s role in the appointment process. Since the 1998 Amsterdam treaty, the Parliament has been given the mandate to vote on the Commission as a collective, thus this in turn gives the President of the Commission a much greater legislative mandate as ...

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