To what extent is there a democratic deficit in the EU?

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Pandora Sykes

To what extent is there a

democratic deficit in the EU?

The question over the legitimacy of the EU has been a nearly continuous debate and many commentators appear to agree that the EU suffers from a severe ‘democratic deficit’. There are many reasons why this perception is so widespread. As a multinational body it lacks the grounding in common history and culture upon which most individual polities can draw.  However, this should not necessarily disqualify the EU from being treated as a democratically legitimate body.  Andrew Moravcsik believes concern about the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’ to be misplaced. Judged against existing democracies, rather than ideal parliamentary democracy, the EU is legitimate. Most critics overlook the relatively optimistic conclusion because they analyse the EU in ideal and isolated terms, drawing comparisons between the EU and a utopian democracy. This use of idealistic standards is leads many analysts to overlook the extent to which delegation and insulation are widespread trends in modern democracies.

When analysts criticise the lack of democratic legitimacy in the EU they generally point to the mode of political representation and the nature of policy outputs. Only one branch of the EU is directly elected is the European Parliament. Though stronger than it once was, the EP remains is actually only one of four major actors in the EU policy-making process. The EP is a body without power or accountability, and easily dismissed just as a ‘talking shop’ (Colin Pilkington.) Only 75% of its amendments are accepted by the Commission and the Council of Ministers. For its part, the Commission enjoys a powerful role but is widely perceived as a technocracy as it is only weakly held to account as Parliament can only dismiss the entire Commission and not individual commissioners.

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Most powerful of all is the Council of Ministers which deliberates in secret and until recently was not legally obliged to listen to the EP’s decisions. While indirectly accountable to voters, the link is too tenuous and the mode of interaction too technocratic to satisfy most observers. It also appears unreasonable that the deliberations of the Parliament must be public whereas the Council remains secretive. The European Council only meets every six months, largely as confirmation of decisions made elsewhere, but McCormick remarks upon its remarkable potential power: “It can in effect set the agenda for the Commission, override ...

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