Democratic deficit: a federalist perspective

, by Peter Matjašič

Democratic deficit: a federalist perspective

In the past week featured three articles related to the topic of democratic deficit in the EU. We had two opinion articles, one arguing that democratic deficit in the Union exists and one arguing the contrary. Moreover, there was one expressing the need for democratisation of the Union. The present article looks at who really coined the phrase first, namely JEF, and what vision the federalists proclaimed with regards to the institutional set-up of the EU.

The first thing we usually do nowadays when not being sure about what something means we go online, google it and read what the difference sources and websites say about it. So what does for example Wikipedia say about it?

A democratic deficit is considered to be occurring when ostensibly democratic organisations or institutions (particularly governments) are seen to be falling short of fulfilling the principles of the parliamentary democracy in their practices or operation where representative and linked parliamentary integrity becomes widely discussed.[1]

The phrase democratic deficit is cited as first being used by David Marquand in 1979, referring to the then European Economic Community, the forerunner of the European Union.[2]

And this is where we as federalists usually jump up and disagree – not because we do not want a traditionally Eurosceptic nation claim to have coined a phrase that has been widely misused in the EU debate – but because we have a written record of the use of the phrase “democratic deficit” dating back to 1977, thus two years prior to the citation by David Marquand. This first recorded use of the phrase features in the first chapter of a JEF Manifesto that was adopted by the Congress of Young European Federalists (JEF) in Berlin in 1977.

When reading the first chapter of this JEF Manifesto one could easily think the text could have been written very recently: “Looking at Europe today, it is clear that there is throughout our continent a malaise, a sense of alienation and a lack of confidence in the ability of the economic and political system to solve our problems.” And the solution offered by JEFers back in 1977 also stays valid today: “To give people control over their own lives and to give the word “democracy” a meaning, fundamental changes are needed in the areas outlined above. There needs to be created institutions capable of solving European-wide problems that have escaped the control of nation-states. There needs to be a fundamental shift of power down to the lower levels, closer to the people and to the problems. There needs to be an introduction of democracy at the place of work in order to transform the labour/capital conflict, and in the local community.”

The first recorded use of the phrase democratic deficit is from a JEF Congress in 1977.

The important thing to remember is that the federalists are very much in favour of the European integration process but that does not mean we are not the first to criticise the current EU (or the Community in the past).

When I started my JEF involvement back in 2002 I was proud of the daring institutional vision of how a federal EU should look like aimed at narrowing the democratic deficit: a bicameral European Parliament (lower chamber being the current EP and the upper chamber the current Council of Ministers), for which the elections take place on the same date all over the Union with a transnational list of real European political parties with a candidate to become the next Commission president; this Parliament should elect a Commission based on their competences not national quota and the entire Commission should be accountable to the Parliament; moreover, qualified majority voting (QMV) should be the rule for all decision-making and the veto of member states abolished. This vision has been missing from the debates and even within the federalist movement such radical ideas have been sidelined in favour of a more down-to-earth, realistic approach.

The interesting point given in the “pro” article was about the coping of national parliaments in their control function of the EU-policy of the member states as well as stating that the European Parliament is not able to fulfil the tasks expected from a normal parliament. Well, the point is you need to have a more holistic approach and look at things more globally. Therefore, the solution for the federalists is a more profound set of reforms to achieve a truly federal institutional arrangement as described above. In this respect I can only second the words of the third article published on the topic speaking about the need for democratisation of the EU and the statement that only by acting as a unitary political subject, Europe will be able to address the current global challenges.

As a convicted federalist I believe that the EU can become such an autonomous and unitary political subject if it continues on the path of federalisation. Namely, it is federalism that has enabled European countries to reconcile their different traditions with their common interests, all the while enhancing the democratic rights of their citizens.

Read more on the democratic deficit on here.

Image: Google Images

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