Pro/Contra: Does the EU have a democratic deficit? NO!

, by Stéphane du Boispéan, translated by Lina Ohltmann

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Pro/Contra: Does the EU have a democratic deficit? NO!

The European Union is criticised in many ways: it’s not transparent enough; it lacks legitimacy; it comprises of unelected bureaucrats; and most of all, it is not democratic. Is this really the case? Stéphane du Boispéan counters these criticisms arguing that the EU does not have a democratic deficit.

First criticism: The EU is too complicated and impossible to understand and therefore undemocratic.

How is a regulation or a directive (what complicated words!) developed? No one knows. This is true but not EU specific. Citizens often do not know the policy-making process of their respective member states – this is in particularly true for federal states such as Germany with its 17 different legislative procedures. After all, federal parliaments or the Bundestag are not considered undemocratic.

Second criticism: Unelected bureaucrats make up the Commission.

Civil servants are present in every country, also in Germany. Roughly 35.000 civil servants work in the Commission; that is fewer civil servants than in the administration of Cologne or Paris. The European Parliament elects the Commission President, after a recommendation by the national governments. This is a similar procedure as for the election of the Chancellor in Germany. The Commissioners are scrutinised by the entire Parliament, unlike in Germany where the government is formed without a say of the parliament. Each Commissioner receives an individual evaluation and then the entire Commission is either accepted or rejected by the Parliament. This is not common practice in any of the 27 member states of the EU. The Commission is even more democratically legitimised than any of the 27 national governments.

Roughly 35.000 civil servants work in the Commission; that is fewer civil servants than in the administration of Cologne or Paris.

Laws in the EU are initiated by the Commission and passed by the Council of Ministers and the Parliament. It is not acceptable that the Council of Ministers has more powers compared to the Members of European Parliament whom we elect directly. But the national governments are democratically legitimised. There is no democratic deficit in the EU, but a parliamentary deficit in the national governments.

Third criticism: We do not know what happens in negotiations and discussions as these take place behind closed doors.

Any position agreed upon by the European Parliament is accessible to the public. This is not always the case for national governments. Of course, there is limited transparency and uncertainty to a certain degree in EU decisions – because national governments work that way. If they do not make use of their control function, it is not the EU’s fault. National parliaments should monitor the EU decision-making of their governments. In Denmark, the parliament decides on each position in the Council of Ministers. In other countries, the national politicians do not have the courage to vote against their governments. But that is a national problem.

Fourth criticism: The European Parliament is not a real parliament and the executive’s role is too big.

It is not dramatic that the European Parliament does not have the right to initiate policy. The Parliament can ask the Commission to initiate policy in a certain area. This happens most of the time. Furthermore, there are countries such as Portugal where the executive has the sole right to initiate legislation, but there is no talk of a democratic deficit in Portugal. After all, the right to initiate legislation is never or only rarely used by the national parliaments. So this is a symbolic deficiency.

EU is not a parliamentary democracy in the traditional sense.

It is also well known that the EU is not a parliamentary democracy in the traditional sense. No one can deny this. It can only really be compared with a presidential democracy like the United States. The powers that the European Parliament is missing are in the hands of national governments, which are, however indirectly, democratically legitimated. This does not mean that the European Parliamen doesn’t have any power at all. The MEPs are not even under pressure to pass the Commission’s recommendations or the Council’s papers, as the Parliament cannot be dissolved. The number of the proposals that actually come through is much higher than those of national parliaments. So what we have here is one of the most powerful parliaments in the world!

Fifth criticism: The EU lacks the features of a traditional parliamentary democracy

The argument of a non-existent political party system and a European public cannot be denied. However, it is not a legal but a political gap. Or to put it differently: the European institutions are not to be blamed for political parties having election campaigns ahead of the European elections on national instead of European issues. It is also not their fault if citizens are organised only on national level. However, we have to acknowledge that some professional groups such as farmers are organised European-wide – though they are not necessarily considered to be the countries’ elites.

The message is clear: the EU does not have a democratic deficit. Instead the member states have a democratic deficit, since the parliaments do not monitor the work of the Council of Ministers closely enough. Notwithstanding the above, the European Parliament has to be strengthened, as the legislative authority of the EU is still not transparent. This is due to national governments. The prime responsibility is with the citizens who are not interested and involved enough in political discussions on EU level though they are offered many possibilities.

Your comments
  • On 14 October 2010 at 20:13, by Jofre M. Rocabert Replying to: Does the EU have a democratic deficit? NO!

    Clear, concise, just Excellent. Congratulations

  • On 17 October 2010 at 16:33, by Cédric Replying to: Does the EU have a democratic deficit? NO!

    So what? The EU doesn’t have any democratic deficit?

    Take the second criticism: sure, the members of the commission are elected by the parliament, which makes them at least as much democratic as other members of national governments in Europe, at least in formal terms. But they don’t have any mandate emanating from voters. And the Commission’s public officers do have more power, more nuisance potential than public officers in national and local administrations. There are plenty of examples of Commission directors able to block a directive for decades. They make the agenda of the Commission far more than public officers at national level, that’s a sad reality. But it doesn’t mean it cannot change.

  • On 10 January 2011 at 09:41, by HR Replying to: Pro/Contra: Does the EU have a democratic deficit? NO!

    There’s never been any democracy in Europe. The History of democracy in Europe is the History of the defeat of democracy.

    Remember 1939.

    It’s not because the American democracy has invaded Europe and reimposed the basics human rights that it means that Europe miraculously became de democray. Besides, since Europe is still occupied by foreign military forces, it means that Europe can’t be a real democracy. Unless, of course, as the artical pathetically tries to demonstrate, you can prove that the citizens of the European Union have “democraticaly” decided that they want to be occupied by foreign military forces.

    It would be funny to imagine, for exemple, a demonstration like this one who would explain that the USA are still a democracy even thougt there is 15 chinese or european military bases spread across their territory.

    The debate about the political institutions of the European Union during the last 10 years, which resulted in the so-called “Constitution”, rejected by a majority of the citizens of the European Union, and later imposed as the Lisbon treaty, is the last defeat to date of democracy in Europe.

  • On 27 February 2012 at 18:40, by stephan Tychon Replying to: Pro/Contra: Does the EU have a democratic deficit? NO!

    So, the (uninformed) opinion and conclusion is that member states’ participation-, transparency-, equality-, representation-, redistribution-, recognition- and dialogue/parliamentary-deficit does not add up to a Europe-wide democratic cancer?

    How is Stephane de Boispean kidding us?

    Like George W. Bush did not define what “terror” really is, he does not define what “deficit” stands for. He is complicating and obfuscating the rootcause of informationterror and communication-chimera, so no wonder “ordinary” people and even experts can’t comprehend why it all happened and just add more incomprehensible reasoning sustaining institutional misconduct and abuse.

    Uninformed decisionmaking and lawmaking is the result of well-organised State-corporate crime on a global scale, amounting to systemic Public-Private Plunder and Budget-Bonus Crime. Compare:

    The 1963 global constriction of petrodollar based warfare and militarization of industrial dominance rooted in dirty-energy fundamentals guided by Esso’s (Exxon’s) cheap-oil doctrine, facilitated the architecture/finacialization of the global economic landscape with the weapons of mass constriction: easy money linked with low interest and deregulation for speculators and big oil subsidies, in fact destroying capitalism and communism alike. What we have now is a monocracy of monoline financing of the common good, destroying individuals’ right of proposal.

    The solution for the American problem is an European “Act of Abjuration” leading towards Atlantic Unbundling:

    Stephan Tychon chief officer of change World Stability Council - 2002

Your comments

Warning, your message will only be displayed after it has been checked and approved.

Who are you?

To show your avatar with your message, register it first on (free et painless) and don’t forget to indicate your Email addresse here.

Enter your comment here

This form accepts SPIP shortcuts {{bold}} {italic} -*list [text->url] <quote> <code> and HTML code <q> <del> <ins>. To create paragraphs, just leave empty lines.

Follow the comments: RSS 2.0 | Atom