THE DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT IN THE EUROPEAN UNIONΜαι 26th, 2004 | Χριστίνα Αγγελοπούλου| Κατηγορία: English, Κόσμος | Email This Post | Print This Post |
The democratic deficit, as evidenced in the European Union even today, was the result of interplay between two different forces tugging the Member States in opposite directions. J.H.H. Weiler, in his essay “The Transformation of Europe” successfully applies A. Hirschman’s ideas of Exit and Voice, in order to explain this evolution.
According to Weiler, it was the closure of Exit (that is to say, of the Member States’ right to choose what part of the obligations undertaken under Community law they wish to stand by and what part to ignore or violate), which led to the reinforcement in the framework of the EC decision-making process of Member States’ Voice (more intense involvement and control over Community decision-making). Enhanced Voice –reaching it’s apex with the empty-chair crisis and the consequent Luxembourg Accords- provided a guarantee that individual state interests would not slighted.
In this manner, the way was opened for what has been termed the “constitutionalization of the Treaties”. Tshe ECJ (now that governments were placated by the grating of veto rights, safeguarding their interests even as they trapped them in political deadlock) was free to pursue a more creative approach to Community law interpretation. While politically the Community stagnated, the Court pushed forward, on the sly as it were, the ideal of an “even-closer Union” through the introduction of doctrines such as the supremacy of EC law, direct effect or implied powers. As a result, when the political powers finally got to their feet in the mid-eighties with SEA, they found themselves operating in a completely different legal environment.
This round-about manner of going about integration, though probably the only possible path around the eurosclerosis of the 70s and 80s, is the main instigator of the much-bemoaned democratic deficit still evident in the EU today. Though the reins of power were still in executive hands (the Council being the main legislator in the EC, with the Commission introducing proposals), the ECJ, acting in effect as a constitutional court, granted the laws being passed an elevated status. A positive initiative in many other respects, this also resulted in the crisis of legitimacy, which the Union is still struggling to overcome.
Of course, wrestling legislative power from the hands of the Council would even today be unthinkable. After all the European Union makes no pretences at being a single state, even a federal one, and as long as it remains the meeting-point of many different (still fully sovereign) states, it must needs be play by the rules. Its intergovernmental character has not yet been sufficiently eroded (even legal personality has not yet been granted to the Union) to enable full democratic functioning in imitation of the state model. At the moment it would be more accurate to say the Union is suffering from a personality crisis, tugged as it is in all directions by politicians and academics, each with their own vision of Europe’s final goal and destination. At any rate, as long as it remains a union of states, the EU must abide by the golden mean between intergovernmentalism and federalisation. Respect for the national identities and sovereign rights of the MS and guarantees such as the rotational presidency of the Council, the principle of the protected minimum representation of the smaller states and the principle of equality of the various official languages cannot be compromised.
Besides, thought legislative initiative on behalf of the executive is maybe a little paradoxical, initially the system worked well enough: The Community could glean adequate democratic legitimacy off national parliamentary scrutiny. After all, during the foundational period of the EC scrapping unanimity would have been unthinkable, and anyway volume was slight. The introduction, however, of the rule of majority blazed the way to democratic compromise. Furthermore, the Council itself has evolved into a huge and unwieldy institution, whose members, in its various configurations, reach up to 1000 individuals. The work of COREPER is prepared by some 250 committees and working groups. The creation of specialist committees (and hence the unchecked swelling of the Council) was brought on by ever-increasing volume – yet its compatibility with the democratic principle is questionable. The expanded Council has moved out of the reach of the national governments, as if intentionally to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the present system.
Of course the difference between the various types of acts adopted by the Community institutions (that is to say between regulations, directives and decisions on the one hand and recommendations and opinions on the other) has to be taken into account. According to Article 249 E.C. Treaty, the form of the act affects its binding force and consequently the leeway permitted to Member States when it comes to implementation. Also important in this context is the principle of subsidiarity (Art. 5 EC Treaty), which was introduced precisely to prevent expansion of Community competence passing through the back door: in the areas where the Community has competence, as long as this is not exclusive, it remains restricted.
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A solution to the democratic malaise of the EU is most often sought in the European Parliament, given that this is the one institution which consists of elected representatives of the people and thereby enjoys direct democratic legitimation. The European Parliament itself continually urges for its reinforced participation in the legislative procedure. Its power is indeed continually being bolstered, the most imposing examples of which tendency being the adoption of the co-decision process (Art. 192, 251, 252 E.C.Treaty) and of the approval of Commissioners by the EP. Both are definitely a step in the right direction as they grant both dual legitimacy to legislation (emanating on the one hand from the EP and on the other from the Council of Ministers and the Commission) and salvage accountability before the Community citizens. The reinforcement of Parliamentary involvement in law-making is obviously inspired by the State model and echoes the system of division of powers found in the individual Member States of the EU.
But can the EP really live up to expectations?
National parliaments besides being the nerve-centre of law-making in the Member States, also have another important function: they constitute a “public forum” offering the possibility of communication and information around political life. The remote and intimidating “Eurocrat” on the other hand, still remains a bully in the eyes of the average citizen, corrupt, immune to criticism and out of his control.
The absence of a nation-transcending media or even a unifying lingua franca leave an aching gap and, even though the members of the EP are split into political groups and seated accordingly in the Strasbourg Parliament, true European political parties are sadly lacking. Characteristic of united Europe’s political immaturity is the disturbing indifference European populations exhibit towards European elections. After all, interest is hard to muster when even the key players openly admit that the real political arena is to be found elsewhere: Romano Prodi, not satisfied with leadership in the Commission, shamelessly heads Italy’s left against Berlusconi. So one of the main headaches for federalists is what has been termed “the no-demos problem”. A single European people would seem at the moment to be but a pipe-dream tooted by idealistic Europhiles. How, therefore, can the EP claim to represent a body that is not really there?
One possible answer lies in the idea of “post-national membership”: A collective identity of the European people is possible because it need not jeopardise existing loyalties. One could yet be constructed on the basis of a common will to act as a political unit, above and beyond the borders of the traditional nation state. It is important to note, for example, that European citizenship, far from abolishing national citizenship, requires it. According to Art. 17 EC Treaty, “Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union”. Also suggestive in this context is the EU’s slogan of “United In Diversity”. It is conceivable, thereon, that the EU might prove to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. Integration results in further integration: the famous spill-over effect could find its grandest expression in the birth of a single European demos through the gradual inching together of the European states on a political and legal level, and not visa versa.
What the Union therefore has prospects of developing into, is not so much a federal superstate, but some innovative, sui generis entity: a supranational body, an indefinable polity, a “Union of Peoples”, as the preamble to the EC Treaty puts it. That slight muddles should appear in these early stages, is inevitable. In any case, if the theory proves true, real representation of the European populations in Brussels would then be practicable, and democratic guarantees, thereby, offered both at the national and the supranational level.
In the meantime, it is worth noting, progress is rapidly taking place on more practical plains: access to EU legislation and case-law is free and simple thanks to the on-line search engines, a broad public debate on the future of the Union was opened after the Nice European Council in 2000 and a European Convention, convened by the Laeken European Council, has been authorised with investigating the matter. The homepage of the Union bears witness to the effort, with glossaries of eurojargon and titles such as “Europe Near You”, “The EU At A Glance”, and “Your Rights” placed in eye-catching positions.