The notion of ‘democracy’ indicates the
involvement of the citizens in political decision-making.
In practice, this is normally obtained through
general elections, whereby all citizens are entitled to elect representatives
to make decisions on their behalf in the national parliament.
Another crucial feature of democracy is that the
citizens are able to hold their representatives to account. Usually this is
also through elections, when the citizens reflect on the choices that have been
made by their representatives and decide whether to re-elect them or not.
Governments are always held to account to
national parliaments, so the citizens can motivate their representatives to evaluate
any decisions that have been enforced by the government that they do not
The Debate about Democracy in the EU
The EU has an impact on the everyday lives of
all of its citizens. Various national statutes originate in the EU, and the range
of areas in which the EU can enforce statutes is already large and on the rise.
Furthermore, statutes made by the EU is far more
sovereign than national laws. Due to this, it is imperative that EU citizens
are included when it comes to the decision-making process and that the EU is
How the EU is democratic?
The most obvious point to prove that the EU is
democratic is that the European Parliament (EP) is composed of MEPs who are
directly elected by the EU citizens.
Since 1979, every 5 year’s elections are taken
place in which EU citizens are able to elect MEPs to represent their views in
A system of proportional
representation is used to elect MEPs in all member states. The UK currently
has 72 MEPs.
Having the ability to choose MEPs also suggests
that they are accountable to the people and citizens have the right not to
re-elect them if they are dissatisfied with their performance.
Another alternative in which the needs and wants
of the citizens are represented in the EU is through the European Council and
the Council of the European Union.
Both of these institutions consist of people
from the national governments of the member states.
As most national governments are elected
directly by the people (the President of
France is directly elected) or indirectly (the UK government is formed from the political party that wins the
majority of the seats in a general election), they are indirectly
representing their citizens at the EU level.
By voting to modify the national government,
citizens are also entitled to changing the way their views are represented in
the EU, and therefore, these institutions are also indirectly accountable to
The Lisbon Treaty of 2009 has a section
dedicating to the improvement of democracy in the EU – Title II Provisions on Democratic Principles. It contains the
introduction of a process called the ‘Citizens
Initiative’ whereby all of the citizens within the EU can invite European
Commissions to introduce a piece of legislation. At least 1 million citizens
from a majority of the member states need to sign an initiative for it to be
even considered by the European Commission. Hence, through this process, can citizens
become directly included with decision-making at the EU level.
Moreover, the Lisbon Treaty has also improved
the powers of the European Parliament, so that the elected representatives of
the citizens can share a greater voice in decision-making, and amplified the
role of national parliaments in law-making. National parliaments now have their
powers strengthened to consider and challenge any EU statutes that they
consider to be made at a national rather than an EU level: thus, imposing the subsidiarity principle which entitles
that decisions should be enforced at the lowest level and close to the citizens
Where the EU fails to be Democratic
This concept that the EU is diagnosed from a democratic deficit is extensively
advocated within academic circles.
One cause of this is that the EU seems to be too
distant from its citizens. It is widely accepted that it is too complicated for
the citizens to be efficiently involved in its decision-making and a lack of
transparency and education stops them from gaining knowledge on the nature of
the EU and how they can make a difference within the EU. Despite the Lisbon
Treaty improving the transparency, the introduction of the Citizens’ Initiative
is not projected to be efficient enough to improve the relationship between the
EU and its citizens, as it is very doubtful that numerous of citizens will be
aware of the opportunities that is available to them.
Secondly, the powers of the EP, the only
directly elected EU institution, are weaker than any other institutions. The EP
cannot put forward legislation and only has the power to propose amendments to
statutes. Elections for the EP also suffer from a low turnout (in the UK only
34.7% of people voted in the 2009 EP election), a wide range of citizens are
not taking up the opportunity to influence the decision-making process.
Furthermore, those who do vote normally vote based on their opinions on
national issues rather than European issues, due to a sense of feeling distant
from the mechanisms of the EU.
Thirdly, the European Commission is a completely
appointed institution, not democratically elected, and it has the control of
enforcing laws: there is no opposition over who has political authority and
sets the outline at the European level. EU citizens do not receive a choice
over who is involved of this powerful body, and the Commission is only held to
account through the European Parliament. In addition, individual Commissioners
who are performing poorly cannot be removed from their position. The Commission
lacks legitimacy: it has too much power for an institution that is not even
democratically representative of the EU citizens or accountable to them.