Components of the ‘Democratic Deficit’

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The ‘standard version’ of the democratic deficit is comprised of five main areas:

First, increase in the power of the executive has given unequal power to the national ministers and government appointees in the Council. Consequently, the imbalance creates a decision-making process that puts executive actors in dominant position with lesser influence from national parliaments.

Second, elected EU representatives in the European Parliament have great formal legitimacy but little influence in the policy process.  The Council and Commission members are elected as domestic leaders and take on EU roles as secondary to their domestic positions. Thus, EP members are accountable but have less authority than the  unaccountable Council and Commission representatives.

Third, the absence of European parties and the lack of European issues at the member state level make EU elites not answerable in their decision making.  Also, ‘EU citizen’ preferences in issues on the EU policy agenda are not heard in EU policy outcomes.

The fourth reason given for the democratic deficit is that the EU seems to be institutionally distant from its voters. EU also lacks a common cultural, language or socio-ethnic background to unite the citizens. It is then difficult for European citizens to associate with the institution.

The fifth point of the deficit is that the EU adopts policies that are not supported by a majority of citizens in most member states. Policy outcomes are not endorsed by a majority of voters.

To counter the perceived ‘democracy deficit’, EU has adopted several steps. At the December 2001 Laeken Summit, the EU Council, working at the Head of State/Government Level had come up with Convention on the Future of Europe.  This convention is assigned to develop proposals for consideration by an Inter-Governmental Conference in 2004. The proposals are aimed at making EU “more democratic, more transparent and more efficient.” Convention Chairman Giscard d’Estaing even proposed to hold a popular referendum on a draft Constitution in 2004, in combination with EU Parliamentary elections.

In the Laeken Declaration, the EU Council also tasked the Convention with reaching out to Europe’s young people and forming with proposals aimed at increasing their involvement in the EU and making the Union more relevant to their lives.

The Council gave the option to the Convention itself whether to present a list of options or a draft Constitution. At the Convention’s inaugural meeting on February 28th, its Chairman, Valery Giscard d’Estaing announced his plan to draft a new constitution.


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