“Most voters seem to take the opportunity to give the incumbent national government a ‘good kicking’ during European elections, as seen in the UK, Spain and France, rather than vote on a broad manifesto of ideas. This is fuelled further by MEPs campaigning on local issues rather than European ones.” This is an example of part of the democratic deficit in the European Parliament. To further show how there is a democratic deficit in the European Parliament I will explain how it is largely inaccessible to its European citizens and how the European Parliament lacks the power that it requires to resolve the problems in the Union. I will then describe some unsuccessful attempts at solutions and conclude with some possible future remedies.
While the European Union was originally made as a project to unite European nations against the possibility of future wars, the initial focus of the Union was on trade and economic union. However, as more and more nations joined and its mandate expanded in scope, an incongruity between popular democratic representation and expansion has developed. ‘Democratic deficit is a concept used principally in the argument that the European Union and its various bodies suffer from a lack of democracy and seem inaccessible to the ordinary citizen because their methods of operating are so complex.’ When the European Union is criticised for its ‘democratic deficit’ it suggests that the Union’s decision making is undemocratic. National government’s often make themselves out to be blameless by holding a faceless monster, the ‘Brussels bureaucracy’, responsible when explaining unpopular decisions from the EU to their citizens. This leads to an assumption that there is a dominant authority which makes all decisions and that that authority is not democratically accountable.
The European Union’s power is divided between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, although these are divided somewhat disparately. These three bodies are designed to check and balance each other. Within the EU the European Parliament is only directly elected body, whilst the two other main institutions, the Council and the Commission remain unelected. In each of the member states, citizens have the opportunity to influence national policy making through their elected officials. In the EU’s multi-tiered system, however, the closest a citizen comes to having any influence on policy decisions is through their elected representative to the European Parliament.
However, the public’s elected European Parliament representatives have little or no power when it comes to policy making decisions about the EU. This power is instead with the national politicians and national governments in the Council and the Commission. “One of the Parliament’s roles, as a chamber made up of elected representatives, is as ‘voice of the people’, linking the political system to the public.” The EU’s decision making process permits very little input from European citizens. There are arguments that the European Union is either too far removed from the public or is too complex for citizens of the member states to understand and therefore form reasoned opinions about the actions of European officials. In addition to the complexity of the process, it is also argued that the nature of the policies in which the EU is involved are overly technical, which discourages citizens from engaging with the process. According to these arguments, the end result is that the European Union has alienated European citizens. This is made worse by the informal nature of negotiations that often take place among and within the key policy making bodies in the EU, which leads to a less transparent system with a more unpredictable policy making process. “Although the European Parliament is elected, most voters generally have a very low knowledge about the European Union and little interest in it. Election turnout for the Union as a whole has dropped to around...
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