Argument and Structure
The European Union
In order to understand the meaning of a democratic deficit, it is important to shed light on the terminological matters. First, democracy is a system of government where the ultimate authority is held by the people and used directly by the electorate or indirectly through elected representatives under a free electoral system (Rabkin 2000, p.530). Therefore, a democratic deficit in the European Union refers to incomplete or total absence of vesting authority in the EU people ensuing from the transfer of authority from the national governments to the community decision-making system, made up of agents of the national executives (Gorski n.d., p.1). It is important to note from the onset that a democratic system does not automatically mean the exercise of authority directly by citizens, but rather through its elected agents.
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There are several factors one must consider to support the existence of a democratic deficit. First, there must be impassiveness to democratic pressure (What do you mean by this? “delete ‘matter’ ?”). For example, voters in the EU cannot alter the government of the Union because what they are only allowed to elect their representatives to the assembly, which is one part of the many EU legislative processes (Follesdal & Hix 2005). Executive dominance is the second factor. There is escalating disparity between the executive and legislature as a result of the transfer of competency from autonomous member states to the EU. The third factor is circumventing the democratic argument. Technocrats hold sway in most EC committees set up by regulations which delegate authority to the Commission, further alienating democratically mandated bodies. The fourth factor is distance issue. Issues are practically beyond the reach of European citizens as a result of the transfer of competency. Transparency and complexity is the fifth issue. The EC legislative process is generally complex and done behind closed doors which make it difficult for ordinary European citizens to comprehend the EC legislative process. Finally, substantive imbalance is another major issue. The escalating imbalance between the capital in the EC and the labour has led to adverse outcomes associated with liberating a single market (Gorski n.d., p.2).
As noted above, the term democratic can be described in diverse ways. However, the phrase can be described using five main assertions. First, European integration has implied an enlargement in executive authority and a decline in national assembly control (Raunio 1999, p. 182). At national level, the government, as the main representative of its citizens in EU, is liable to voters through the parliament. European assemblies may possess minimal authorities of legislative adjustment. However, the executive (government) exercises power via assembly to employ and dismiss ministers. The structure of the EU implies that the legislative process at the European level is controlled by executive agents: government representatives in the Commission and government ministers in the Council (Follesdal & Hix 2005).
Although this structure presents no problems, the national assemblies are unable to control the actions of their respective agents in the EU. Even if the EAC (European Affairs Committees) was established in all state assemblies to tackle this crisis, the achievements of their agents in EU matters such as: appointments, speaking and coming up with laws, are widely detached from national assembly supervision than are bureaucrats and government ministers in the domestic legislative process. Consequently, governments can in effect overlook their parliaments during decision-making process in Brussels (Follesdal & Hix 2005, p.5).
In addition, many political analysts who know about politics argue that the European parliament (EP) is too fragile. For instance, before the 1990s, a number of researchers found that a direct exchange was present amid powers of EP and rules of parliaments (Moravcsik 2002). An increase in EP powers would imply a simultaneous decline in the authority of national assemblies. “Nevertheless, this position changed in 1990s when the EP powers were increased relative to the powers of governments in the Commission and the Council” (Lodge 1994, p. 69). Since 1980s, successive amendments of the EU Treaties have radically augmented supremacy of EP, as previously envisaged by proponents of democratic deficit. Nonetheless, it can still be argued that the EP is fragile vis-à-vis the national governments’ position in the Council. Even though both EP and the Council have similar legislative authority in relation to co-decision process, most of the EU laws are still ratified through the consultation process, where the EP plays a limited role. The EP can merely adjust items in the EU budget that are classified as non-essential expenditures by the governments. Although the EP has been granted power to sanction governments, the latter still play the main role as regards the selection of Commission President and other Commissioners. Thus, the European Union’s executives are never elected by the EP (Follesdal and Hix 2005, p.5).
Third, in spite of the escalating authority of the EP, European elections never performed. European Union people elect their respective governments, who are Council Members and appoint Commissioners. In addition, EU people elect the EP. “Nevertheless, neither EP elections nor national elections are in fact European elections (in terms of parties and personalities at the European level). “National elections are contested on domestic agendas, but not European matters” (Hix 1999, p.72). Since both national and European elections lack a European aspect, it implies that European Union citizens’ inclination on EU policy matters only an indirect sway on the Union’s policy results. Assuming that the EU system was an authentic democratic contest to establish the composition of EU government, the result of this election would have a direct sway on actions of EU leaders (Follesdal and Hix 2005, p.6).
Fourth, assuming that the powers of EP were augmented and real European elections were conducted, the emergent government would still be too far way from electorates. In institutional terms, the electoral process of the Commission and the Council is far removed from the electorates. In psychological terms, the EU is dissimilar from the local democratic establishments that the electorates are familiar with (CITE? cited at the end of the paragraph). Consequently, citizens will be unable to understand it. For instance, the Commission is neither a bureaucracy nor a government, and is selected via a vague process rather than voted for by a single electorate (Magnette 2001, p.295).
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The Council has both executive and legislative features. When it acts as a legislative body, most of the decisions made are done in secrecy. The EP cannot be an effective assembly due to its multi-lingual attribute of deliberations in the plenary and committees that have diverse political backgrounds. “Thus, the legislative process is basically technocratic and not political (Wallace & smith” 1995, p. 141).
Fifth, EU generates policy drift from the electorates’ policy inclinations due to the above four factors. The EU implements policies that have minority support in most member countries. Governments are able to embark on policies adopted by EU that they cannot adopt them in domestic settings where they are censured by courts, assemblies and interest groups. “These policies include: a monetarist structure for EMU; neo-liberal regulatory structure for the common market; and enormous subsidies to farmers via the Common Agricultural Policy” (Scarpf 1997, p.24). Given that these policies emerge from the EU deliberation process and generally lean towards the domestic policies, the policy drift argument is regularly crafted by social democratic academicians.
The EU is largely a federal system since certain powers are reassigned to European organizations above domestic governments. The European Commission (EC), a law-making body, is basically a supranational unit (Wallace & Smith1995). Among federal units in the previous treaties, the EP was envisioned as the body that mirrored directly the concerns of ordinary people but with moderately fragile power. The first treaty granted the EP a mere consultative function in the implementation of EU laws and budget, and a partial oversight of the Commission. Although the powers of EP were raised, some member states, such as UK, have been unwilling to permit any additional weakening of national power. As a result, the Council of Ministers remains the central forum in decision making process. The issue of democratic deficit is based on the effectiveness of the current institutional channels in linking voters’ preferences to the decision-making outcomes of the EU. During the formative period of the Community, the envoys and technocrats decided the development program of Europe, with the implicit consent from the public opinion. However, the current EU structure is characterized by a limited public participation and decisions made by elites scarcely mirror public aspirations (Norris 1997, p.276).
The collapse in this accord emerged for the first time in 1992. The proposal to implement the Maastricht Treaty in the 1992 referendum was rejected by the electorate (Norris 1997, p.276). In France, the petit oui made some governments in Europe to realize that they were not in touch with their voters. The hostile response against Maastricht and the confirmation crisis happened because the electorate was not involved in the discussions on integration. Moreover, the public approval rate for EU declined sharply between 1991 and 1992 (Norris 1997, p.276). There also incidences of violent expressions against the EU for example intense opposition to fisheries and farming policies. The authenticity of EU was eroded further during the European elections in 1994. The voter turnout was extremely low and the anti-Maastricht protests gained momentum in Denmark, France and Spain. The opposition to the EU system was aggravated in 1996 by the economic hardships of attaining stringent monetary policies set for eligibility in Monetary Union leading to massive cuts in the welfare state in Italy and France. This was complicated by the political issues of convincing citizens to abandon the traditional French Franc, German Mark and the Sterling Pound and transact business using the unfamiliar Euro. The issue of a democratic deficit, according to these problems, was not only confined to economic activities but also featured prominently in the EU project (Norris, 1997, p.277).
The prevalence of democratic deficit in EU came out when a German Constitutional court made its ruling in May 29th 1974 on the matter. The court ruled that EC did not have a democratically legitimate assembly elected directly by European citizens who hold legislative authority and to which the EC organs mandated to legislate are entirely liable on a political level. The court ruled that democratic deficit was prevalent in EC (Gorsk n.d., p.3). It is appropriate to bring up the ruling made in May 31st 2004 by the Polish Constitutional Court on the legality of elections to the EU assembly. According to Article 4 par. 1 of the country’s constitution, the absolute authority in the Republic of Poland is held by its citizens.
The plaintiffs assert that the provisions of the first chapter of the constitution stipulate the general principles that govern the election process and institutions through which citizens can exercise their absolute power. According to the plaintiffs, the European Assembly is one of those institutions. Thus, representatives to the Assembly should be elected absolutely by Polish people (Gorsk, n.d., p.4). However, the Polish Court made a different ruling. It ruled that the Act governing elections concurs with the constitutions. The court stated that the constitution of Poland allows Polish citizens to exercise their authority within the country and that the EU Assembly is not an institution present in Poland. The Court emphasized that the citizen’s supremacy law regards the methods of exercising authority within Poland, while the laws that govern elections to EU Assembly refer to a system of performing duties of and by the European Union parliament (Gorski n.d., p.5).
The Polish Court seems to adopt a conservative approach to the matter of demos being autonomous in the EU. The court ruled that the EU Assembly does not carry out its functions under the authority of a single European country. The Assembly should be seen as a harmonized community made up of different European nations. Thus, according to the Polish Court, democratic deficit is nonexistent in the EU (reference at end of the paragraph). However, two main issues emerge in relation to the democratic deficit of the EU Assembly: lack of official participation of the national assemblies in the EU legislation process; and the weak position of the EU Assembly in decision making process (Gorski n.d., p.5).
It can be assumed that the Council plays a major role in the EU’s legislative process. However, the escalating role of the Assembly in the EU’s institutional planning makes it the major player of the process. Usually, it is the Council that assumes the EU minor legislation to the Assembly’s opinion. Thus, one can argue that this is a clear proof of the existence of a democratic deficit in the EU. However, given that the Community comprises of all member states (including its citizens), the Council then possesses a circuitous democratic consent, whereas the latter are selected through democratic structures. If this viewpoint is assumed to be valid, then the problem of a democratic deficit within the EU is perhaps overstated (Moravcsik 2002, p. 603). However, if we argue that the EU (after getting legal traits) shall be recognized as an international association, we can assume that the problem (democratic deficit) exists within the Union (Gorski n.d., p.6).
The United Nations (UN)
According to a number of scholars, a democratic deficit is prevalent within the UN organization. They highlight the unfair single vote granted to both big and small member countries in the General Assembly (GA), the veto power granted to permanent member states in the Security Council, and the despotism of some member states who vote as regional blocs (Long 2009, p.1). The outcome is usually an organizational incompetency to effectively deal with serious problems, such as climate change, nuclear proliferation and mass atrocities. The good news is new measures are currently in progress to set up a United Nation Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) within the UN with necessary political clout to alleviate these deficits.
It is important to note that the majority of regional organizations for example: the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), have parliamentary assemblies. As a matter of fact, the UN is among a few global organizations that lack a parliamentary assembly. Once it is set up, the UNPA could at first work as a consultative organization within the UN. It would be made up of diplomats from national assemblies from member states. The number of representatives from each member state could be proportionally determined by the size of the state (Long 2009, p.1).
The creation of the UNPA would be a major step forward because the assembly will help: promote global co-operation and outline conventions and treaties; and promote democracy in other countries. The UN Assembly will bring afore incidences of mass murders and emphasize on the need to take swift action. As of now, evidence abounds that the UN has largely been unable to tackle global issues such as climate change and nuclear proliferation. UNPA will be able to give credence to these problems and suggest solutions. The body will effectively mirror the concerns of ordinary people rather than foster the interests of executive units of the government that feature prominently in the General Assembly (Long 2009, p.2).
According to the UNPA proponents, the UN Assembly will reduce democratic deficits within the UN because it will foster global collaboration, give credibility and boost the authenticity of the UN, while reinforcing its ability to take action. The Assembly will permit parliamentarians to coalesce on political issues rather than national interests. For instance, liberals from the UK could unite with their counterparts from Canada, New Zealand and Burma. Given its close proximity to ordinary people, the UNPA would gain from mounting legitimacy and credibility. Parliamentarians would eventually only be accountable to their voters. They would persuade members of the UN General Assembly to take swift actions on global issues. Matters related to democratic deficits would eventually be solved (Long 2009, p.2).
This paper focused on the prevalence of the problem in two international organizations namely: the European Union; and the United Nations. As noted above, there are various ways to define a democratic deficit within an organization. For instance, a democratic deficit in the EU may imply incomplete or total absence of vesting authority in the EU people when authority is transferred from the national governments to the community decision-making system; which is made up of agents of the national executives. Democratic deficits emerge in an organization when the decision making process leads to outcomes that do not reflect public views. It also emerges when these organizations are not granted more power to make meaningful decisions regarding the welfare of member states. A different argument was also highlighted in this paper. According to some critics, a democratic deficit does not exist in the EU because the organization is made up of representatives from European countries that deliberate on important issues affecting the welfare of their countries. Thus, according to them, a democratic deficit is a nonexistent problem.
Follesdal, A., and Hix, S. (2005) Why there is a Democratic Deficit in the EU: A Response to Majone and Moravcsk. Web.
Gorski, M. (n.d.) The Democratic Deficit in the EU. Web.
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