On 1 December 2010 the Lisbon Treaty had been in operation for one year. The new EU foreign affairs service is currently under construction. The EU has an unelected President for the European Council (the meetings of the Heads of State and Government meetings), an unelected foreign minister, and an unelected Commission President. Together, they can travel the world and give lessons to others on the importance of accountable and democratic government.
The Lisbon Treaty establishes the legal base for a new supranational European State. Much EU legislation is already more centralized than legislation in the United States. The EU itself, however, has weak tools of power: Its security service has only 620 policemen, while the FBI has 30,000. The EU has no federal prisons. There is still no joint defense for the largest trading bloc in the world. However, all the instruments of state power can now be established on the basis of the Lisbon Treaty. It is still the case that 56 Treaty articles require unanimity among the EU Member States, but the main legislative procedure is now decision by qualified majority vote among the Member States.
I shall set out here the main powers of the EU and consider how its democratic deficit may be remedied.
When decisions and policy-making areas are moved from the member nation-states to the supranational European Union level, citizens lose the voting influence they previously held at the national level, but are compensated somewhat by gaining influence at the EU level. In what areas have voters lost influence? What have they gained instead? Is the newfound influence at the EU level sufficient compensation for what voters have lost? Andrew Moravcsik has argued that EU membership represents a democratic gain overall, because, at the EU level, voters can have an impact on areas where a small country alone would have little say or influence. 1
The Democratic Deficit
The greater part of the laws and regulations that bind the Danes and other Europeans come now from the EU. Are those laws and rules adopted as democratic as the laws and rules that are made under Denmark's own Constitution? For topics for which Denmark on its own cannot adopt effective regulation, one can argue that there is an effective gain supranationally because, at the EU level, Denmark gains a limited influence in matters that it would not otherwise be able to affect in the slightest. I have expressed this point often by saying: "Co-influence is better than no-influence." For issues that Denmark can legislate effectively at the national level, however, a democratic deficit arises at the EU level if the policy area is shifted there. The mode of decision-making at the EU level is not as democratic as that in the Danish Constitution.
Peter Vesterdorf wrote in 1994: "The EU is deeply affecting the domestic politics of countries. It often replaces national legislation and edges national parliaments out of the game. This creates a serious democratic deficit that should be eliminated by changing the EU's decision making process."2 The Brussels Commission acknowledged that there is a democratic deficit problem in the book European Governance. In this work, senior Commission civil servants consider the absence of a common political culture at European level and advocate openness, decentralization and dialogue with citizens as a means of dealing with this problem.
The Lisbon Treaty confers 106 new competences on the EU, with 34 legislative and 72 non-legislative. The draft Constitution for Europe which preceded it, but which was rejected in the French and Dutch referendums in 2005, also conferred 106 new competences, with 33 legislative and 73 non-legislative. The Lisbon Treaty increases the influence of the European Parliament in 19 areas at the expense of the Council of Ministers. Insofar as the Parliament is a body elected by the EU's citizens, this can be regarded as democratic progress. In 49 new policy areas, power has been moved from the National Parliaments, where voters have the last word in that they directly elect the legislators, to the supranational EU level, where voters do not have the same influence. The overall outcome, therefore, means a growing democratic deficit. We confine ourselves here to outlining the general rule for adopting most laws in the EU, the "ordinary legislative procedure," which is set out in Article 294 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), an article added by the Lisbon Treaty.
The Commission's Monopoly on Legislative Initiative
The European Commission has a monopoly on legislative initiative in the EU. It proposes the laws, which are then decided by the ordinary legislative procedure in the Council of Ministers. The composition of the Commission is not a result of a democratic election. Its members are nominated by national governments and only approved by the European Parliament. Nowhere else in the democratic world is the exclusive right to propose laws the prerogative of such a group of non-elected persons.
This "democratic deficit" can be corrected in two ways. The federalist solution is to let the European Parliament elect the Commissioners, so that the Commission as a body is accountable to it. An alternative solution would be to have Commissioners directly elected in the Member States and/or to require them to be democratically accountable to their respective national parliament for their votes in the Commission and to the European Parliament for their management of their European portfolios. This was proposed by a group of Euroskeptics in the Constitutional Convention, which drew up the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe, whose provisions are now embodied in the Lisbon Treaty.
Since the appointment of José Manuel Barroso as President of the Commission in 2004, there have been no votes in Commission meetings. The President summarizes what he regards as the Commission's collective views. It is estimated that 98 percent of what become Commission decisions are now decided outside the actual Commission meeting room on the top floor of the Berlaymont building in Brussels, or once a month along with the European Parliament sessions in Strasbourg.
In 2008, the Commission adopted 269 proposals under oral proceedings, 3067 under written, 2227 by delegation, 4008 by sub-delegation, and 2125 in different committees, under the system of committees overseeing delegated acts. Proposals for EU laws are negotiated and prepared with the help of some 3000 secret Commission working groups that advise the Commission. As a general rule, neither National Parliaments nor the European Parliament have access to the agendas, working documents, minutes or lists of participants in these working groups. When I was a member of the European Parliament Commission, President Barroso promised that he would create a database of all Commission advisers and consultants. This database was partially established in 2009, but there is now a risk that the EU Court of Justice will forbid publication of the relevant names.
Council Of Ministers Making EU Laws In Private
Under the ordinary legislative procedure, the Council of Ministers is required to act in open session when it formally adopts EU laws. However, the real debate and negotiation on the great majority of those laws takes place in 300 secret Council working groups and in the EU's "real secret government," COREPER, the Committee of Permanent Representatives, which consists of the EU ambassadors from the 27 Member States and their deputies. It is estimated that some 70 percent of EU laws are actually finalized in these working groups under the Council of Ministers, with 15 percent in COREPER itself and 15 percent at the actual meetings of Ministers in the Council. Members of national parliaments and the European Parliament have neither access to these meetings nor can they get information on the various proposals as they go through the stages of negotiation in the Council working groups.
Role Of The European Parliament
The European Parliament has increasing influence on the drafting of EU laws, but it does not make laws in the same way as do National Parliaments. The European Parliament debates a bill in committees and in plenary session on the basis of the original proposal from the Commission, although its text may have been changed many times in Commission and Council of Ministers sub-committees before it actually reaches the Parliament. The Parliament has no right to access documents dealing with this prior legislative process and is heavily dependent on lobbyists and informal contacts for any information relating to preliminary law proposals. The Parliament can, however, influence the eventual outcome of legislation by tabling amendments to the final proposal of the Commission and the "common positions" of the Council of Ministers when these are formally put before it. If the Commission supports these amendments, they have a good chance of being adopted. If not, they can be adopted only if there is unanimous agreement in the Council of Ministers representing all 27 Member States. In practice, though, the majority of the Parliament's amendments tend to be adopted, although usually in some modified form.
The powerful position of the Commission, through its exclusive right to initiate and propose EU laws, affects all stages of the legislative process. The exception is the Conciliation Committee under the so-called "third reading procedure." In this, representatives of the Parliament and the Council of Ministers can agree on a compromise over some legislative amendment without the Commission. A proposal from the Conciliation Committee must be adopted by a qualified majority vote on the Council of Ministers and by a simple majority vote in the European Parliament. If either the Council or the Parliament does not adopt the proposed amendment, the entire legislative process must start again with a proposal emanating from the Commission. It is only here, during this third reading, that a draft law requires a positive decision by a simple majority of elected public representatives. In 2008 a total of 1999 EU laws were adopted by the EU, of which only one required a third reading. In 2009 the figure was eight. To reach a third reading, the Parliament had to propose amendments by an absolute majority of all its members in a second reading.
The real influence of MEPs can be much larger than the formal influence they appear to have under this tortuous legislative procedure, but it is hidden and indirect. It can be exercised by activists and interested MEPs when they lobby the Commission in the course of the latter's preparation of draft legislation, often in interaction with relevant lobbyists from outside the EU institutions. During the first reading of a draft law the European Parliament can accept amendments by a simple majority, but it can exert real influence on the final character of the proposed law only if its amendments obtain the absolute majority of all its members that is required under the second reading procedure.
The Parliament is also entitled to reject proposed EU laws by an absolute majority of its members. However, as the Parliament is usually in favor of supranational EU legislation, it has a common interest with the Commission, so that there is little threat of complete rejection, and it rarely happens. From 1999 to 2004, some 28 percent of bills that were passed under this so-called "co-decision procedure" were agreed on a first reading, 50 percent on a second reading and 22 percent on a third reading. From 2005 to 2008, some 64 percent were agreed on a first reading, 28 percent on a second and 8 percent on a third. In 2009 there were 75 first readings, 22 second readings and eight third readings. The trend, therefore, is for more European laws to be adopted on a first reading, when the national parliaments, the public and the ordinary members of the European Parliament have scarcely any information on their content and there is virtually no publicity about them.
It is possible, however, for activist members of the European Parliament, through their roles as rapporteurs on committees, shadow-rapporteurs, or committee coordinators, to exert a personal influence on the formulation of laws, which is well in excess of the influence that individual MEPs can exert in traditional parliamentary processes at national level. Such informal influence is hidden, however, and is not something that voters can take into account on election day. The media rarely covers the EU legislative process. Most people are quite unaware of its complex character. There is no European public discourse such that it can support a European parliamentary democracy. Some doubt that it will ever be possible.
Consensus Democracy or Market Power
The principal hurdle in the way of adopting a European law is that it must always have the support of the Commission and a qualified majority on the Council of Ministers. The internal barrier in the European Parliament is that it must have cooperative support across the political center. Socialists must work with Liberals, Christian Democrats and Conservatives in order to obtain an absolute majority for an amendment to a draft law. When the normal level of attendance at European Parliament sessions is taken into account, the reality is that 60 percent support for an amendment is required-even more than that if the vote takes place on a Thursday in Strasbourg!
Among the 30,000 or so EU laws and regulations that have been adopted over the years, none has resulted from legislative work by Socialist, Social Democratic, Green, or radical members of the European Parliament, unlike in EU Member States, where representatives of such parties have been able to gain a majority. These are European laws that have been approved by a qualified majority in Council (or in some cases by unanimity) and a majority of members of the Commission. Such laws can be modified to some extent by an absolute majority of the members of the European Parliament, on the rare occasions when that happens, but never by its left wing, radical, or political centrist members alone.
This mode of legislative decision-making in the EU might be characterized as a modified market regime with an element of consensual democracy. Market forces are often left unregulated by the EU until a majority in the Commission and a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers can be attained in order to impose rules in a particular area. The Court of Justice's Dassonville and Cassis de Dijon rulings and a whole range of Court judgments on free movement of labor, capital, and services have provided free access to cheaper labor, less security of capital, and free rein for sellers and producers of goods and services. This situation will remain until the Commission and a qualified majority on the Council of Ministers decide to implement a control regulation, which the European Parliament can then try to improve. Hence, legislative power in the EU is generally in the hands of a changing minority of countries that can assemble a blocking minority in the Council against regulation or dilution of a regulation which the general majority of countries, or of voters in particular countries, may be in favor.
Market Power and the Commission
In the "regulatory state," as one may call that the European Union, the Commission decides by itself, unless all Member States can agree to amend a proposed law, or there is a proposal to amend the Treaty itself, which requires unanimity among all 27 member states and ratification by all national parliaments. Under the Lisbon Treaty, delegated competencies can be withdrawn from the Commission by an absolute majority of the members of the European Parliament or by a qualified majority on the Council of Ministers. At the Constitutional Convention, I attempted to push through a rule requiring only a simple majority of the Council and/or the European Parliament in order to have a delegated act withdrawn from the Commission and put back on the political agenda, but my proposal was not accepted.
Effective legislative power in the EU is, therefore, still dependent on market forces and on obtaining the support of the Commission until a grand coalition can be formed for an alternative view. Under to the Treaty of Rome, all proposals for harmonization of laws had to be adopted unanimously. It took 18 years, for example, to harmonize the rules for free movement of architects between the Member States. After the Cassis de Dijon ruling by the Court of Justice, the Commission presented in 1985 a new proposal for a "New Approach to Technical Harmonization and Standardization," whereby the EU would only define minimum common requirements for safety, health, and the like, while technical specifications were left to standards organizations.
Standards Regulatory Organizations
Regulatory organizations like the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC), and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) adopt standards for goods and services of EU countries using the same voting rules as in the Council of Ministers (decision by qualified majority, where countries have a number of assigned votes in proportion to their size). The new method has therefore been effective. It avoids cross-national rules having to be adopted in line with the speed of the slowest ship in a convoy.
There are currently some 44,000 technical standards and specifications that apply throughout the EU. In practice these prevail throughout in the European Economic Area (EEA) countries, which copy them independently because they are not bound by majority votes in standards organizations like EU member states. When harmonization has an increasing impact, but cannot be altered by a simple majority of elected public representatives, democracy itself is limited. Decisions are moved from voters and elected officials to experts and interest representatives. The Constitution of Denmark does not allow for the delegation of powers to standards organizations or other entities that the national Parliament cannot immediately correct when they make what it regards as undesirable decisions.
The power to delegate legislative powers to the European Commission and its committees and to international standards organizations is hardly a competence belonging to the Danish authorities.
Yet, there are currently over 31,000 legal acts, 4000 international agreements, 11,000 court rulings and 44,000 standards specifications at the EU level that cannot be amended by the Danish national Parliament or by Danish voters. The only way this situation can be changed is if Denmark were to withdraw completely from the EU, or if it succeeded in winning a majority on the EU Commission and a very large coalition, possibly up to unanimity, among the 27 Member States with a view towards implementing a desired change that would be valid for all EU member countries.
The 90,000 Rules Voters Can Scarcely Touch
There are over 30,000 laws in the EU, but the number of rules and regulations is much greater because the laws are supplemented by international agreements and standards that have the same direct effect and legal primacy over national laws as full EU laws. There are also approximately 4,500 non-binding rules that have to be respected by Member States, according to the Grimaldi ruling of the Court of Justice (322/88).
Most EU standards for products and services are adopted by a qualified majority in accordance with the treaties. International standards become binding supranational law with direct effect in all EU countries when the EU concludes international agreements with, for example, Codex Alimentarius. Product standards and specifications should therefore be counted with EU legal acts as having binding effect.
Judgments of the EU Court of Justice can be even harder to change than EU laws. Some of them can be changed only by adopting a new Treaty by unanimity between the EU countries and subsequent ratifications by all 27 member states.
The approximately 1400 laws that prevail in Denmark are also supplemented by government orders, circulars, decrees, and Danish standards, but they can be changed at any time by a simple majority in the Danish Parliament and hence by a majority of the voters that elect that Parliament. They are an expression of democracy. Danish courts can always be given new laws on which to make judgments, even though such judgments cannot be changed retroactively.
EU regulations, standards, and court judgments can neither be changed by the voters at subsequent elections nor by selecting a different composition of the European Parliament. As a rule of thumb, changing the laws necessitates the unelected EU Commission or the Court of Justice proposing or adopting a legislative amendment, and that amendment must be backed by a qualified majority in a secret working group under the Council of Ministers, or on the Council of Ministers itself.
In theory, uniform landslide elections in several EU countries simultaneously could lead to a change in European laws. That has never happened. The steady decline in voter turnout in elections for an increasingly influential European Parliament shows that voters do not see themselves as the most important political factor in the EU and do not really identify with it. The EU suffers from a democratic deficit that is tolerable only because the EU cooperation gives the elites of the different countries influence over one another's conditions and affairs which no individual EU member state would have if it were on its own. Voters in most EU countries still consider EU membership to be so advantageous that they have not chosen, and have not seriously threatened to choose, a majority in their national parliament in favor of withdrawing from the EU.
The Growing Information Deficit
The democratic deficit goes hand in hand with a growing information deficit. The number of articles on the EU in major Danish newspapers has fallen by 18 percent from 1998 to 2008, while the number of European laws has grown in that time by 72 percent, from 17,574 to 30,255 legislative acts in all. In that time the share of news articles on the EU has decreased from 1.4 to 1.19 percent.
"The word 'EU' is a stop factor," said Kristian Mouritzen, foreign editor of the leading Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende. "'The 'EU' in the title does not sell," said journalist Martin Aagaard, an long-time European correspondent. The former European correspondent Pierre Collignon, who is now News Director at Jyllands-Posten, concluded: "Most readers want to be entertained, and they simply skip the EU stories." Since 2001, nine full-time Danish EU correspondents have been withdrawn from Brussels, while only 11 are now left. By comparison, there are now 176 accredited journalists in the Danish Parliament of which 18 are public relations personnel employed by political parties. In 1998, there were 119 accredited journalists in the Danish Parliament.
The State Of Democracy in the EU
Several authors have dealt with the state of democracy in the EU. They have referred both to the lack of involvement by citizen voters and the lack of political control of the EU executive.
Piris on democratic legitimacy
Following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the influential and well-informed leader of the Council's legal service, Jean-Claude Piris, published his book The Lisbon Treaty: A Legal and Political Analysis, in which he writes: "The Lisbon Treaty has not corrected the major asymmetries which still characterize the EU's architecture, which might be a factor of instability in the future, in case of stormy weather. The absolute priority should now be to try and improve the EU's democratic legitimacy and its visibility for the citizens, especially through better control by each national parliament over the participation of their government in the decisions taken by the EU."
National European Affairs Committees
National Parliaments have no involvement with or knowledge of the preparation of EU legislation in the Commission's 3,000 or so working groups. The European Affairs Committee of the Danish Parliament does not get to see the agendas or minutes of Commission meetings, although they can now find them online.
The European Affairs Committee of the Danish Parliament regularly receives large volumes of documents from Brussels, though its members rarely read them. The work of the committee is focused on Danish Ministers' oral submissions. The Minister reads from a script drawn up by officials. Officials will also have prepared various responses to any expected critical issues. Often the Minister himself has no in-depth knowledge of the matter in hand. The Minister is not required to obtain a positive mandate for supporting a particular position on an EU law or proposal, but simply has to note that there is no majority against him. Majority governments always have a majority behind them. There can be little democratic debate or tension if the full opposition stands behind a proposal together.
The Council of Ministers meetings are organized the same way. The Minister-or an official on his or her behalf-reads from a previously prepared script. The Council's work is managed by the "secret government" in COREPER. When meetings are over, items prepared for the agenda are regarded as adopted. Items designated as "A-points" are never not even discussed.
Preparatory work in government ministries
Government ministries are also essentially managed by civil servants. Ministers can take part in the formulation of overall Danish views but rarely participate in detailed policy formulation. Overall coordination is achieved through the Government's Foreign Affairs Committee, whose meetings are prepared by the EU Committee, which brings together representatives from the different Government departments. About 35 special committees, with their officials and associated lobbyists, help to build consensus on Denmark's negotiating positions. The European Affairs Committee of the Danish Parliament has never received or even requested the notes or minutes of these special committees, apart from those dealing with agriculture and fisheries. In Denmark, the number of special committees has doubled from 18 in 1972 to 35 in 2003. Policy formulation is primarily drafted within the administration, not in Denmark's legislature.
The Danish Government's own monitoring of EU policies has weakened over the years. Ministerial meetings are "fewer and increasingly empty of content," according to Tim Knudsen. He writes: "Often an important area such as EU affairs is not subject to real discussion."3 The incorporation of EU directives into Danish law has moved from the Parliament to Government Ministries. Fewer than 30 percent of directives come before the Danish Parliament. The Ministries have taken care to obtain authorization to implement EU legislation by regulations and statutory instruments, without need for discussion or consideration in the National Parliament.
The EU Commission's Extensive Powers of Delegation
There are rarely major policy discussions at EU Commission meetings. Commission President Barroso often reads a script prepared by his officials setting out the heads of business. A typical session can cover 20 or more policy proposals, which are regarded as having been adopted at the conclusion of the meeting without being subject to real collegial discussion or voting. In 2008, out of a total of 11,696 Commission decisions, only 269 were taken by oral procedure entailing discussion at Commission meetings.
Power Shift Away from Elected Representatives
A Danish study ("Magtudredningen") notes "[t]he core of the democratic deficit in the EU is the lack of popular participation in European decisions." It found that in 1981-1982, some 3 percent of Danish laws made explicit reference to the EU, while in 2000-2001 the number was 12 percent. The study found that 14 percent of the laws from 1981-1982 were influenced by the EU while 37 percent of the laws from in 2001-2002 were influenced by the EU.
According to a 1996 study, Wolfgang Wessels and Dietrich Rometsch put forth a "fusion thesis" to characterize the EU's influence on Germany as a merging of administrative elites at the national and EU level. They found that the number of meetings of the EU Council of Ministers has grown from 57 in 1975 to 91 in 1990.4 Between 1980 and 1990 new Council formations have emerged for the internal market, industry, telecommunications, consumer, health, culture, civil defense, tourism, and foreign trade. They found that 25 percent of German public officials are dealing with the EU.5 They found officials dealing with EU matters in all government ministries. They pointed out that the local German states (Bundesländer) are also increasingly involved in EU business. In July 1995 the Bundesländer had 129 officials in various Council working groups and 232 in the Commission working groups.6 They estimated that in 1994 over 25,000 national officials were involved in implementing EU laws and decisions.7
A 2005 Swedish study estimated that there was EU influence on 30 percent of Sweden's laws, of which 20 percent were due to binding EU rules and 10 percent non-binding EU documents.8 Both Magtudredningen and the Swedish study most likely miss the effect of the administrative implementation of directives, regulations and other EU legislative acts which have direct effect at national level, for this is inherently hard to measure. The actual impact of EU influence on that country's legislation is undoubtedly much greater than the figures they give.
From 2000 to 2010 the number of EU laws in force has increased by 63 percent, while the number of new Danish laws has been stable. Since the original European Economic Community (EEC) was formed, the Danish Parliament has passed an average of some 120 domestic laws each year. In 1973, the year that Denmark joined the Community, that number was 130-140. The number of government orders was previously twice the number of laws. Now it is four times as large.
Parliamentary Democracy Weakened
Former German President Roman Herzog has also been chairman of the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe and of the EU Charter Convention, which drew up the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. In an article published in the newspaper Welt am Sonntag in 2007, he referred to an estimate by the German Department of Justice that 84 percent of German legislation between 1999 and 2004 originated in the EU. He stated that he doubted whether it was still valid to characterize the Federal Republic as a parliamentary democracy:
"EU policies suffer to an alarming degree from a lack of democracy and a de facto suspension of the separation of powers," he wrote, and noted that under the German Constitution, the Federal Parliament is regarded the "central actor in the shaping of the political community. Therefore the question has to be raised of whether Germany can still unreservedly be called a parliamentary democracy."
Officials and lobbyists in other national capitals and in the EU institutions have effectively been substituted for the central role, which the Danish Constitution assigns to the Danish Parliament as the national legislature.
Some Concluding Perspectives
Most EU Member States have amended their Constitutions to adapt them to the EU. The Danish constitution has not been amended. The democratic character of the Danish Constitution has been compromised in the EU context by the surrender of legislative and constituent power to the executive and judicial power exerted by people that are not directly responsible to the electorate. The EU judges do not only make verdicts; they also legislate and create an EU Constitution from their concrete verdicts.
The actuality of rule by EU legislation that has been effectively drafted by non-elected officials is not even mentioned as a legislative option in the Danish Constitution. The growing influence of the elected European Parliament in the institutional structure of the EU does not compensate voters for their loss of influence on legislation at the level of Denmark.
Dealing with the EU's Democractic Deficit
There are no easy solutions to the problem of the democratic deficit in the EU. It is possible to increase citizens participation through reforms at Member State and EU level. I have argued that there is need for national constitutions to establish and implement the fundamental principles of democratic government. I have proposed what in my view are four especially relevant reforms:
1. EU Commissioners should be chosen by direct election at national level
It is unrealistic to get rid of the European Commission's monopoly of legislative initiative because this would require a new treaty which would probably not be agreed upon by all 27 member states. While the turnout to European Parliament elections is steadily declining, it is unlikely that citizens will come to regard the European Parliament as their natural starting point to appoint a single European government freed from national boundaries.
One possible, practical solution to better involve the voters is to let each country choose its own commissioner by direct election, preferably in conjunction with elections for the European Parliament. The election of the national commissioner may be decided in each country individually, without waiting for a mutual agreement. If Denmark chooses its commissioner by a direct election, it would be politically impossible for an appointed commission president to insist on a candidate who lost the election or a person who never ran for office.
A direct election would mean that political parties and movements would put forward their best candidates for the post instead of a worn-out politician or an internal competitor that they want remove. It will enhance the quality of the Commissioners and their legitimacy. In addition it will increase voter turnout in European Parliament elections because it is more meaningful and the person-centered choice of commissioner will encourage voter participation, just like the "election" of the Prime Minister stimulates turnout in national general elections.
2. Elected representatives to decide on all laws
The ordinary legislative procedure in Article 294 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) has remarkably little similarity to the legislative procedures in the member state's democratic constitutions. Why not reintroduce the countries' common principle that there must be a majority of elected representatives behind all laws, even when they are adopted in the EU? It can be done rather simply by introducing a preliminary reading in the European Parliament and end the legislative process after the first reading. The treaty will then formally still include the possibility of a second and third reading, which in practice will not be used.
3. Openness as default
A third reform would introduce openness as a general principle for all meetings on legislation in the EU. One can then adopt exemptions from the openness if approved by the European Parliament or possibly by a qualified majority in the Council and Commission. A proposal on such a reform was signed by all the elected representatives from national parliaments in the EU constitutional convention and by representatives of 23 of the 28 governments that participated in the EU constitutional convention. No other proposals received such broad support in the Convention. Yet, it was neither included in the EU Constitution nor in the Lisbon Treaty.
The reform does not need to await a new treaty. It can be achieved by a simple change of the rules of procedures in the Council of Ministers and the Commission. The change does not even require a qualified majority, but can be adopted by a simple majority of ministers and commissioners.
4. A subsidiary reform
The fourth reform shall ensure true subsidiarity to ensure that all EU legislations are addressed in national and regional parliaments. Instead of adopting the actual law, the national parliament can adopt a negotiating mandate. The idea is to involve the public from the very beginning of the legislative process. Today the national parliaments usually discuss EU legislation after the negotiations between the member states are essentially over. Such reforms as the four mentioned above would not fully resolve the democratic deficit, but they would at least reduce it in EU decision-making.
In his book Europe: The Faltering Project, Jürgen Habermas writes that the EU, so far, has been a project of Europe's governments and governmental elites and that "[p]erhaps it is time for them to hand over responsibility for the future destiny of Europe to their peoples."9
Now that the Treaty of Lisbon has been in effect for a year or so, Europe's citizens should raise their voices for democratic reforms in the EU, so as to avoid a situation where the EU traveling team of Commission President Barroso, European Council President Van Rompuy, and High Representative Ashton set out to give countries like China lessons on democracy and are embarrassed when a Chinese leader asks, "How many votes did you get in the last European elections?" The true answer would be not one single vote from European voters.
1. Andrew Moravcsik, "Why the European Community strengthens the state: Domestic politics in the European Union" in Journal of Common Market Studies 40, no 4, 603-624.
2. Peter Vesterdorf, Demokrati uden græ nser [Democracy without Borders], (Copenhagen: Forlaget Fremad 1994), 10 .
3. Tim Knudsen, "Fra folkestyre til markedsdemokrati [From rule of the people to rule of the market], (Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 2007), 298.
4. Yves Mény, Pierre Muller, and Jean-Louis Quiermonne, Adjusting to Europe: The Impact of the European Union on National Institutions and Policies (New York: Routledge, 1996), 78.
5. Mény, Adjusting to Europe, 83.
6. Ibid., 85.
7. Ibid., 38.
8. Christina Johannesson, EU's inflytande över lagstiftning i Sveriges riksdag [Influence of the EU on Legislation in the Sweidhs Parliament]," Statsvetenskaplig tidskrift 107, no. 1 (2005).
9. Jürgen Habermas, Europe the Faltering Project (Cambridge: Polity, 2009).
Jens-Peter Bonde is the Editor of euabc.com and Vice President of the Foundation for EU Democracy. He was member of the European Parliament (1979-2008).
Brown Journal of World Affairs, Copyright © 2011…