People and Parliament in the European Union: Participation, Democracy, and Legitimacy

People and Parliament in the European Union: Participation, Democracy, and Legitimacy

People and Parliament in the European Union: Participation, Democracy, and Legitimacy

People and Parliament in the European Union: Participation, Democracy, and Legitimacy

Synopsis

The power of the European Parliament has been steadily and visibly increasing in recent years. This arises from EU treaty changes and from the fact that more and more decisions are being made at the European level. At the same time, however, the already low rate of turnout in European elections has actually been declining. This powerful new study examines a seemingly paradoxical situation which has raised deep concern about the democratic deficit in the European Union. The authors analyse the concepts of participation, democracy, and legitimacy and their applicability at the European level and develop a typology of voter participation and abstention in the European context. Combining extensive new data from specially commissioned surveys in all 1994 member states with a searching review of the existing evidence, they provide a comprehensive account of the legitimacy of the European Union and examine the images of the European Parliament, citizens experiences of the 1994 campaign and their perceptions of the parties and the candidates. In an analysis that challenges existing interpretations, the institutional, demographic, and attitudinal sources of participation and abstention are fully explored. The study concludes by considering how participation and democratic representation might be enhanced, acknowledging forthrightly the obstacles and inherent limits that such efforts are likely to face.

Excerpt

The genesis of this book lies in a number of related concerns. There was, first, the large amount of abstention at European Parliament elections, despite all that had been said about the need to introduce direct elections in order to put the European Community, now the European Union, on a sound democratic footing. There was, secondly, the curious discrepancy between these high abstention levels and the prevailing view according to which, except perhaps in one or two countries, people were positively disposed towards the integration process. There was, thirdly, dissatisfaction with the explanations given for the low turnout and, in particular, dissatisfaction with the view that it arose because European elections were, for the electorate, 'second-order' elections. Finally, there was the general problem of whether, or how, representative democratic processes can be transplanted from the national level, where they have taken root, to the more difficult terrain created by the increasing internationalization of governance.

One of us then decided to undertake a new, but limited study of abstention in the 1984 and 1989 European elections in Dublin (Sinnott and Whelan, 1992). However, the scope of that study was such that it became clear that only a comprehensive survey, covering all twelve member states, as they then were, could provide the evidence needed to improve our understanding of abstention. Subsequently, two of us were asked to participate in a major study of 'Beliefs in Government', sponsored by the European Science Foundation, which provided many occasions to look closely at existing survey data sources and to identify the gaps in what was available. These developments led to the decision to involve the European University Institute (EUI) in the project and to apply for research funding to both the European Commission and the European Parliament. Support was generously granted; we were thus able link into the Eurobarometer and to draft a set of new questions for the Eurobarometer survey that took place immediately after the 1994 European Parliament elections. The findings of this volume are based in large part on the analysis of the answers to these questions. The data have been archived at the . . .

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