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.

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