Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

Assessing the European Parliament's Democratic Credentials

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

Assessing the European Parliament's Democratic Credentials

Article excerpt

It is an article of faith for certain academics (for example Follesdal, p.85, 2000; Loewe, 2014; Wessels and Diedrichs, 1997; Borchardt, 2010) and MEPs that the European Parliament (EP) enhances the democratic nature of the EU. The European Parliament has recently made a concerted push for greater involvement in oversight of the Greek bailout deal, which Gianni Pittella, Chair of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the EP sees as "a matter of democratizing the procedures" (Michalopoulos, 2015). In many instances the belief in the democratizing power of the EP is based on the fact that it is "the only directly elected EU institution" (Crombez, 2003). Counterclaims are made by those such as British Prime Minister, David Cameron who believe that national parliaments are "the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU" (Cameron, 2013). I use this piece to take a critical look at whether the EP enhances the democratic functioning of the EU, arguing that the EP's democratic legitimacy and role is open to question in several regards. The article proceeds as follows:

First, I chart the rise in power of the EP and its role in EU decision-making under the Lisbon Treaty. Second I briefly examine what constitutes democracy and democratic legitimacy, and look at the EU's democratic deficit, and the second-order nature of elections to the Parliament. I then analyse whether the EP meets ordinary standards of democratic legitimacy, considering the issues of voter turnout and the congruence of MEPs' and citizens' views - broadly concluding that the EP suffers from a shortfall in democratic legitimacy, and compares unfavourably to national parliaments in this regard. Moving beyond this analysis I explain how the EP's more limited role compared to national governments in certain areas may lead it to adopt policy positions that are at odds with citizens' views and security. I then draw together these arguments to come to a critical view of the EP's role in enhancing the democratic nature of the EU. Finally, I offer solutions to address the problem, advocating the adoption of a more intergovernmental approach to EU decision-making at the expense of the EP, or as a minimum avoiding any further expansion of the Parliament's powers in future Treaties.

The rise and rise of the European Parliament

The EP's predecessor, the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Economic Community began life in 1957 with the merging of the ECSC Joint Assembly, the EEC Assembly and the Euratom Assembly (Borchardt, 2010). Each new EU Treaty has seen the EP's power increase, with Corbett, Jacobs, and Shackleton (p.4, 2011) elegantly describing the transformation of the EP as "from fig leaf to co-legislator".

Kreppel (p. 7, 2002) points to two key events in the history of the EP that saw its power and influence increase: First, the inaugural direct election of its Members in 1979; and second, the agreement of the Single European Act in 1987, which introduced the codecision procedure, giving the EP "partial decision-making power". These events are also cited as seminal in the development of the EP by Corbett, Jacobs, and Shackleton (p.4, 2011).

The Lisbon Treaty marks the latest stage of the empowering of the EP, under which the 'co-decision process' between the EP and the Council becomes the default position for negotiating legislation (Verdun, 2013; Bonde, 2011) known as the 'ordinary legislative procedure'. The EP also used changes associated with the Lisbon Treaty to secure a greater role in selecting the President of the Commission via the so called 'Spitzenkandidaten process' (Hobolt, 2014; Reestman, Eijsbouts and Beukers, 2014), which I consider in more detail later.

The EP is a powerful EU institution (Volacu, 2012), with MEPs playing a key role in relation to a majority of EU legislation. However, in some important areas it is not granted a full role under the ordinary legislative procedure. …

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