Democracy and the European Union
The word ‘democracy’ derives from two Greek terms: ‘demos’ meaning people and ‘kratia’ signifying rule of or by. Many people therefore see democracy as meaning ‘people power’, with government resting on the consent of the governed. A democratic political system is one in which public policies are made, on a majority basis, by representatives subject to effective popular control at periodic elections which are conducted on the principle of political equality and under conditions of political freedom.The European Union has often been criticised for its lack of democratic institutions and for the way in which they operate. In a speech in 1994, Sir Leon Brittan,1 a former British commissioner, identified ‘a widespread sense of unease about Brussels and what it stands for’. He drew attention to:
The EU’s alleged democratic deficit is subject to much debate. Arguments against the
democratic shortcomings of the Union are varied and come from many quarters, but
there is general agreement among many observers that the EU’s ruling elites have
become increasingly out of touch with its citizens.
In this chapter, we present a synthesis of the main arguments that have been
advanced. Having analysed some of the apparent problems of legitimacy and
democracy within the EU, we then explore possible ways of overcoming them.
|•||the feeling that Brussels was interfering where it should not do so|
|•||the absence of knowledge of what was going on in the central decisionmaking bodies|
|•||the belief that Brussels lacked sufficient democratic legitimacy.|
By way of a solution, Brittan urged devolution of decision-making (subsidiarity – see p. 48), transparency (more open and accessible decision-making) and more democracy (to overcome the democratic deficit).
Former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing2 has gone as far as to suggest that ‘if the EU itself applied to join the EU as a member, it would be rejected for being insufficiently democratic … The Community cannot continue to be governed according to procedures which are contrary to the imperative requirements it formulates itself in relation to countries which are candidates for membership’.
A draft document prepared for the Laeken Summit (December 2001) also suggested that the European Union was out of touch with its citizens and had failed to placate its critics. It argued that the Union was facing an identity crisis, with a serious gulf opening up between the people and Brussels. The Laeken Declaration implicitly recognised these concerns. In launching the constitutiondrafting process, it observed that ‘citizens are calling for a clear, open, effective,