6.6.5.6 Democratic Accountability in the EU

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6656.htm)

There is a perception that the EU suffers from a ‘democratic deficit’.  Luigi Sementilli’s document, entitled A “Democratic Deficit” in the EU? The reality behind the myth, refers to the work of several writers who have addressed this issue, and concluded that there is at present no “space for political contestation at a European level” because most MEPs stand for election on the basis of their national political affiliations rather than EU policies.  This renders their election almost meaningless, since national political parties have to attend to quite different concerns.

There are problems with the method of selecting European politicians:

  • For example, in the 2014 elections for the European Parliament, the British candidates offered themselves under the banners of 30 “parties” – as listed then in the BBC’s European elections: Party-by-party guide. These were focusing on Britain’s relationship with Europe instead of the business of running the EU – and 7 of the listed “parties” were explicitly anti-EU.
  • It would be more meaningful if candidates offered themselves for election in terms of the European political groupings,[1] which offer policies relevant to running the EU.
  • The commissioners and their president are government appointees, so the people have no direct say in their appointment. The formula of one commissioner per country is a politically expedient way of making member countries less suspicious of the Commission, but it is incompatible with selecting the best team to oversee the commission’s functions.  Reform is desirable.
  • Simon Hix wrote a report entitled A dose of democracy needed to revive the EU, which suggested that there should be a contested election for the President of the EU Commission, with the winning candidate having to gain majority support within the EU Parliament.

The election of European politicians on the basis of European policy programmes would make them more accountable to the public, allowing Europe-wide issues to be seen as such.  The interests of individual countries are adequately protected by their political representation on the European Council and the Council of the European Union, where the representatives have been elected on the basis of national interests.  In the words of The Economist, in an article entitled Four Ds for Europe:

“In truth, the deficit is to be found more at national than at European level.  The EU is a creature unlike any other: neither a superstate, nor a federal union, nor an inter-governmental organisation.  But it is closer to the third, in that nation-states remain the main actors.”

National politicians have a duty to explain the EU’s role to their populations and to clearly describe their part in it.  British politicians were over-fond of dodging criticism by blaming the EU.

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[1] On 13 February 2014, the BBC published a Guide to the European Parliament, which listed the 8 recognised political groupings; it was available in June 2018.  The 5 largest, in descending order of size, are as follows:

The European People’s Party (EPP), which the BBC described as “Christian Democrats”, had a website at http://www.epp.eu/.

The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in Europe, which the BBC described as “centre-left”, had a website at http://www.socialistsanddemocrats.eu/.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) website was at http://www.aldeparty.eu/en.

The Greens/European Free Alliance website was at http://www.greens-efa.eu/.

The European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) website was at http://ecrgroup.eu/.  The BBC described it as “right-wing”.  It advocated reform of the EU: “decentralisation of powers, more openness and a focus on supporting Europe’s economic growth”.