EU Democratic Accountability

EU democratic accountability would be improved if elections to its parliament were more focused on the policies of its political groupings.

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.

EU democratic accountability would be more meaningful if candidates offered themselves for election in terms of The Political groups of the European Parliament.  They offer a range of policies relevant to running the EU, and “[b]efore every vote in plenary the political groups scrutinise the reports drawn up by the parliamentary committees and table amendments to them”.  The groups are listed on the above website, which explains how they are formed:

they are not organised by nationality, but by political affiliation. There are currently 7 political groups in the European Parliament.

23 Members are needed to form a political group, and at least one-quarter of the Member States must be represented within the group. Members may not belong to more than one political group.

Some Members do not belong to any political group and are known as non-attached Members.”

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.

EU democratic accountability would be further improved by reforming the way that the Commission is appointed.  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’s report, A dose of democracy needed to revive the EU, suggested that there should be “a contested election for the President of the EU Commission” – with candidates chosen by the EU political groupings for final selection by the EU Parliament.

In the words of an Economist article, Four Ds for Europe:

“In truth, the [democratic] 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.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6656a.htm.