The elimination of a 'democratic deficit' in the EU, in view of the limits on the powers of the European Parliament.


One of the main values of the European Union has always been a ‘respect for democracy’, and the significance of democracy within the Union order is emphasised by Article I-2 and Title VI of the Constitution, ‘The democratic Life of the Union’. The obligation on institutions is stated to be to involve citizens by ‘appropriate means’ for the functioning of the Union.

The European Parliament is said to be one of those main institutions of the European Community, which is empowered to undertake legislative roles. In the past it was not a democratic body, and consisted of representatives of Member States who were required to be members of a national parliament. Having recognised the need for a ‘democratic’ institution in the Treaty of the European Union, it was possible to strengthen its powers and thus its role over time. This is what happened and is happening with regard to the European Parliament. Thus, from 1979, democracy increased with the introduction of direct elections since members are responsible to their electorate (though it should be noted that recent elections have revealed a low voter turnout, casting doubts on Parliament’s claims to democratic legitimacy). Parliament today has played an increasingly important role in the legislative process and has been given the final say in certain aspects of the budget. On the other hand, there still exists a lack of democratic legitimacy in the EC decision-making process (hence a ‘democratic deficit’). This means in its simplest terms, that there’s not enough connection between individuals of the State(s), for example, and the Community/European Union (the EU) in matters of law making.

This debate typically critiques the democracy of Community law-making in three ways – (I) quality of representative democracy (the extent to which Community law-making undermines parliamentary democracy at a national and regional level), (II) quality of participatory democracy, and finally (III) quality of deliberative democracy (public debate between citizens that surrounds and informs law making process). Both sides of the argument are discussed in this article.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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