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Issue of Democratic Legitimacy in the European Parliament

Info: 1979 words (8 pages) Essay
Published: 18th Mar 2021 in Politics

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'Through the powers and status of the European Parliament, the EU has acquired increased democratic legitimacy. Therefore, criticism that the Union suffers from a democratic deficit is erroneous.'

Critically discuss the above statement with regards to the democratic nature of the European Parliament, its role, function, and powers. Your discussion should contain, wherever appropriate, references to relevant primary EU legislative provisions and pertinent academic commentaries.

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This discussion will focus on the role, function, and powers of the democratic nature of the European Parliament. It will cover definitions of democracy and have an overview of the term 'democratic deficit’. This essay will also discuss why some people say the European Union is undemocratic concerning the legislative and decision-making process. It will also look at the structure and formation of the EU through various treaties that overall formed the EU and how citizens react to democracy.

The first treaties creating the European community which later developed the European Union (EU)  was the treaty of Paris 1951. This treaty focused on the production of steel and coal but the treaty's main aim was to prevent further hostilities within Europe and for the countries to get along after the war. In the end, the treaty was signed by six European nations including France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The economic integration was established with the treaty and this was the start of forming the EU. The Maastricht treaty (Treaty of the EU) was signed in Maastricht in 1992 which had created European citizenship with rights for workers and institutional changes. Furthermore, The Treaty of Amsterdam 1997 was created which dealt with co-operation which allowed member states to communicate with procedures that were not yet legislative subjects. Then, The Treaty of Nice in 2000 focused on institutional changes regarding the enlargement of the EU. Finally, the enlargement of the EU meant that between 1957 and 2013 there was a rise in member states from six to 28.

[1]The only institution that is directly elected by EU citizens in the European Parliament (EP) and therefore, is the most democratic. The EP is responsible for the legislative process meaning that parliament can introduce and amend legislative proposals as seen in Article 294 (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). Parliament has representatives from various member states and there are currently a total of 751 MEPs (750 MEPs and one president) that hold a seat in parliament and the voting system is on a majority basis.’

There are different definitions that individuals have referred to as what democracy means. [2]One definition of democracy consists of 'public decisions' and 'public opinions' of political policies and the laws which are communicated by the citizens in society, who have the same political rights as each other. [3]Three different characteristics are required for there to be democracy these are known as the ‘three dimensions’ of democracy. The first is ‘rulers must be representative’ implying that democracy is the existence of social actors and political agents who are their representatives. This means that democracy cannot be representative unless it’s ‘pluralistic’. Secondly, is that voters regard themselves as citizens which means they have the freedom to choose rulers doesn’t matter if the ruled are not interested in the government. Lastly, Freedom of choice meaning that it cannot exist if there are no limitations on the power of rulers.

[4]The term is known as 'democratic deficit' is used to describe the EU institutions and their decision-making procedures that lack democracy. However, some people describe the 'real democratic deficit' as the absence of European politics. Hix (2008) suggests that the EU does suffer from this ‘democratic deficit’ and argues [5]that the EU is a political system that puts in place policies that are directed to citizens but is 'electoral contest' for the political policies. This can be through national elections (indirectly), or EP elections (directly). This is seen as a 'lack of politicization'. Therefore, citizens voting doesn't affect the 'political agenda' in the EU.  This suggests that there is only a political agenda for their own country and not the EU for example, there are 96 MEPs in Germany but only 26 MEPs in the Netherlands. This can be seen as unfair and this is what makes the EU undemocratic as different countries have their own opinion and one countries opinion can take over other countries because it has more MEPs.

[6]The EU member states signed the Treaty of Lisbon on December 13th, 2007 and it has seen to have significantly improved the EU's democratic legitimacy. It overall strengthened the European parliament by improving legislative, budgetary and oversight powers. It created opportunities for citizens to participate in decision-making and gave parliaments new legislative rights and powers. Overall, the Treaty of Lisbon has made the biggest contribution to restoring democracy into the EU.

[7]The European Commission is not elected but is accountable to the European parliament but is unaccountable to the citizens. [8]This is because the citizens can vote for their MP for parliament therefore, the EP provides the means that can measure the debates and actions of the government on behalf of the citizens meaning their opinions can be voiced. This is seen as democratic because parliament is elected so public accountability is achieved in this process. However, confidential accountability (behind closed doors) can be seen as the issue of accountability within parliament. The decision-makers are accountable to govern the citizens, this is required to ensure the democratic process and the legitimacy of legislative acts. However, some argue that the EU suffers from this ‘democratic deficit’ because [9]it fails to accomplish a satisfactory level of accountability. The commission is chosen by parliament and the European council but not by citizens this suggests that the EU is undemocratic because the citizens do not get an opinion within the commission or council and they don’t get to see what happens during their discussions.

Some have argued that European integration has contributed massively to making the EU more democratic throughout the years. [10]European integration has resulted in the creation of a new level of political institutions as well as the existing domestic politics. It has also provided the EU with an opportunity for delegation of powers at a European level. [11]The Human Rights Act is a law that was passed in 1998 which let citizens defend their rights in UK courts and is a form of European integration because it has brought the countries inside the EU together by treating everyone equally. This has made the EU more democratic because the act makes it fair for everyone in different countries because no-one is being treated different who have the same jobs as each other but live in different countries.

In conclusion, the EU is seen as undemocratic as some refer it to have a 'democratic deficit', This is through the citizens not having an effect on political agenda and only having an opinion for their own countries and not the EU. It is also seen through the lack of accountability with the commission not being elected by these citizens. However, parliament is seen to be the most democratic as is it the only institution that is directly elected by the EU citizens, unlike the EU commission.  Furthermore, the Human Rights Act 1998 has contributed massively to the EU democracy by making the countries equal and is the biggest decision the European parliament has done by giving a wide range of what a democratic society expects of parliament and its citizens. Article 6 (Equality) and Article 8 (Right to family life) are the most used articles. Overall, the Treaty of Lisbon has also contributed to helping the EU out of its ‘democratic deficit’ by strengthening the European parliament and improving the legislative and the decision-making process. It is clear that there is some underlying undemocratic nature within the EU and things could be better however, there are strategies towards finding a full working democracy.

Bibliography

Books

  • Weale A, Democracy (2nd edn, Palgrave Macmillan 2007).
  • Touraine A, What is democracy? (1st edn, Routledge 2019). 26-27
  • Ward D, European Union Democratic Deficit And The Public Sphere (1st edn, IOS Press 2002).
  • Storey TA Pimor, Unlocking EU Law (5th edn, Routledge) 32-34
  • Goetz KS Hix, Europeanised Politics? (Taylor and Francis 2012) 17-19

Journals

  • Sinardet DP Bursens, 'Democratic Legitimacy In Multilevel Political Systems: The Role Of Politicization At The Polity-Wide Level In The EU And Belgium' (2014) 49 Acta Politica accessed 3 November 2019
  • Auel K, 'Democratic Accountability And National Parliaments: Redefining The Impact Of Parliamentary Scrutiny In EU Affairs' (2007) 13 European Law Journal accessed 7 November 2019. 496-497
  • Velluti S, 'The Promotion And Integration Of Human Rights In EU External Trade Relations' (2016) 32 Utrecht Journal of International and European Law accessed 8 November 2019 18-20
  • Sieberson S, 'The Treaty Of Lisbon And Its Impact On The European Union’S Democratic Deficit' [2007] SSRN Electronic Journal accessed 8 November 2019 447-450

Websites

  • 'Glossary Of Summaries - EUR-Lex' (Eur-lex.europa.eu, 2019) accessed 7 November 2019
  • 'How Democratic Is The European Union?' (The Conversation, 2019) accessed 7 November 2019

[1] Tony Storey and Alexandra Pimor, Unlocking EU Law (5th edn, Routledge).

[2] Albert P Weale, Democracy (2ND edn, Palgrave Macmillan 2007).

[3] Alain. Macey Touraine, What is democracy? (1st edn, Routledge 2019).

[4]

[5] Dave Sinardet and Peter Bursens, 'Democratic Legitimacy In Multilevel Political Systems: The Role Of Politicization At The Polity-Wide Level In The EU And Belgium' (2014) 49 Acta Politica accessed 3 November 2019.

[6] Stephen C. Sieberson, 'The Treaty Of Lisbon And Its Impact On The European Union’S Democratic Deficit' [2007] SSRN Electronic Journal accessed 8 November 2019.

[7] 'How Democratic Is The European Union?' (The Conversation, 2019) accessed 7 November 2019.

[8] Katrin Auel, 'Democratic Accountability And National Parliaments: Redefining The Impact Of Parliamentary Scrutiny In EU Affairs' (2007) 13 European Law Journal accessed 7 November 2019.

[9]of David Ward, European Union Democratic Deficit And The Public Sphere (1st edn, IOS Press 2002).

[10] Klaus H Goetz and Simon Hix, Europeanised Politics? (Taylor and Francis 2012).

[11] Samantha Velluti, 'The Promotion And Integration Of Human Rights In EU External Trade Relations' (2016) 32 Utrecht Journal of International and European Law accessed 8 November 2019.

 

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