The democratic deficit is a myth. The EU has little power over things that matter in national politics and has much democratic oversight as practically possibleby Andrew Moravcsik / March 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
The past decade has witnessed the emergence of a constitutional settlement for the European Union that is likely to govern its affairs for the foreseeable future. The treaties of Amsterdam and Nice failed to alter its structure significantly. Despite its highly charged rhetoric, the constitutional convention due to report later this year is unlikely to achieve much more. The most ambitious proposals still under discussion-modest expansion of qualified majority voting, creating a forum for national parliamentarians, restructuring the European council-merely consolidate decade-long trends. Integration is likely to advance incrementally, as the stock of viable grands projets is depleted. Moves to deepen foreign policy, justice, and monetary policy co-operation require only modest institutional reforms, and few other issues of significance are on the horizon. Moreover, current activities are quite close to what European publics say that they want.
If major reform is unlikely, why then a constitutional convention? Most politicians, commentators and some vocal groups of European voters argue that the EU suffers from a severe “democratic deficit.” In the communiqu? of the EU Summit which launched the convention, European leaders designated the EU’s lack of democratic legitimacy as “the first challenge facing Europe.” To be sure, some reasons for the perception of a democratic deficit are beyond remedy. A multinational organisation of continental scope is bound to appear rather distant from the individual citizen. Multilateral bodies lack the grounding in a common history, culture and symbolism upon which most individual polities can draw. Yet many believe that the EU suffers from a more concrete lack of accountability and legitimacy, and it is to redress this problem that the convention was called.
It is not hard to see why EU institutions seem democratically illegitimate. Only one branch of the EU is directly elected: the European Parliament (EP). The EP is far weaker than national counterparts, and its elections are decentralised, apathetic affairs, in which a small number of voters select among national parties on the basis of national rather than EU issues. The European Commission is widely perceived as a remote technocracy. The European Court of Justice, with 15 appointed judges, is unusually powerful by European standards. Most powerful amongst Brussels institutions, the Council of Ministers assembles national ministers, diplomats and officials, who often deliberate in secret. On the right of politics, some believe the EU is infringing on personal liberty. On the left, many view the EU as a throwback…