EUROPE: DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT ?
You’d better get your facts right
When discussions about Europe are getting heated and loud you often hear people say : But Europe has a democratic deficit ! Implying that you do not have to take Europe seriously. Funnily enough,
this assertation is in particular presented by people knowing very little about the way Europe has been started and the way it is working. Or people who on purpose want to talk Europe down and not up.
Let us reflect for a second : what does democratic deficit mean ? It means that the important decisions are taken by people, who are not democratically elected and therefore not directly responsible to the voters.
This is the essence of a democratic deficit – like in autocratic states or outright dictatorships.
The reality is simple :
European Union is all the way based on democratically prepared and agreed Treaties. And it is run in full compliance with the fundamentals of any modern democracy : the seperation of powers between three democratically elected and appointed branches
– each with its clearly defined tasks.
There is, therefore, no democratic deficit in the European Union. There are « no faceless bureaucrats » taking the decisions.
All decisions are taken by democratically elected institutions. The « faceless bureaucrats » are ensuring a professional and serious preparation of all decisions – like all their « faceless colleagues »
in the member states « .
Now to more details :
Let us have a close-up look on what the European Union ( EU ) is, what it is based upon , and how it de facto works. And then we can at the end try to go hunting for the democratic deficit to see, if it can be found
The foundations of the EU:
The European Union is based on the Treaties negotiated and agreed by the member
states. The first treaty was the Treaty of Paris in 1951, creating the European Coal and Steel Community. It was later followed by the Treaties of Rome in 1957, establishing the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community.
And these treaties have later been changed and updated with several treaties giving the EU more tasks and more member states.
The fundamental fact is that each and every Treaty
has been agreed, signed and ratified by each member state. Every single chapter, every single article. Therefore, each member state is fully committed to follow the treaties. No more, no less. This is fully in compliance
with all our normal democratic rules and principles.
The functioning of the EU :
The EU treaties are based on the key democratic principle of clear separation of powers : the legislative, the executive and the judiciary powers.
legislative power lies with the Council of Ministers – consisting of ministers democratically elected in all member states – and with the European Parliament, directly elected by all voters in the member
states every five years. The rules on how to legislate ( unanimity, qualified majority or simple majority in the Council ) are clearly spelled out in the Treaties.
powerlies with the Commission, elected every five years by the member states and the European Parliament. It can like most national governments be fired by the European Parliament. Its main tasks are to make proposals to new
legislation, to manage the approved legislation and to ensure that everybody, incl. the member states, fulfills their obligations and do not violate any of the agreed politicies and rules. If they do so, the Commission may according to the treaties start
legal procedures against them – or if needed raise the matter with the European Court of Justice.
The judiciary power lie with the European Court
of Justice. Its task is as described in the Treaties to interprete EU law, settle legal disputes and to ensure its equal application across all EU member states. It also rules on cases sent to it by national courts. Its rulings are final
and valid for everybody. The judges ( one from each EU member state ) are nominated by common accord by the member states for six years, and they may be renewed. The Court works like all courts in democratic societies in full independence of the
legislative and the executive branch.
Frequently asked questions:
There are lots of working groups under the Council, in the European Parliament and in the Commission. Why ? And why are they not open to the public ?
Answer: All these working groups are there to ensure a proper and profound preparation of all legislation. A legislation which takes fully into consideration
that the EU consists of 28 different member states and therefore has to ensure that it all functions well everywhere. And such working groups are not different from the many working groups in the member states ( in the parliaments and in governments
). They include representatives from member states and in the European Parliament from the different political groups.
order to ensure that these working groups can work efficiently without outside interference the public, incl. the media, does not have access to their meetings. This is exactly like in the member states. Before any legislation is approved it has
always been available to the public via the European Parliament and via the national parliaments, which today are very much involved in preparation of new EU legislation.
From time to time working groups, esp. under the Commission, are in certain cases mandated to take certain decisions. But this is always on the basis of a mandate from the democratically elected institution.
2. Why are no measures taken to stimulate involvement of the public before big initiatives are
Answer: Many such measures are taken all the time. The Commission often presents public Green Papers before
new major initiatives are taken. They describe what the issue is all about and lays out a number of possible solutions. These Green Papers are meant to stimulate a public debate, and everybody is invited to send reactions and suggestions to the Commission.
On the basis of that the Commission will often make a follow-up with a so-called White Paper, where it spells out how it suggests to move on.
often is, that relatively few citizens take part in this process. Room for improvement !
Another EU initiative to involve citizens are the CITIZENS’ DIALOGUES.
They take place in all member states. See more here:
3. Why is it almost imposssible to get information on what happens in the EU ?
Answer : It isn’t ! The EU is not further away than your nearest telephone. How is that ?
The EU is running a free service in all 24 official languages called :
You can from any phone inside the EU for free call
this number :
00800 6 7 8 9 10 11
You will be
automatically connected to a person speaking your language. And you may ask any question you have about the EU. If there is a reply, they will give it to you. Or come back to you, when they have found it.
You may also send your questions online to :
And you will get your answer within 3 working days.
You can see more about this free service here :