The Quest For Democracy In The European Union: What Does The Treaty Of Lisbon Include For A More Democratic Union?

Dr. Dilek Yigit*


The Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1 December 2009. One of the aims of the Treaty of Lisbon is to enhance the European Union’s democratic legitimacy, because to what extent the European Union’s political structure is democratic has become a widespread concern in European politics since the 1990s.

This paper seeks to analyse academic discussions about democracy at the European Union level in brief and then examine what the Treaty of Lisbon includes for a more democratic Union.

As known, the concern about democracy at the European Union level has started to be expressed more widely, and has triggered a vibrant academic debate among scholars during the process in which the EU Treaties amending the founding Treaties have been signed and ratified. The most important questions raised in this debate are,

• Does the European Union suffer from a democratic deficit?
• If so, how can the democratic deficit in the European Union be narrowed to create a more democratic Europe?

With regard to the first question, we see that scholars take different sides in the debate, according to approaches they adopt on the question of democracy in the European Union. Thus it might be argued that there are three strands of thinking regarding the issue.

The first strand of thinking focuses on the question of why the European Union suffers from a democratic deficit. Scholars in this group often compare the Union with a nation-state and equate democracy with representative democracy to assess the democratic quality in the Union. Broadly speaking, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union as the legislative bodies of the Union and the European Commission as the executive body of the Union are compared with national parliaments and national governments, respectively. And the European Union, though not a nation state, is viewed through lens of representative democracy. Consequently, the European Union is perceived as suffering from the democratic deficit, because, as Majone points out: “A recurrent theme in the debate about the “democratic deficit” of the EC/EU is that the powers of the European Parliament still fall short of the powers of an ordinary parliament, while the Commission –a bureaucratic body- continues to enjoy a nearly total monopoly of legislative initiative”(1).

The argument which is that the European Union suffers from the democratic deficit has been criticised because of the analogy drawn between the institutions of the Union and of the nation state. In this context, Majone questions this analogy, and put that:

“The most obvious objection to the analogy with the model of parliamentary democracy-in any of its national variants-is that the institutional architecture of the EC/EU has been designed by treaties duly ratified by national parliaments. One of the characteristic features of this architecture is the impossibility of mapping functions onto specific institutions. Thus the Community has no legislature but a legislative process in which different institution–Council, EP and Commission- have different parts to play. Similarly, there is no identifiable executive, since executive powers are exercised for some purposes by the Council acting on a Commission proposal; for other purposes (e.g., competition matters) by the Commission; and overwhelmingly by the national administra- tions implementing European policies on the ground”(2).

To what extent the analogy is appropriate to assess the democratic quality at the European Union level is questionable. However, it can be stated that the concern that there is a democratic deficit based on this analogy has shaped the general atmosphere leading to the Treaty of Lisbon. And, the democratic deficit has been regarded as one of the main issues that the European Union should handle in the years ahead. Indeed, the importance of increasing the quality of democracy in the Union has already been emphasised in the Laeken Declaration on the Future of the European Union in 2001, which states that “The Union needs to become more democratic, more transparent and more efficient” (3).

The second strand of thinking tries to explain why the European Union can not suffer the democratic deficit. This approach is mostly represented by Majone and Moravcsik. Accordingly, for Majone, since the member states delegated regulatory policy competences to the European Union, it has become a regulatory state. Consequently, as a regulatory state, its policy-making should not be democratic in the usual meaning of the term (4).

Moreover, Moravcsik argues that “When judged by the practices of existing nation-states and in the context of a multi-level system, there is little evidence that the EU suffers from a fundamental democratic deficit.”(5), and he points out:

“Constitutional checks and balances, indirect democratic control via national governments, and the increasing powers of the European parliament are sufficient to ensure that EU policy-making is, in nearly all cases, clean, transparent, effective and politically responsive to the demands of European citizens”(6).

The third strand of thinking is different from the first and the second. The scholars in this group are interested in methodology of analysing democracy at the European Union level. Their argument primarily is concerned with how to analyse democracy at European Union level more than why the European Union suffers the democratic deficit. In this sense, the point is that the European Union is neither a nation state nor an international organization; consequently, the standards of democratic governance we can apply at the national level should not be applied at the European Union level. So what should be done is to think about how to reformulate the standards of democracy, which can be applied at the European Union level. In this sense, Weale points out that:

“In many ways, the conception of democracy associated with the nation state, though tolerable in a way that it balanced competing values, was based upon a particular conception of democracy couched in terms of majoritarian popular will-formation through party competition. Since this version of democracy can not be a model for EU democracy (given that the con- ditions for its realization do not obtain), we need to reformulate the notion of democratic legitimacy itself in terms drawn from other strands of democratic theory”(7).

Moreover, Mair puts that:

“…if Europe doesn’t fit the standard interpretation of democracy, then we should change that standard interpretation. Rather than adapting Europe to make it more democratic, it makes more sense to adapt the notion of democracy to make it more European”(8).

While the debate in academia is going on, it has become clear that the first strand of thinking has shaped the debate on the EU’s future in both the European Convention and the 2007 Intergovernmental Conference. Hence, the answer to the question of how the democratic quality of the Union can be improved or how the democratic deficit in the Union can be narrowed can be sought in the Articles of the Treaty of Lisbon.

As it is known, in a representative democracy, the central political institution is the parliament as an elected legislative assembly, so what the Treaty of Lisbon includes regarding the European Parliament is the first issue we should discuss in order to assess the role of the Treaty in creating a more democratic Europe. In article 8 of the Treaty of Lisbon, in which the Union’s ambition to be founded on representative democracy is clearly stated (9), it is underlined that “Citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament.” Moreover, the Treaty is also innovative in terms of bestowing the European Parliament with additional power regarding the legislation, budget, and nomination issues.

“…what the Treaty of Lisbon includes regarding the European Parliament is the first issue we should discuss in order to assess the role of the Treaty in creating a more democratic Europe.”

In terms of legislation, co-decision procedure is extended, and called “ordinary legislative procedure.” The text of the horizontal amendments article of the Treaty of Lisbon stipulates that:

“the words ‘the Council (shall), acting in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 251’ shall be replaced by ‘the European Parliament and the Council (shall), acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure’, and the words ‘procedure referred to in Article 251’ shall be replaced by ‘ordinary legislative procedure’ ” (10)

The extension of the co-decision procedure in the Treaty provides the European Parliament with legislative powers comparable to legislative powers of the Council of Ministers.

In terms of budget, the distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditures has been abolished. Previously, the European Parliament had the last word on the non-compulsory expenditure, which represents a minor part of the European budget. With the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament has been given the right to decision with regard to the approval of all expenditures related to the annual budget. The texts of the related articles of the Treaty of Lisbon stipulate that:

“The European Parliament shall, jointly with the Council, exercise legislative and budgetary functions.”

“The Council shall, jointly with the European Parliament, exercise legislative and budgetary functions.”

“The Union’s annual budget shall be estab- lished by the European Parliament and the Council in accordance with Article 272”(11)

Regarding the Parliament’s nomination powers, the Treaty of Lisbon defines the role of the European Parliament in the nomination of the Commission President clearly. As known, there has been criticism that there is a lack of direct relationship between the Commission and the outcome of the European elections for the European Parliament, which has caused widespread concern about the Commission’s democratic legitimacy. With the Treaty of Lisbon, The Commission President will be elected by the European Parliament on the proposal of the European Council, taking into account the results of the European elections.

“With the Treaty of Lisbon, The Commission President will be elected by the European Parliament on the proposal of the European Council, taking into account the results of the Eur

Hence, the Treaty of Lisbon provides the Commission with greater democratic legitimacy. Article 9 D of the Treaty of Lisbon stipulates that:

“Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for the President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members…” (12).

If the Treaty of Lisbon is analyzed from the perspective of democracy, the question of what the role of the national parliaments will be under the Treaty of Lisbon should be asked, since scholars have argued that European integration has led to a decline in the power of national parliaments relative to executive institutions (13). With the aim of making the national parliaments more involved in the European Union decision-making process, the Treaty of Lisbon creates “early-warning mechanism”, which allows the national parliaments to assess whether any EU legislation proposal abides by the subsidiarity principle.

“National parliaments will have eight weeks to examine draft European acts. If a third of them (a quarter in the field of Justice and Home Affairs) oppose a draft, the Commission must review it. Moreover, if over half of all national parliaments oppose an act subject to codecision, the European legislator (a majority of the European Parliament or 55 % of the votes in the Council) must decide whether or not to proceed with the legislative process. National parliaments may also take a case to the European Court of Justice if they consider that a legislative act is contrary to the princi- ple of subsidiarity”(14).

Moreover, the Treaty of Lisbon creates the citizens’ initiative, which aims to bring citizens closer to the European decision-making process and consequently to enhance the democratic legitimacy of the Union. In Article 8 B it is stated that:

“Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate pro- posal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the pur- pose of implementing the Treaties”(15).

Consequently, to what extent the European Union’s political structure is democratic can be assessed through adopting different approaches, and what the conclusion we reach depends mainly on which approach is adopted. If we compare the Union with a nation state and equate democracy with representative democracy to as- sess the democratic quality in the Union, it is possible to argue that the Union suffers from the democratic deficit. This argument is common and has also more implications for the debate on the Union’s future, for this reason, the Treaty of Lisbon bears the clauses to improve the quality of democracy in the Union. If there is a democratic deficit in the European Union, the view might be taken that the Treaty of Lisbon strives to narrow the deficit through strengthening the European Parliament, introducing the citizens’ initiative, and enhancing the involvement of national parliaments in the European Union decision-making process. PR

Notes:

* Dr. Dilek Yiğit is Chief of Division at Undersecretariat of Treasury, Turkey.

Disclaimer: This paper does not reflect the official views of Undersecretariat of Treasury, Turkey.

1) G. Majone, International Economic Integration, National Autonomy, Transnational Democracy: An Impossible Trinity?, EUI Working Papers, RSC No. 2002/48, 2002, p.13.
2) Ibid., p.13 and A. Dashwood, “The Limits of European Community Powers”, European Law Review, 21,1996, p.113-128.
3) Laeken Declaration On The Future of The E u r o p e a n U n i o n , h t t p : / /www.consilium.europa.eu/showPage.aspx? id=1296&lang=en, accessed on 11.10.2010.
4) G. Majone, The European Community: An “Independent Fourth Branch of Government”?, EUI Working Paper SPS No. 1993/09, Florence: European University Institute, 1993.
5) A. Moravcsik, “In Defence of the “Democratic Deficit”: Reassessing Legitimacy in the European Union”, Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol.40, No.4, 2002, p.621.
6) Ibid., p.605

7) A. Weale, “Democratic Theory and the Constitutional Politics of the European Union”, Journal of European Public Policy, Vol.4, No.4, 1997.
8) P. Mair, Popular Democracy and the European Union Polity, European Governance Papers, No.C-05-03, 2005, http://www.connex- network.org/pdf/egp-connex-C-05-03.pdf, accessed on 07.07.2008, p.19.
9) Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, signed at Lisbon, 13 December 2007, Official Journal of the European Union, C 306, Volume 50, 17 December 2007.
10) Ibid

11) Ibid

12) Ibid.

13) A. Follesdal and Simon Hix, “Why There is a Democratic Deficit in the EU: A response to Majone and Moravcsik”, Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol.44, No.3, 2006, p. 533-562.
14) General Secretariat of the Council of the EU, Information Note-Treaty of Lisbon, December 2009.
15) Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, signed at Lisbon, 13 December 2007, Official Journal of the European Union, C 306, Volume 50, 17 December 2007.

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