European Union’s Democratic Defecit

Ireland has now become one of the last EU member nations to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, an accord which would greatly strengthen and expand the powers of the European Union. The newfound popularity of EU expansion – as evidenced by celebrations in the streets of Dublin – is seen by many commentators as a result of Ireland’s steep economic downturn over the past year.

As attention now turns to what a post-Lisbon Europe will look like, the discussion is dominated by conjecture over who will fill prominent new posts such as European President (the term of whom would be extended from six months to two and a half years) and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (Vice-President of the European Commission for a five year term). Tony Blair is currently under consideration to be the next “President of Europe,” a rumor which has sparked substantial debate in the UK.


But one aspect of the treaty which deserves more attention, and unfortunately skepticism, is the strengthening of the European Parliament (EP). The Parliament is currently the only EU institution directly elected by the people of Europe (the others – the European Commission and European Council – are composed of ministers and special appointees from member states). Unfortunately, the body has always played a subordinate role to the European Commission. The European Parliament is involved in decision-making through a process of “co-decision,” outlined in the convoluted chart to the left.

However, according to EU Ambassador John Burton:

“Members of the European Parliament cannot initiate legislation on their own. The [European] Commission is, generally speaking, the sole initiator of EU laws.”

Not to mention that most Europeans regard European Parliament elections with disinterest, mistrust, or, at best, amusement, as evidenced by the victory of Sweden’s Pirate Party in the most recent EP election. This year, only 43% of Europeans turned out to vote for their European Parliament representatives.

Will the Treaty of Lisbon enhance the democratic credentials of the EU? Only minimally. The ‘co-decision procedure’ will reportedly be extended to certain new policy areas, meaning that “Parliament will have a role to play in almost all lawmaking.” Only time will tell whether the EU’s enhanced role in diplomatic and security issues (as prescribed by the treaty) will motivate more Europeans to take EP elections seriously. However, the question remains whether their vote will have any significant effect on EU policy.

Update: The President of Poland signed on to the Lisbon Treaty today, leaving the Czech Republic the last EU member yet to join.

Posted by Mary Tharin


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