Could the Lisbon Treaty bring the EU and its institutions closer towards democracy and reduce the democratic deficit?

Seminar Paper 2014 18 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: European Union


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Democratic deficit and the two sides of a democratic coin
2.1 Defining “democratic deficit”
2.2 ‘Democratic deficit’ is a myth
2.2.1 Moravcsik
2.2.2 Majone
2.2. Existence of the democratic deficit and main problem areas

3. On the way to democracy: impacts of Lisbon Treaty

4. Conclusion

5. References

1. Introduction

The EU structure and the way to reform or to improve it have been discussed by European politicians, political analysts and experts for many years. However the most criticized side of it is the lack of legitimacy, in other words ‘democratic deficit’ in its institutions. It is closely connected to the inflexibility of the EU bodies and weak control over the institutions by the citizens of the member states. Countless attempts were made to reduce this problem. However opinions about democratic deficit differ very strongly among the population of the EU as well as among politicians and experts. Some of them think that the definitions of democracy which exist in national states are applicable to such an entity as the EU. Others however think that the EU is an entity, which in its nature differs from every other entity which existed before. It is not a national state with a common history, common language, common way of thinking. It is also not an entity which includes many different states, which exist and act with full autonomy. The EU has far more influence on its members than any other entity existing. Therefore the question arises: can we apply the existing definitions of democracy on something completely new or do we have to create new definitions in order to solve the problem of the democratic deficit?

The main purpose of this paper is to look at the democratic deficit from different perspectives and find out if the last treaty of the EU, the Lisbon Treaty, could bring the EU and its institutions closer towards democracy and eliminate or at least reduce the democratic deficit. In order to do so, first an attempt is made to define democratic deficit going to its roots and first implementation relating to the EU.

Second, different debates and opinions about the democratic deficit, its existence or absence will be presented in the second chapter of this seminar paper. Opinions of the most prominent scholars in this field such as Moravcsik, Majone and Hix, whose contribution to democratic discussions was enormous in the last decade will be thoroughly analyzed. The part involving opinions of Moravcsik and Majone of this chapter is the longest one based on an assumption that in our everyday life we often hear arguments in support of the existence of democratic deficit. It was important to show another perspective on this issue as not enough attention is drawn to assess democratic deficit from the point of its non-existence. Further opinions of scholars who agree with existence of democratic problems will be presented, whereas there will be many wanted correlations with Moravcsik and Majone to give a complete overview over the issue.

After defining and presenting different perspectives on democracy and democratic deficit I will continue talking about contributions made by the Lisbon Treaty to democracy as well as main reforms and opportunities for further development of the EU.

It is important to mention that in a time of political and economic instability in Europe its citizens and representatives in politics tend to overreact and exaggerate even the smallest mistakes. This showed referendums in France and Netherlands in 2005 as well as referendum in Ireland in 2008. Mistrust of voters increases democratic deficit automatically, as it leads to decreasing number of voters during parliamentarian elections. Today as never before the EU needs a dramatic change of its perception in the eyes of its citizens and therefore it has almost no right to make a mistake. The economic crisis brings people of Europe apart making the EU itself an entity which is not showing enough results. Democracy of this entity becomes an unavoidable topic. As the EU is more and more intervening in national matters, forcing national governments to sacrifice with freedom of acting completely autonomously, citizens of Member States expect more effectiveness and direct results. In order to assess democratic deficit of the EU it is inevitable to understand that exactly this issue is threatening the very existence of such a unique entity in the history of mankind.

Due to the facts mentioned above one may suppose that there are many unresolved issues in the European Union. In the light of analysis of arguments from different sides I will try to show to which extent the EU institutions are democratic and which of them suffer the most from democratic deficit. Further I will try to critically assess the Lisbon Treaty in order to understand if this treaty is a milestone on a long road towards unique democracy of a unique union.

2. Democratic deficit and the two sides of a democratic coin

2.1 Defining “democratic deficit”

The existence of the democratic deficit in the EU does not show the complete absence of democracy. It more points out the difficulties the EU and its institutions are having on their way to develop and establish democracy at the transnational level, outside of the frames of a traditional national state. Alone the fact that the EU unifies democratic countries could be an evidence that the matter of complete democratic legitimacy is only the matter of time (Strelkov, 2010). Moreover the most often mentioned obstacles towards democracy, like little trust in the EU institutions or low voting rate among the EU citizens (European Parliament) cannot be seen as the only evidence for democracy of such an unusual entity. The main reason for this claim is the fact, that there are the same problems in many democratic countries, which still have the right to be called democratic, in spite of countless troubles in the same areas (Strelkov, 2010).

The necessity of developing more democratic structures in the EU was recognized already in the 1970s. This shows the ‘Vedel Report’, characterizing the role of the European Parliament and depicting the ways to further expansion of its role as well as further empowerment. Though the term ‘democratic deficit’ was not used in that report, many discussed aspects describe exactly this problem. “But if parliament is representative, it also works in a vacuum. Its debates and other work and tensions which arise and which bear witness to its nature as a political institution, have almost no impact on the press, public opinion and the life of the political parties. The parliament thus falls far short of fulfilling its normal tasks of expressing and shaping political opinion” (Commission of the European Comunities, 1975).

The term ‘democratic deficit’ itself was first used in 1979 by a British politician David Marquand (as cited in Trechsel, 2006). In his opinion already the predecessor of the European Union the European Economic Community was suffering under the lack of democratic legitimacy. (Marquand, as cited in Strelkov, 2010)

Nowadays we can find this term used by both Eurosceptics among politicians and citizens as well as people, who support the EU. However the meaning of the term varies depending on which side is using it. In the hands of Eurosceptics it becomes a tool of criticizing the Union of European countries and undermining the very existence of it. Supporters use it to explain certain mistakes of the EU and to find solutions to bring more democracy to its institutions.

2.2 ‘Democratic deficit’ is a myth

2.2.1 Moravcsik

Legitimacy of democracy and democratic deficit is a highly discussed and controversy topic. It is even maybe far more essential today when the question of strengthening and developing of the European Union is of such importance.

Some of the political analysts continue to claim that using the term ‘democratic deficit’ in connection with the EU is not a correct way for analyzing democracy inside of this entity. One of the most well-known political analysts who insist on this opinion is Andrew Moravcsik, a professor of Politics and Director of the European Union Program at Princeton University. In his article ‘The EU ain’t broke’ he claims that the “constitutional checks and balances, indirect democratic control via national governments, and the growing powers of the European Parliament” (Moravcsik, 2003, p. 38) are a good evidence for functioning democracy. These statements were made by him even before the Lisbon Treaty was signed and came into effect. It is important to know, that he analyzes the main structure of the EU in this article. Improvements, which were made due to the Lisbon reform will be discussed more thoroughly in the third chapter of this seminar paper. The criteria mentioned by Moravcsik (2003) already make European institutions transparent and effective enough in order to response to demands of the European citizens. According to the author people tend to ignore these positive aspects and achievements of the EU comparing its system to a perfect, utopian model of complete democratic legitimacy. However, they also tend to forget that a democratic state do not act or exist according to these utopian demands (Moravcsik, 2003).

Further in another article called ‘The myth of Europe’s ‘democratic deficit’’ Moravcsik tries to show that there is no democratic deficit as such. To do so he discusses six common misbeliefs on European policy and argues against the existence of democratic illegitimacy. In the following the main misleading aspects according to Moravcsik (2008) will be presented.

First, there is a misbelief that the EU’s ambition is to become a superstate while taking away the sovereignty of decision-making from national governments. Referring to different studies of member countries the author says, that the percentage of laws made by national governments which originate in Brussels remain below 20 % and the number of such laws is not increasing rapidly. While agreeing on the fact that the EU decision-making plays an important role in such areas like “trade, monetary and certain regulatory matters” (Moravscik, 2008, p.333), he adds that decision-making process in spending or direct administration is mostly and strongly controlled by governments themselves.

Next myth is based on Eurosceptics often referring to a pure technocratic nature of the EU. To disapprove this statement Moravcsik (2008) points out, that the EU does not have the capabilities and power of a modern state, which means the European Union does not tax and spend, it has no army or intelligence services. The whole amount of people working for the EU administration is equal to an administration of a middle European city. This makes it impossible to implement decisions even in the areas it is in control of. Therefore the EU relies more on national governments concerning the implementation of regulations. The only task of the modern state which is effectively brought to life by the European institutions is promulgating regulations, therefore we refer to the EU as to ‘regulatory system’. (Moravcsik: 2008)

Another reason for Eurosceptics to worry is the accountability of the electoral system. They say that the main decision-makers are bureaucrats and Brussels officials, who secretly debate on important political issues far away from the sight of the EU citizens. Moravcsik (2008) however disagrees with this attitude towards the EU institutions. First, every constitutional change must be approved and ratified in each of 27 member states of the European Union. The consequences of such system were seen for instance in Ireland in 2008, when its population rejected new Constitutional Reform and by doing this, stopped the whole process of implementing and using new reforms in all other member countries as well (O’Brennan, 2009).

Further, every legislative process is also controlled by tight democratic measures. One of the most important institutions in legislative process is the Council of Ministers, where national ministers, elected by their citizens meet. The next important institution in the process is the European Parliament, members of which are directly elected by the EU citizens. The main criticized institution in this process is the European Commission, however its power is declining since it was set up, especially due to the Lisbon Treaty, which will be analyzed in the next chapter. All in all we may say, that the dominance of elected politicians in the EU is obvious and therefore the accusation about the EU electoral system being unaccountable are not supported by the facts. (Moravcsik, 2008)



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democracy the EU democratic deficit Lisbon Treaty Majone Moravcsik



Title: Could the Lisbon Treaty bring the EU and its institutions closer towards democracy and reduce the democratic deficit?