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Democratic Deficit and National Elections


What must be done to tackle the democratic deficit of the European Union and bring citizens closer to the EU Institutions? Major reforms are required, alongside an overall review of the Treaties towards a stronger role for the European Parliament.

This process, however, could and will endure for many years. In the meantime, we cannot accept living in an undemocratic Europe until the great game of treaty change has come to an end. This would simply represent a wonderful gift for anti-European and neo-nationalist parties throughout the EU, feeding their hunger for power: something that we – as citizens – can no longer afford.

Enormous progress can actually be achieved independently from the process of treaty revision even at European level, for instance with the (in)direct and political election of the president of the European Commission. Many other opportunities, however, are in the hands of each individual member state and its political class. National politicians could do a lot to address the democratic deficit of the EU, if only they were willing to do so.

What follows is a simple proposal which could inspire national leaders to fight back against the neo-nationalist politicians popping up in their constituencies.

The Council, all over again?

Few people among the public at large are aware that this powerful chamber of the EU, the Council of the European Union, besides being one of the least transparent and least democratic bodies of the Union, is actually also an institution with 'variable geometry'. This is true in both directions: there is horizontal variable geometry, when the Council brings together ministers from different member countries to discuss and vote on sectoral issues. And there's vertical variable geometry, as the overwhelming majority of the negotiations (and votes) do not happen at ministerial level (ministers do not have time to spend weeks in Brussels defining details of legislation).

Most of the power of the Council stays in hands of the Permanent Representatives, who are chosen by national governments as their 'ambassadors' in Brussels and hold negotiations in Coreper, the Committee of Permanent Representatives. They negotiate national positions on all the normal legislative acts, and they seek agreements with the 'lower chamber', the European Parliament. They are the true 'upper chamber' of the Union, as national ministries, most of the time, ratify only with minor changes the agreements struck in Coreper meetings.

In contrast to members of the European Parliament, however, most of the Permanent Representatives (or ambassadors) have never faced a popular vote. They are selected by their national government as purely as an expression of the national interest, and they cannot be held accountable to the electorate for their decisions. In other words, Coreper is an essential institution of the current set-up of the EU, but is also one of the main sources of democratic deficit. How can this essential issue be addressed without harming the working machine of the EU?

It’s as easy as it seems!

The solution to this is elegantly simple and does not require any stressful European Summit for it to be agreed upon. Moreover, it would make happy thousands of national MPs all over the Union, if national parliaments are indeed desperately seeking a role in the decision-making process of the European Union which none of the current procedures would ever provide.

The idea is simple: at each new national election, let national parliaments elect, within the ranks of the government majority, the Permanent Representatives. There is no need for coordination here: a single national government could act independently in initiating this new procedure for democratising the Council when they consider it more appropriate. Some would maybe never do that, and they will be accountable for that to their citizens. But others will, increasing the role of parliaments and of citizens in the daily management of European affairs. The position could simply be renewed at each national election: over time, citizens will learn that voting for the national parliament does matter for Europe. and, again, it must be stressed that no treaty change or comprehensive agreement is needed: national governments will independently decide on the issue.

In the long run, the Council would become, progressively, a real Chamber of Nations, rightfully counter-balancing the Chamber of the Union. Democracy has subtle ways of proceeding when great constitutional agreements are missing, and the 'parliamentarisation' of the Council would surely be one of them, a small step forward in European integration that would strike a deadly blow to the (true) foundations of the resurgent neo-nationalist rhetoric. The Union, its member states with their parliaments, and most of all, citizens, would greatly benefit from such a change.

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Comments(1)

A Francesco Nicoli:
Estimado señor:
Tras examinar el post de fecha 20/02/13 titulado Democratic Deficit and National Elections, y reflexionar acerca de lo comentado en el mismo, debo decir:
Q
ue si bien es cierto que la maquinaria política europea, me parece sumamente compleja y aceptando tu propuesta acerca del hecho referido al aumento de los neo-nacionalismos y grupos anti-europeos e incluso, entendiendo que en su proliferación se participa del hecho principal por ti aludido, no por menos, puedo considerar otras causas, las que puedan ser (bajo mi óptica particular), motivo de un cierto descrédito, no tanto hacia las instituciones europeas como de la conveniencia o finalidad de las mismas, así como de su utilidad, en lo que al beneficio reportado a los ciudadanos se refiere.
No cabe la menor duda, que la no participación directa de los ciudadanos en la elección de sus representantes, en esta o cualquier otra instancia, provoca el desapego de los mismo, pero en estos momentos, hay otras razones, que son las que están moviendo a la ciudadanía hacia la indiferencia o en el peor de los casos, el rechazo a la Unión, efecto este, que convenientemente aprovechado por los grupos nacionalistas y antieuropeos, se observa en los resultados electorales, que dejan entrever lo hasta ahora expresado. Ahora, las causas son bien distintas, según el país al que nos refiramos, no es lo mismo lo que ocurre en Austria, que lo que ocurre en Grecia o lo que ocurre en Reino Unido, cada uno, presenta aún siendo parecidos los síntomas, las causas que los originan son bien distintas. Sin entrar en detalle, elaborando un listado de aquellas que me pudieran parecer como causas, ni un exhaustivo análisis de la situación, política, social y económica, de los países miembro de UE, con tan solo observar la prensa a diario, vemos lo que en cada país ocurre y, que a su vez, afecta al conjunto.
El hecho fundamental, es que a nivel de los ciudadanos, no se ha demostrado eficaz la Unión y sus instituciones, para resolver los problemas que cada uno tiene y que, mas que el déficit democrático, por la no participación, lo que la Unión presenta, es una crisis mas profunda y que yo, modestamente, denominaría de intereses.
El origen de la Unión, a poco que recordemos la historia contemporánea, es una unión comercial, entre dos países, ampliándose posteriormente a otros, pero siempre, siendo una comunidad económica, el problema nace, cuando se decide que dicha unión, trascienda lo económico y también se refiera a otros espacios, pero no podemos negar, que siempre, desde el prisma de lo económico.
Es indiscutible, el efecto que de la no participación se traslada hacia el funcionamiento democrático de una sociedad, pero no hay que olvidar, que aunque las intenciones de los responsables políticos, por muy honorables que estas sean, si estas dejan de pensar en los ciudadanos, y mientras, no se actúe, otorgando a la economía (realidad de la actividad humana) su papel y no como si en sí misma la economía lo fuera, el papel de la Unión o de cualquier otra institución, está abocada al fracaso y a conducir a sus pueblos a la deriva y a la incertidumbre.

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