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

By Dr. Dilek Yigit | 15 December 2010


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 the 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 administrations implementing European policies on the ground”(2).



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