EU DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT
November 19, 2009Posted by on
The democratic deficit that some claim exists in the EU is not simply Anglo-Saxon angst, the German constitutional court does not recognise the European parliament as a genuine legislature, representing the will of a single European people, but as a representative body of member states. The German court states that the European parliament does not behave like a true parliament. There is no formal opposition. There is no grouping that supports a government. The Lisbon treaty may increases the powers of the European parliament, but it does not, in the court’s view, fix its ultimate short-coming. That is, the parliament does not constitute an effective control of EU executive power. However despite this ruling, and it is a ‘ruling’ relating to the ultimate authority of the German legislature, Germany have signed the Lisbon Treaty. So does this mean that Germany has capitulated on the treaty. Far from it, they have pointed out that Lisbon changes very little from previous treaties that have been signed. So while the Lisbon Treaty gives more authority to Members of the European Parliament, the parliament remains very much a paper tiger.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that the EU electorate are well aware of this democratic deficit and that this views is reflected in their vote at European elections. As LUCIA KUBOSOVA pointed out in the EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS, a lack of trust and interest in politics came out as the main reasons for a record low turnout in the June 2009 elections of the European Parliament, when the EU vote turnout dropped from 62 percent in 1979 to 43 percent in June 2009. Almost a third of respondents (28%) to the Eurobarometer poll, published on 28 July2009, suggested that they do not trust or are not satisfied with politics in general and therefore did not cast their vote, with the argument mainly present in Greece (51%), Bulgaria (45%), Cyprus and Romania (both 44%). In Hungary, Malta and Spain, citizens who abstained from the EP vote said they were not interested in politics as such, while Latvians and Austrians overwhelmingly believed that the election of MEPs has no consequences and would not change anything – the third most frequent reason for ignoring the poll.
Across social groups in population, the lack of interest in politics was mainly present among young voters, aged 18 to 24, while disbelief that the EU’s legislature and its make-up after the vote would matter for their life was mainly voiced by the unemployed and people with difficulties in paying their bills. The lowest turnout was recorded in Slovakia (19.6%) and Lithuania (20.9%), while the highest figures came from Luxembourg (91%) and Belgium (85.9%) – both countries where voting is compulsory. Malta, Italy and Denmark scored highest for countries with no obligation to vote.
While Mencken may have said that ‘democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance’, even the ignorant recognise shifts in their comfort zone and vote in their own perceived best interests, so that eventually there is a collective wisdom of the less (albeit selfish) ignorant. Regardless of its motivation , such collective wisdom fails in a simple democracy when the electorate fail to vote in sufficient numbers. If the electorate of EU member states abrogate their responsibility, especially in a simple democracy, then the only defender of their democracy is the independence of their constitutional court and at the moment this is not the EU commission and certainly not the European Parliament. This is recognised by the German constitutional court, and most likely by all those EU member states that have a written constitution. Unfortunately the United Kingdom has no written constitution, it is a simple democracy in which the ‘supremacy of parliament‘ prevails. While a democratic deficit may well exist in the form of the EU commission, this parliamentary supremacy represents a far greater democratic deficit for the United Kingdom.