The notion of democracy in the European Union (EU) has been running on the transformation process from elite-context into citizen-oriented. Tracing back from the initial creation, the EU was formed by international concern to diminish the possibility of war in the European soils. As the formulation was economic cooperation, the EU architects designed the supranational organization to be a place for transforming narrow national rivalries into a positive regional cooperation. From this point, it can be said that, first, initially the EU was not a democratic entity which supposed to be born from people decision. Second, economic has been and always be the foundation of cooperation. Those have implications on the credential staging process of EU integration which based more on effectiveness rather than representation. It can’t be denied that by using this particular perspective, the EU has advanced cooperation level from a simple and sector custom union into a complex economic union. The elite’s effectiveness on the integration process gave an impression of untouchable EU decision making toward third national countries as well as unconscious EU citizen.
However, it has to ne noted that EU was relatively a new legal political entity that can’t be partially identified as parliamentary organization system, federal political structure, even confederation of political system. The existing definition of political models were not able to grasp the type of evolution that the EU would be in the future. Therefore, it was very natural when the believers of parliamentary system demanded the higher portion for the elected assembly to be the legislators. Meanwhile, the federal system followers wanted a clear demarcation between central constitutional authority and its sub-national within the system as well as sovereignty desire from the perspective of confederation. The crucial point was that has to be understood that EU was on the transitional process from high political context of cooperation mechanism to be more oriented to the people context.
In order to bring the conception on the EU new hybrid political system, the question of democratic deficit should not be directed into contestation among the existing national political idealism. Nevertheless, the question of democratic deficit should addressed how to communicate the new changing idea of supranational governance to be closer to the people’s mindset. Due to the communication of new changing idea, the identity problem of the EU seemed blocking the road. At the one point, there was existing circular bewilder of EU citizen identity that remained EU member state identity, on the other hand, the EU citizen identity was left simply as in-between identity. As the integration progress has shown, the later point seemed to be the ongoing choice even though it brought the in-between legitimate situation. As a consequence, when the EU governance was able to fulfil the obligations toward the member states, then the support to the EU would be high. Contradictory, when the EU was failed to cater the member states’ demand, then the national self-righteous was started to emerge. The example was clear when France president, Nicholas Sarkozy, suspended the Schengen Accord. It was a contra productive situation for the EU integration process since the involvement of EU citizen was absent to response such situation.
What is Democratic Deficit?
Actually, there was no single meaning of democratic deficit. However, there are debates within the EU to give a definition of democratic deficit. The first notion to be explained is democracy. As democracy is a form of government which the supreme power is vested among the people and exercised directly by the people or the elected agents on a free electoral system, then democratic deficit in the EU heavily referred to the lack of institutional legitimacy as well as its influence to the citizen. Thus, democratic deficit in the EU would be partially or absolutely lack of vesting power of the European people (the EU citizen) resulted from the transfer of power from national legislatures into community decision-making apparatus, that composed of representatives of national executives (1). However, the imbalance of power transfer as well as the way power was exercised by the supranational representatives, have been taken into account to determine the democratic deficit.
Basically, the concept of democratic deficit was born in 1970s when David Marquand has used the expression to describe the weakness of democratic legitimacy in the European Community institutions. The democratic deficit emerged based on the process of democracy that beyond outreach of the citizen. The EU institutional body was dominated by a combination of selected legislative and executive body of the member states that intended to formulate majority of the EU’s decision process in a closed room, and the legislation process was made on behalf of the member states, as a consequence of centralization on the decision making process from national parliament into Brussels. Therefore, it was virtually impossible for the member states to create as well as modify the product of the EU law. It mean the citizen has no guarantee to see what their expectation in the national level would be the same in the EU level. Thus, the voice of the citizen was experiencing devaluation on the EU level (2).
Furthermore, the democratic deficit can be described to involve five main claims. First, the European integration has meant an increasing executive power as well as decreasing national parliament control. Second, most analysts on democratic deficit insisted that the European Parliament was too weak. Third, despite of the growing European Parliament power, there was no European election, because the citizen only vote for the selected national government who will be in the council, nominate commissioner, and European Parliament. Neither national nor European parliament election was really European election. Fourth, as the European Parliament power increased, the EU was simply too distant with voters. And fifth, the European integration produces policy drift from voters on ideal policy preference. Thus, the EU adopted policy that was not supported by the majority citizen (3).
The EU’s elitist decision process was made to reduce the overtime. As an example, the Amsterdam Treaty shows a serious effort to address the democratic deficit by making the EU citizen to be closer to the decision process. The Amsterdam Treaty supported the provision by enlarging authority of European Parliament on the decision process as the European Parliament was the only organ in the EU that have membership from selected citizen directly. Basically, the European Parliament has the right to decide the policy in the entire field along with the EU Council of Minister by using extended co-decision procedure. Beside, the European Parliament has the right to accept or refuse European Commission president’s candidates since 1999. Through the Lisbon treaty, the closer notion of citizen to the elitist’s process was not a metaphor since the European Parliament has gained equal position with the European Council to set up the budget, agricultural policy, justice, and home affairs. The European Parliament also has an authority to screen proposal before entering a discussion within EU level as the Lisbon Treaty guaranteed a direct citizen involvement on the decision process by providing mechanism to collect one million signatures in order to call for the European Commission for new proposals (4).
According to Eurobarometer, the level of democratic satisfaction among the citizen in Europe has not yet reached the level of satisfaction even though it has increased overtime. However, there were 54 percent citizen satisfied with the EU democratic performance in autumn 2009. The level of satisfaction increased two points comparing to the similar poll two years before (5). At least, half of the EU population satisfied with the EU elitist’ process to reduce democratic deficit.
Reducing Democratic Deficit
There are several typical solutions for the EU democratic deficit such as federal state, intergovernmental cooperation, and economic community. On the federal state, there are shares authority in the level of state and union. The federal state required empowerment of the European Parliament as major authoritarian body as well as compensation for weakening national parliament’s legislative and control function. The intergovernmental cooperation emphasized the role of national government as a major authoritarian body, therefore, it favoured the increasing role of national parliament rather than European Parliament. The economic community separated market and state where the European market coexists with the sovereign states without a strong political control over economic integration (6).
However, the more diverse EU in political and social values needs more rigid and institutionalized solution. It is true that by having the federal state, on the one hand, it upholds the effectiveness of decision making, but on the other hand, it has tendency to underline the border between central constitutional authority and its sub-national. Furthermore, the federal state reduces the dynamics of EU political cooperation which based on communal problem solving organization. The same case with intergovernmental cooperation which also tends to fertilize the contestation between national and supranational governance. It means that throughout the time of its creation, the EU has maintain a supranational organization without virtual means to enforce the power of supranational into the member states or even citizens. The voluntarily and open memberships has been the key for the EU political stability.
What the EU needs nowadays is the capability to listen to the citizen’s needs. It can be realized by enhancing transparency on the decision processes for the citizen and at the same time providing a media for direct and indirect participation of the citizen on the decision process. The Treaty of Lisbon has provided the basic foundation for it and enhanced economic cooperation among member states was also important. The Eastern Europe enlargement has to be the opportunity for the EU to increase the stagnation on economic growth by fostering foreign direct investment (FDI) towards relatively new member states rather than concentrate too much on the outside of EU. It will not only reduce imbalance of economic performance between East and West but also strengthen the EU economic performance as a whole.
On the initial creation, the EU was an experiment for peace and through integration it was planned to bring prosperity closer to the citizen. On the integration process, the international political actors played supreme role to determine the future peace and prosperity in European hemisphere. It can be said that the foundation of the EU was not a democratic institution. It has created a supranational political organization which a hybrid form of political system that merged national powers into majority institutions. It led to the contestation of institutional transformation and power performance.
The complexity of cooperation has created disparities in building of democracy within the EU. The effectiveness notion of cooperation has resulted in elites’ decision making and tended to ignore the interest of citizen. Several institutional renovations have been conducted through enforcing of legally binding treaties. However, the citizens still have to be convinced on the ongoing democratic process in the EU. (Bondan Widyatmoko)
Reference Eurobarometer 72 [online] availablehttp://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb72/eb72_first_en.pdf European Parliament [online] available http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/expert/background_page/001-61839-278-10-41-901-20091005BKG61838-05-10-2009-2009-false/default_en.htm Follesdal, Andreas, et al, Why There is a Democratic Deficit in the EU : A Response to Majone and Moravcsik, European Governance Papers No. C-05-02, [online] available http://www.connex-network.org/eurogov/pdf/egp-connex-C-05-02.pdf Gorsky, Marcin, The Democratic Deficit in the EU, [online] available http://wpia.uni.lodz.pl/zeupi/pliki/mgorski.pdf Milev, Mihail, A Democratic Deficit in the European Union, [online] available http://www.geopolitis.net/EUROPE%20EN%20FORMATION/Democratic%20Deficit%20in%20the%20European%20Union.pdf