The European Union as an ‘Undemocratic Organisation’. Deficit of Democracy in the Functioning of the EU Institutions

Today, in liberal democratic countries, institutions of political power must be legitimized by the people in order to function competently at both national and international levels. One of the common ways of legitimizing political power is the organisation of democratic elections throughout society representatives in certain institutions that can delegate authority to other levels. And general function of the EU is to create, implement laws and regulations that can integrate the member states of the EU.

There are five main institutions which exercise the functions of the Union and involved in law making: the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice.[1] Also there are two additional bodies, such as the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Firstly, I would like to describe the main functions of these institutions.

The European Council exercises a role in revision of the treaties and changes in EU policy. The Council is a policy making body of the Community and most of its decisions are based on the Commission’s proposals. It had twofold role in setting the EU’s general political direction and priorities and in dealing with issues that cannot be resolved at intergovernmental level.[2] This body is influential in setting a political agenda of the EU but has no power in passing laws. Decisions in the European Council are adopted by unanimity or by qualified majority but most of all the Council decides by consensus, depending what the Treaty provides. Additionally, functions of the Council include the discussion of major differences between member states on key issues. [3]

The European Commission drafts proposals for new European laws and its purpose is to represent the interests of the EU as a whole. Among its functions are proposition of new laws and the enforcement of European Law. The Commission had a right of initiative only on issues that can’t be dealt at local level. [4] Adoption or rejection of a new law must be in accord with Commissioners. There are 28 Commissioners and if at least 14 of them are agree then the draft is sent to the Council and Parliament. Also, the Commission checks correctness of applying law to each member country. And if a member is not following the EU law then the Commission is able to take it to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The Council of the European Union or Council of Ministers can be surely called as the main player in EU law making. This body has the final say in whether legislative proposals will become EU law or not. It takes decisions by a simple majority or unanimous vote. The Council consists of national ministers from each EU country and the composition of it is fluid.

Along with the Council of the EU, European Parliament is one of the EU’s main law-making institutions. The process of Parliament working together with Council on content of EU laws is called ‘Ordinary legislative procedure’.[5] Under the Lisbon Treaty, Parliament was granted more power to influence the content of laws in such areas as agriculture, energy policy, immigration and EU funds. Also, Parliament has influence over European institutions, by approving nominee or rejecting.

The European Court of Justice functions are to interpret EU law and to make sure that its applied in the same correct way in all EU members. Additionally, it settles legal disputes between EU governments and institutions.[6] The Court has one judge for each EU country and advocates-general present opinions on the cases that are brought before the Court. In order to help the Court with a large number of cases, a General Court takes cases that are brought forward by private individuals or organizations and cases relating to competition law.

To me, democracy is inequality in an imaginary equality. Idea of democracy places a seed of trust in the little guy making him believe that anyone can grow up to be a president and if you are not grown enough you still can be vice president. If democracy is equality, then it means that people have a right to take what they deserve.

In my opinion, this is last point where the democratic circle closes, because when you take what you deserve, or fight for what you deserve, you keep other weaker people from getting what they deserve. Tracing back to common understanding of democracy, all the constitutional states are considered to be democratic and democracy is based on the principle of the people’s sovereignty.

Following this logic, people are the source of the state authority which has a right to determine the content of law-making and the activity of legitimate bodies. According to European Policy Brief, the recommendations which were proposed by European Convention for European Institutions to be brought closer to the citizens, were not followed.[7] As Abraham Lincoln mentioned in his Gettysburg address, a government is “of the people, by the people, for the people”. [8] According to these principles, there is equal access to power and being equal before the law.

In the beginning of my essay, I mentioned about EU institutions, their functions and the interesting fact is that, of first four institutions, the only one directly elected is the European Parliament, having 736 members which are elected every 5 years and in each member state, citizens have the right to vote. The European Council consists of the head of state and the Council of the EU consists of representatives who have been selected by the citizens of their own country rather than to those which they must perform within the supra-nation sphere. [9] In doing so, they undermine the democratic nature of their appointment.

In contrast, the Commission is represented as an unelected body which consists of persons who are nominated by each member state and not elected by its citizens. Also exists the fact that the European Council with heads of the 28 governments has the power to propose nominees and the EU Parliament has no right to name any candidate and only to suggest laws which the Council accepts or not.[10] Summing up, it comes that the ordinary EU voter simple has no influence over any legislation or even who should be in EU government.

Also, in order to determine the EU’s democratic nature, must to consider the legislative process which varies according to the nature of the laws that are proposed. According to the Article 294 TFEU, firstly the Commission must submit a legislative proposal to the Parliament and the Council with the Parliament must determine their position on the act. [11] It’s quite obvious that member states prefer to implement acts because in this case they can influence the final shape of the act through the committees where sit their experts.

But on the other hand, as EU-observer corresponds, delegated acts can be adopted without interference. [12] The decisions has to be done in a certain timeframe and its not easy to see when the commission has made these decisions. European Parliament held the power of veto in the adoption of legislation and this made it very powerful in Union’s legislature.[13] However, the role of Commission in providing law-making is criticized as the members of the body are unelected.

Overall, it’s clear that the EU tries to promote ideals of democracy through the principles of equality, however its impossible to state that it has achieved this goal. The European Union and its Treaties have intention to create laws for people but the structures of its institutions prevent these laws from being for the people. Its very naïve to think that someday the ideal of democracy would be achieved but to stabilize the current deficit of democracy through reconstruction of institutions must be in priority.



[1] EU institutions and law making. European Union law for International Business: An introduction. Bernard Bishop. Cambridge University Press. Page 4

[2] European Council. How the EU works. Institutions, bodies and agencies.

[3] EU institutions and law making. European Union law for International Business: An introduction. Bernard Bishop. Cambridge University Press. Page 6

[4] European Commission. How the EU works. Institutions, bodies and agencies.

[5] European Parliament. How the EU works. Institutions, bodies and agencies.

[6] Court of Justice of the European Union. How the EU works. Institutions, bodies and agencies.

[7] Legitimacy and the European Union. Future EU. Opinions.

[8] The Gettysburg Address. Speeches and writings. Abraham Lincoln Online.

[9] The EU’s institutional structure and the institutions. The Law Professionals.

[10] The European Parliament election: an undemocratic joke.

[11] The Lisbon Treaty. Article 294.

[12] Complex EU law-making dubbed ‘infernal, undemocratic’.

[13] The EU’s institutional structure and the institutions. The Law Professionals.


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