Democratic Deficit and National Elections

Democratic Deficit and National Elections

How to heal the Democratic Deficit of the European Union and get the citizens closer to the Institutions? Naturally great reforms are required, alongside the 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 to live in an un-democratic Europe as long as the big game of treaty change has come to its end. This would simply mean to make a wonderful gift for anti-European and neo-nationalist parties in all the Union, feeding their hunger of power: something that we –as citizens- cannot afford any longer.

Enormous progresses 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 Commission. Many other opportunities, however, are in the hands of each individual member state and its political class. National politicians can do a lot to address the Democratic Deficit of the EU if only they were willing to-.

What follows is a simple proposal which could inspire national leaders of the Continent to get rid of some of the annoying mushroom-like neo-nationalist politicians pupping-up in their constituencies.

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The Council, all over again?- Few people in the public at large are aware that the second, powerful Chamber of the EU, the Council of the European Union, besides being one of the less transparent and less democratic bodies of the Union actually is also an institution with “variable geometry”. This is true in both directions: there’s horizontal variable geometry, when the Council brings together Ministers from different member countries to discuss and vote on sectorial issues. And there’s vertical variable geometry, as the overwhelming great part of the negotiations (and votes) do not happen at Ministerial level (ministers do not have time to spend weeks in Brussels to define details of legislation).

The core of the power of the Council stays in hand of the Permanent Representatives, who are chosen by national governments as their “ambassadors” in Brussels and hold negotiations in the Coreper, the Committee of Permanent Representatives. They negotiate the national positions over all the normal legislative acts, they manage to find an agreement with the lower chamber, the European Parliament. They are the true upper chamber of the Union, as national ministries, most of the time, ratify with minor changes the agreements resulted within the Coreper meetings.

Differently from the members of the European Parliament, however, most of the Permanent Representatives (or ambassador) never faced any popular vote. They are selected by national government as pure expression of the national interest, and they cannot be held in front of the electorate for their decisions. In other words, the Coreper is an essential institution of the current setting of the EU, but is also one of the main sources of democratic deficit. How to address this essential issue without harming the working machine of the EU?

It’s easy as it seems to be- The solution to that is elegantly simple and does not require any stressful European Summit to agree upon. Moreover, it will make happy thousands on national MPs in all the Union, if it is true that National Parliaments are desperately seeking a role in the decision making process of the European Union that none of the current procedures would ever provide.

The idea is simple: at each new national election, lets the National Parliaments elect, within the ranks of the government majority, the Permanent Representatives. There is no need of coordination here: Single national government could act independently in initiating this new procedure for democratizing the Council when they consider it more appropriate. Some would maybe never do that, and they will be accountable for that in front of their citizens. But others will, increasing the role of the Parliaments and of the citizens in the daily management of the European affairs. The position could be simply renewed at each national election: with the time, citizens will learn that voting for national parliament does matter for Europe. and, again, one should point out that no-treaty change nor comprehensive agreement is needed: national governments will independently decide over the issue as easy as it seems to be.

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

 

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