Citizens’ representation at the European level has evolved slowly. The European Coal and Steel Community had a Common Assembly, with indirectly appointed representatives and consultative powers.
The Assembly formally became the Parliament by the Single European Act (1986). Direct elections to the European Parliament were introduced in 1979. Gradually, the role of the European Parliament has changed from a consultative “talking shop” into a co-legislator.
The so called double legitimacy of the European Union is based on direct representation for the citizens in the European Parliament and representation for the member states in the European Council and the Council.
The Treaty of Lisbon opens up new areas to co-legislation, although the decisive issues are still going to be in the hands of the governments of the member states (the European Council and the Council).
Separate scrutiny of European level decisions of the European Council and Council by the parliaments (and electorates) in 27 member states is less than satisfactory from a democratic point of view.
Disregard for participatory rights of citizens, for openness and for decision making as closely as possible to the citizens has been shown by the Council, when it has refused to publish consolidated versions of the Lisbon Treaty.
Innovative European level parties could offer citizens possibilities to debate common questions and to participate in the formulation of political objectives.
In large parts of Europe, the European Union and its predecessors managed to strengthen representative democracy at the national level. The challenge for the 21st century is to establish a fully democratic system at the EU level.
The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (OJ 16.12.2004, C 310), Article I-46 had the headline The principle of representative democracy, which took over the draft text of the Convention, Article I-45.
Paragraphs 1 – 3 of Article 8a are new. Article 8a(4) is derived from Article 191 TEC.
Although the wording is new, it does not change much in practice. Article 8a TEU mainly clarifies the existing situation.
The Treaty of Lisbon (OJ 17.12.2007, C 306/1) introduces a new Article 8a into the Treaty on European Union, TEU (latest consolidated version OJ 29.12.2006, C 321 E):
1. The functioning of the Union shall be founded on representative democracy.
2. Citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament.
Member States are represented in the European Council by their Heads of State or Government and in the Council by their governments, themselves democratically accountable either to their national Parliaments, or to their citizens.
3. Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. Decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen.
4. Political parties at European level contribute to forming European political awareness and to expressing the will of citizens of the Union.
Dialogue with citizens and consultation are among the questions for the following posting on the Treaty of Lisbon.