Wednesday, 18 March 2009

European Council & Lisbon Treaty: Representation

According to the Treaty of Lisbon, the functioning of the European Union is said to be founded on representative democracy. But the member states are more strongly represented than the EU citizens.

Strictly speaking, the EU citizens are represented only in the European Parliament.

The member states are represented in the European Council and the Council. The explanation given is that the members of the European Council and the Council are themselves democratically accountable either to their national Parliaments, or to their citizens (but not to EU citizens as a whole).

It is a case in point, when prime ministers or presidents endorse candidates for the top jobs within the European Union (or make deals in secret) without taking into account the results of the coming European elections.

If the political parties at European level (partly as a consequence) do not field alternative candidates for Commission President, they fail in their primary task: giving EU citizens true choice in the European elections.

How legitimate is the “double legitimacy” built around the European Council, an electoral college of 27?

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European Council vs. EU citizens

In the consolidated Treaty of Lisbon, Article 10 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) evokes the founding principles of representative democracy and citizens’ direct representation, before turning to the hard facts: a union based on member states, each represented by its head of state or government and its government.

After that it is easy to concede the right to participate in (what remains for) the democratic life of the union to its citizens, acknowledge the principle of decisions as openly and as closely as possible to the citizens, and to say a few reassuring words about the political parties at European level (OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/20):

Article 10 TEU

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.


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Questions

The official campaign to raise interest in the European elections 2009 is going to cost 18 million euros. The Europarties (officially, political parties at European level) and their foundations are financed to the tune of 18 million euros annually.

Add outside campaign contributions, campaign budgets of party organisations at all levels and individual campaigners.

The trappings of democracy are impressive.

Even take into account the evolving importance of the European Parliament.

Something is still missing: Real choice, real voice, real power for the European Union’s 375 million potential voters.

The intergovernmental European Union of heads of state or government is morally and politically bankrupt.

Their European Council is the main obstacle to real representative democracy at EU level.

European level challenges need European level solutions by legitimate and accountable EU level government, voted in (and out) by EU citizens.


Ralf Grahn