Sunday 22 June 2008

European Union: Legitimacy, accountability and democracy

How to bring the institutional forms of the European Union into line with the democratic forces?

Since the Irish referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon, a number of posts on this blog have looked at various deep flaws of the European Union from a democratic perspective. European voices have mixed with American experiences and my own views.

Now could be a suitable time to look at these questions as a whole. The Federal Trust Report by professor Vernon Bogdanor ‘Legitimacy, Accountability and Democracy in the European Union’ (January 2007) is a reasoned attempt to discuss the improvement of the EU institutions within the existing structures, in order to arrive at a more democratic Europe.

The 20 page report is available at:

The report is evolutionary in character, in that it does not propose a re-establishment of the European Union with new structures, but suggests improvements to the existing ones.

My suggestion is for every concerned EU citizen to read the report, so I will present only a few short annotations of the proposals:

* The nomination of the European Commission directly on the basis of the result of the European elections.

* European Parliament power to hold individual European Commissioners to account for mismanagement, and to secure, if necessary, their dismissal.

* Referendums, preferably Europe-wide with a double and qualified majority of states and population on treaty change.

The report brings forward weighty remarks on the de-legitimising effects of the Council, but stops short of proposing effective remedies.


After an era of public indifference, the European project encountered increasing hostility. The time has come to work with the citizens of the EU.

Ralf Grahn


  1. Professor Bogdanor's report is indeed very interesting find an attentive ear in Brussels. Yet, I think it is equally important to address the public distrust that has grown over the years. Are the democratic improvements proposed by Professor Bogdanor enough to remedy prior patronizing actions from the part of the European governments? Are the European citizens yet ready for another reform? Shouldn't they be first reconciled and consulted on what form (if any) the European Union should assume in the future? For many, the growing political dimension of the European Union gives reason to worry. They would be content with a mere economic community. With regards to such disagreement, some major "groundwork" (as tedious as this may sound at this point) probably needs to be done in the first place in order to lay a solid grounding for future political reforms.

  2. Anita Frolich,

    The Federal Trust / professor Vernon Bogdanor report is interesting as you say.

    If my reading is correct, it has taken the member states and their creatures, the Council and the European Council, as inescapable, and then looked at what else can be done to improve democratic legitimacy and accountability in the European Union.

    The proposed improvements would be real, although the structure of the EU would remain lopsided; perhaps not that unlike some early stage in Britain, when the powers of the House of Commons grew, but the House of Lords/Sovereign remained a strong or even dominant player.

    But this may be the most the citizens of the European Union can hope for in a near (or far) future, given the six decades of fierce resistance from the member states' governments against any truly democratic system of governance.

    For me, the last ten days have been a turning point, in that I no longer find incremental democratic reforms to be legitimate or conducive to the health of a much needed European Union.

    Our leaders are on a slippery slope if they disregard the hardening feelings of perhaps half of the EU citizens who have turned against the project and of pro-Europeans who become increasingly disillusioned.

    If this continues we could end up with a 'Versailles' totally disconnected from the Europeans.

    Honestly, I think that most Europeans imagine that democracy could somehow be re-exported to their national parliaments.

    Since this is not the case, the reasons for real EU level democracy would have to be thoroughly explained as well as enacted.

    Possibly, this would happen in a pan-European referendum, and it would require a double majority of population and states.

    In my book, the fundamental reasons for the European Union are: security and prosperity.

    What is more political than security?

    In other words, a European Union able to employ all the soft and hard means of international politics is needed.

    (The purpose and functioning of NATO do not cover this, although NATO remains an important transatlantic alliance.)

    Such a fundamental European interest has to find working expressions even if some states act as if oblivious of the fact.

    For them sutiable arrangements have to be found, such as the European Economic Area (perhaps with some policy areas added) or a second tier EU membership.

    A second split looks inevitable, too. I am afraid that some member states are so hostile to a democratic European Union that the only way forward is to leave them behind and institute a new citizens' union based on democratic legitimacy and accountability.


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