1. Strengthened vis-à-vis of democracy in the EU
Baltics Germany Europe Ex-USSR Polska
The annual State of the Union Address of President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker of September 13, 2017, was a good opportunity to reflect on the problem of democratic deficit in the European Union (EU). The usual problems discussed in the framework of democratic deficit basically refer to the question of legitimacy of the EU governance. They touch upon wide powers of the EU Council, the fact that the Council of Ministers that adopts laws consist of ministers who have not necessarily been elected on the national level, the fact that the EU president and the President of the European Commission are unelected officials, and the problem of a low voter turnout in European Parliament elections (42.61% in the 2014 elections). The latter is believed to be a result of the low level of acceptance of the EU by the European citizens.
On the conceptual level, the challenges to the legitimacy of the EU governance are posed by the lack of representativeness of the EU citizens, the failure to make the EU more accessible, and insufficient accountability of the EU institutions. The problem of the “structural democratic deficit” within the EU has also been pointed out by many, including the German Constitutional Court.
In the past, some of these problems have been addressed. For example, the role of the European Parliament has been strengthened vis-à-vis the Council and new citizen participation tools have been added to the EU governance structures, such as the right to petition and more recent rights to European citizens’ initiative.
While formally these tools provide for exchange between the European institutions and European citizens, the gap between the values of some segments of European societies on the one hand, and the EU values reflected as such on the EU level seems to be widening. Examples of such would be: values enshrined in the EU treaties, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and those in preambles of various directives, regulations and other sources of EU law (such as fundamental rights, non-discrimination, equality, transparency and similar).
Namely, it is becoming very obvious that there are portions of the European populations that do not seem to accept these values anymore. For instance, many people in Europe do not recognize universality of human rights of people who are not EU citizens, or even of citizens of other EU member states. Also, the right to free movement of EU citizens within the EU territory, which has been gaining recognition since the adoption of the Citizens Directive in 2004, is now losing importance due to accusations that EU citizens moving from new member states to the old member states are only “jobseekers”, “welfare shoppers”, and hence are undesirable.
Further, nationalistic and racist sentiments within the EU societies are gaining significant prominence. The openly racist party Golden Dawn has been sitting in the Greek parliament since 2012. In 2017, the German parliamentary elections brought a shocking success to Alternative for Germany (AfD), which aggressively defends racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-refugee positions; this means that such positions will be officially represented in the German parliament for the first time after the Second World War.
While Marine Le Pen has been defeated at the presidential elections in France in 2017, her party, Front National, remains a strong political actor pursuing a comparably nationalistic programme. The situation is similar in various other EU member states (e.g. Austria, the Netherlands, Finland, Slovenia) where nationalistic politics is not the winning option yet, but it enjoys a strong support of the local population.
Yet, in other parts of Europe, most prominently in Poland and Hungary, similar, but slightly different adverse trends are on the rise. Along with strong anti-refugee sentiments, additional illiberal trends are notable. They aim towards closed societies governed by strong central authoritarian governments which are interested in leaving only limited room for democratic oversight and judicial control. These governments are heavily criticized by the EU institutions for their methods of governance, due to their impediments for democracy and the rule of law.
At the same time, the trust of the EU citizens in the EU institutions is on decline. According to the Standard Eurobarometer opinion poll of 2016, only one third (33%) of Europeans trust the European Union, which is an extremely low share. Now, the question is: what if we tried to bring the EU even closer to its citizens? How would the EU have to change in order for this to happen?
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: eu