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Examining The European Union Through The Democratic Perspective And The Challenges Faced

The paper deals with the introduction of the EU in the modern world and then explores the relationship of democracy and the European Union and how the Union tries to impose democratic operations in its existence. The paper also considers the various challenges the Union faces in realising the democratic ideals and upholding them. It considers the various crises, problems, and issues that came since the inception of the Union and suggested specific ways by which the Union may tackle the problems.

Research Objective
The paper attempts to delve into the democratic principles of the European Union and, through a thorough analysis, figure out the challenges to the Union that are imposed in the working, vis--vis the democratic ideals, and give probable suggestions for the same issue.

Introduction
Democracy, in the modern world, is the ideal. Even though democracy has been the most used (and abused) idea since, after the Second World War[1], it is essential for furthering the goals and ideals of a world that cares for its citizens. The people are only empowered when they have the power to change the rules under which they live.

The EU is a unique bloc that emerged in the European continent as an economic and political alliance and cooperative body between 27 member states. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the idea increased trade, economic dependency and avoided conflict. It has done a commendable job at bringing on the same table players that were enemies and fostered peace and growth of the entire region.

However, the EU is more often than not charged with being against the ideals of democracy, with all its supranational powers and apparent lack of transparency, no matter given to the fact that democracy was one of the founding principles of the EU.

This paper will analyse how the EU applies its democratic principles and its challenges in overcoming the same.

The Democratic Ideals in the EU

There is a widespread idea that the democratic principles of the EU are weak and inadequate for today's world[2]. We must try and understand the democratic decision making of the Union to proceed further.

Direct Citizen Representation

The agreement to hold the first direct elections for the European Parliament in 1976 encouraged the development of the direct representation we now have. As a direct representative of EU citizens, the European Parliament oversees the organization's operations and enacts legislation. The EU's budgetary authority is formed with the help of the Parliament, which also has the jurisdiction to nominate and remove Commission members.

The EP has a set tenure, is in place indefinitely, and has its own business agenda. It is also the only institution that was created as a result of a direct election by the populace. It also exercises significant authority over the Commission, all of which contributes to the Parliament's enhanced power and, by extension, the citizens.

Indirect Citizen Representation

Indirect democracy is also apparent in the workings of the EU, where the European Council is the most important political institution of the EU and is composed of the Heads of States of the National Parliament which in turn were chosen by the citizens. The Council is influential as it sets the Union's goals and ways to achieve them. It also takes decisions on issues where the Council of Ministers cannot agree on and tackles global problems under the common foreign and security policy to coordinate foreign policies of the member nations. Moreover, the Council of the European Union represents the Governments of the member-states.

Citizen's Inputs

The EU has portals and applications that take the problems and views of the Citizens under the European Citizens' Initiative. Citizens are not only allowed but encouraged to contribute to the democratic proceedings and give suggestions and views on the policies of the EU, and every citizen of a member country is a citizen of the EU and has all the rights and liabilities, regardless of gender, race, and more. (The EU - what it is and what it does, 2021)[3]

Co-dependency of bodies

The EU has a system where the decisions taken are of a large scale and are taken by a collaborative approach of multi-level parliamentary bodies and agencies, fostering the growth and fusion of different levels of governing bodies.[4]

The system gives birth to a secondary level of representation of citizens, called a multi-level parliamentary field[5], which means that the system has connections and bears similarities in the structural entity to the existing state systems and governance levels. They have one function Citizen Representation.

National Parliaments in the EU

National Parliaments exert control over the EU's decision as they form the European Council. They are the ones that approve the treaties that have to be modified, changing how the EU functions as a whole. The approval is usually a constitutional procedure working in a democratic country. They also take decisions on the Union's financial assets.

The National Parliaments are usually vital in the decisions under unanimity rule, and EP has a lesser say in that, and since these decisions involve political significance, there is much deliberation, public participation and levels of scrutiny. However, they have less control in decisions that work under the power of the EP, and the majority is the standard for decision making..

Challenges faced to the idea of Democracy in the EU

The Struggle of Supranational Integration

The EU has established itself as one of the most successful supranational organisations using an ever-evolving integration strategy. However, as integration advances and the supranational elements become more pronounced, the democratic ideals become less and less viable as member nations lose their veto power and submit to a system put in place by various EU authorities. Since major executives refused to share power, there is a need for a trans-European organisation that speaks for its population even if the European Parliament is the only direct representative of the people. As a result, the European Parliament needs to fight hard for authority and recognition.

Democracy across States

The European Countries that make up the EU are democratic sovereigns opposed to the idea of a democracy of institutional settlement among states, which takes away their sovereign. The idea of a trans-State democracy stems from a complex amalgamation of the supranational identity of the EU and the democratic national governments and their interactions in a complex setup.

While the EU imposes democracy within a State (Article 7 of the Treaty of European Union), the imposition of democracy across all states becomes complex as the democratic government of one member-nation might be on the other end of the ideological spectrum of other member-nation. However, under a supranational entity, both have limited on the issue. Unlike the UN, which has sovereign member nations in an intergovernmental setting, the EU is more of a supranational bloc of nations where the dependence on the institution and its power is considerably more.

Another issue is the rise in pseudo-democracies within the EU, like Hungary that portrays itself as a democratically elected body, but the truth is far from it, and the whole system is rigged[6]. Such complex interactions between various types of democracies and non-democracies in an institutional democratic setup makes the whole system very complicated and troubled.

Citizen Representation and Belongingness

While the EU tries to speak for its population, in reality it is more of an executive entity, with members who are not in any way democratically elected making decisions. Although the European Council is made up of elected heads of state and the European Parliament is elected directly, the representation of the people is at risk due to the EU's growing supranational function. Additionally, there is a grave threat posed by citizens' growing mistrust in the EU's operations, which must be addressed by the institution in a fashion that includes bodies and activities that engage the populace and give them a sense of belonging to a society bigger than themselves.

Increased Executive Power

There has been a shift of decision-making power where the European Council has emerged as the most powerful organ, and decisions are taken in an intergovernmental fashion using various treaties. The same is termed Executive Federalism and lacks oversight of any parliamentary proceedings, leading to a break of democracy and loss of power of the European Parliament.

Creditor/Debtor State

After Europe's Sovereign Debt Crisis, two classes of states emerged within the EU The bailors or creditor states and the bailees or the debtor states.[7]

The same has led to a destruction in the democratic operations of the EU as the creditor states enjoy power over the debtor state and go beyond their authorised boundaries to make laws for the debtor states, while the debtor state's own democratic and sovereign powers are limited. The same, in turn, limits the citizens' power to govern themselves. These plans set to bolster democracy have started eating it themselves.[8]

Suggestion and Conclusion
The European Union is an essential and prevailing body, but it is not without its issues. Analysing the democratic principles of the EU and the challenges, the paper tries to give certain suggestions for the same.
  • Imposition of a Federal Structure:
    Many of the problems the EU faces with its democratic processes are caused by an oppressive power imbalance between the EU and its member states. The same issue can be resolved if the EU adopts a federal structure with an appropriate division of powers, allowing the European Parliament to pass laws that apply to the entire EU and its member states, with no other body or nation-state interfering in the areas that belong under their purview. The member states would form a single administration under the EU, with the European Council acting as a second house to the European Parliament with equal authority.
     
  • Better treatment of Debtor States:
    Debtor states were bailed out of their financial crisis, and they owe a debt to the bailors, but if the EU is to go on like a supranational body with democratic operations, which incorporates all its members as one and gives citizens the power, EU has to treat them same, giving none the power over the other.
     
  • More powers to European Parliament:
    To make the EU a genuinely democratic body, European Parliament must be bolstered with more powers since it is the only body representing the citizens directly. The same would lead to a reduction in Executive Federalism.
     
  • Community-Building:
    a significant problem that plagues the EU is the loss of trust in its citizens. The recent withdrawal of the UK from the European Union (Brexit) through a referendum is an example of the same distrust. Thus, the EU bodies must bolster their approach towards increasing citizens' trust and making them feel part of one Union rather than different countries. The same can be achieved in multiple ways, including giving more political representation to people, giving people more rights and subsequent duties, and portraying the EU, not as an Institution but a State in itself, working for the whole Union.

The paper's concluding remarks would point to the European's Union's unique structure that has transcended national boundaries and is emerging as one of the most powerful trans-national political blocs, bringing together foes and allies of the past on a single table.

The European Union is viable because it functions with a democratic approach in democratic nations. However, ever since the debt crisis, the EU has started becoming more and more of an executive body rather than a parliamentary structure which is a huge democratic crisis. The European Parliament is losing its relevance, and the ideas of a supranational body would be limited to intergovernmental treaties if the same goes on.

The possibility of creating the first democratically run organisation for humanity is great. Despite recent instability in the region as a result of the Crisis, Brexit, and the Covid Pandemic, the EU has succeeded in establishing itself as a potent political and economic force that unites the nations.

However, as evolution is a survivor's tool, we must acknowledge the EU's issues, take them seriously, and try to solve them, including the challenges to its democratic processes. The Union must transform and grow in order to survive. In a world when devastation is only a nuclear weapon away, we need organisations like the Union to promote peace and guarantee the stability of not only Europe but the entire world.

References
Journals
  • Waligorski, Conrad P. In The Political Theory of Conservative Economists, University PK, (1990).
  • Micossi, Stefano. Democracy in the European Union, SSRN Electronic Journal. (2008).
  • Dietrich Rometsch and Wolfgang Wessels (eds.), The European Union and Member States. Towards Institutional Fusion?. Manchester UP, (1996).
  • Ben Crum and John Erik Fossum (eds.), Practices of Inter-Parliamentary Coordination in International Politics. The European Union and Beyond. ECPR Press, (2013).
  • Berthold Rittberger, "Integration without Representation? The European Parliament and the Reform of Economic Governance in the EU", Journal of CMS, Vol. 52, No. 6. 1175 (2014).
  • Ben Crum and John Erik Fossum (eds.), Practices of Inter-Parliamentary Coordination in International Politics. The European Union and Beyond. ECPR Press, 125, 125, 140 (2013).
  • John Erik Fossum, "Democracy and Differentiation in Europe", Journal of EPP, Vol. 22, No. 6, 799-815 (2015).
Internet Articles
  • Directorate-General for Communication (European Commission), The EU - what it is and what it does. Op.europa.eu. https://op.europa.eu/webpub/com/eu-what-it-is/en/
  • Democracy Digest. Hungary - not an illiberal democracy but a pseudo-democracy. Democracy Digest. (2021) https://www.demdigest.org/hungary-not-an-illiberal-democracy-but-a-pseudo-democracy
End-Notes:
  1. Waligorski, Conrad P. In The Political Theory of Conservative Economists, University PK, (1990).
  2. Micossi, Stefano. Democracy in the European Union, SSRN Electronic Journal. (2008).
  3. Directorate-General for Communication (European Commission), The EU - what it is and what it does. Op.europa.eu. https://op.europa.eu/webpub/com/eu-what-it-is/en/
  4. Dietrich Rometsch and Wolfgang Wessels (eds.), The European Union and Member States. Towards Institutional Fusion?. Manchester UP (1996).
  5. Ben Crum and John Erik Fossum (eds.), Practices of Inter-Parliamentary Coordination in International Politics. The European Union and Beyond. ECPR Press, (2013).
  6. Democracy Digest.. Hungary - not an illiberal democracy but a pseudo-democracy. Democracy Digest. (2021) https://www.demdigest.org/hungary-not-an-illiberal-democracy-but-a-pseudo-democracy/
  7. Ben Crum and John Erik Fossum (eds.), Practices of Inter-Parliamentary Coordination in International Politics. The European Union and Beyond. ECPR Press, 125, 125, 140 (2013)
  8. John Erik Fossum, "Democracy and Differentiation in Europe", Journal of EPP, Vol. 22, No. 6, 799-815 (2015).
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