The EU is too focused on the executive
The main executive organ is the Council, made up by the governments of the member states. The power of legislation is often still with the Council alone though the number of areas in which co-decision with the European Parliament is applied increased with the Lisbon Treaty. This is particularly evident in some central areas such as competition policy. However, there are the so-called intergovernmental policy areas such as the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) where the European Union has a say by means of for example the Open Method of Coordination, but this is largely ignored.
Although there are no legislative processes in these areas of policy, they do have a large impact on the three powers. One should also remember that the European Parliament is lacking the traditional rights of a parliament, which is among others the right to initiate policies and to have an unlimited power over the budget. Recently, the Commission has agreed with the Parliament that the rejection of a proposal would need a proper justification. However, a simple complaint at the Luxembourg court would make this invalid, mainly because more power for the Parliament would lead to an institutional imbalance!
Not even the most open Europhiles can deny that the EU is too focused on the executive.
The national parliaments are unable to cope
One of the common arguments is the following: decisions made by the Council of Ministers are authorised by the national parliaments. This is correct. But it is also correct that this method of reasoning has come to its limits. In the Council more and more decisions are made by majority vote (Qualified Majority Voting – QMV). Even if the national representative votes according to the national vote it is possible that decisions are made against the will of the parliamentarians in the member state.
It has to be feared that the European Parliament is not able to fulfil the tasks expected from a normal parliament.
In the same way we have to monitor the European Parliament. Can we grant more rights to this institution? The first argument against would be the excessively federalised voting right as suggested by the German Federal Constitutional Court. As long as the representatives from Malta are in a greater way able to influence decisions than the German representatives, the legitimisation of the Parliament is limited. Otherwise the democratic principle of equal rights would be harmed. Furthermore, one has to remember that the European Union is not a state as such but based on treaties and ruled by its member states. The question should be: Can the national government cut the cord in international law and take its own power without asking its people?
Maybe these arguments can be invalidated somehow. The real problem is different though: it has to be feared that the European Parliament is not able to fulfil the tasks expected from a normal parliament. There are no actual European political parties and within the party groups there are large fractions. You just have to look at the Chinese whispers in committee meetings to get an idea of what is going on. The German Member of the European Parliament talks in official language and the English translator does not understand at all.
The convicted federalist can only smile at these arguments, refer to the developments made and bring forward the safeguarding formula: everything needs time! How much time though? Habermas and his friends have not told us yet.
The European Parliament is lacking the basis in its working to be considered democratic. Cultural differences will stay in place. There is no European public, no common language (English is not spoken by everyone by far!). Associations and political parties will continue to produce elites, but a close contact to the base would without doubt be lost once the European Parliament is strengthened. In the end we can only work on our understanding of the people’s sovereignty but generally speaking the problem remains the same: the EU has a democratic deficit.
Author’s note: Debate is important and not all arguments are necessarily of the author’s opinion.