A common criticism of the European Union is that it suffers from a democratic deficit. Francis Cheneval and Frank Schimmelfennig argue that much of this criticism stems from applying standards of democracy relevant to individual nation-states, rather than a community of states like the EU. The fact that the EU brings together multiple different electorates ensures that a different model of democracy is required: what they term ‘demoicracy’, based on the plural of ‘demos’, or citizenry. When judged by this standard the EU stands up fairly well, although the uneven application of democratic principles at the national level, such as the variety of different treaty ratification measures used by member states, presents some problems.
Too often, research on the European Union’s “democracy deficit” extrapolates nation-state models of democracy to the EU, which presuppose a single demos (citizenry) characterized by a resilient collective identity, a common public sphere, and a developed political infrastructure of associations and parties as the social underpinnings of legitimate and well-functioning democracy. Such a demos is strong at the national level but weak in the EU and unlikely to develop in the foreseeable future.
This basic fact about the EU needs to be reflected in the way we think about democracy in the EU. Contributions to the debate on democracy in the EU seek to overcome the no-demos problem in three ways: by seeking to bring about a European demos through Europe-wide political competition and contestation; by protecting the national demoi (the plural form of demos); and by compensating for the absence of a European demos through deliberative procedures. We find all three alternatives partly problematic. The competitive strategy proposes a kind of democracy, for which the EU is not ready. The protective strategy maintains that the EU is not ready for any kind of democracy beyond the member states. The deliberative strategy overestimates the potential for transnational deliberation and consensus and underestimates the need for constitutional rights and limits.
In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Common Market Studies, we argue that a rethinking of the appropriate model and criteria of democracy for the EU is required. We follow the thesis that the EU is a ‘demoicracy’ – a polity of multiple demoi – and has to be evaluated as such. In any democratic polity beyond the nation-state, multiple demoi therefore need to play an indispensable part as bearers of negative and positive rights of protection and participation.
Demoicracy is a specific political order that takes into account the two fundamental normative references of liberal democracy, citizens and statespeoples (political authorities). It does not compromise on core fundamental rights of individuals but it balances the political rights of individuals and statespeoples. Democratic statespeoples ought to recognise each other’s institutions of freedom, most of all each other’s popular sovereignty. However, as decent statespeoples they should also take into consideration the negative externalities their democratic decisions have on each other and on the fundamental rights of citizens of other states. Hence, they ought to coordinate their decisions and decision-making bodies accordingly. Furthermore, liberal democracies ought to respect the individual rights of citizens. It is inadequate to disregard individuals as the normative references of a theory of coexistence of liberal democratic statespeoples, but it is equally inadequate to disregard fundamental political rights of statespeoples.
Four main principles of demoicracy follow from this general consideration. First, in a demoicracy, the statespeoples remain sovereign regarding entry, exit, and the basic rules of the political order. Demoicracy cannot presuppose a common political demos as its basis; it has to constitute the framework of decision making by agreement of the participating demoi and accept that the demoi may exit the political order or veto its further development. Second, demoicracy is based on non-discrimination and, third, on equal legislative rights of citizens and statespeoples. Both citizens and statespeoples need to be represented at the supranational level, and neither a dominant status of the body of representation of citizens nor of statespeoples is acceptable. In the case of substantive disagreement, the two bodies need to engage in a compromise procedure. If this procedure fails, a legislative proposal cannot be adopted. Differences in the number of individual members cannot infringe upon the equal status of statespeoples. Finally, whereas demoicracy requires the supremacy of multilateral law and jurisdiction, the composition of this highest court and the decision making procedures concerning constitutional jurisdiction have to follow the principle of co-decision making and of equal representation of statespeoples and citizens.
We find that the EU heeds the core principles of demoicracy quite well. First, no statespeoples are forced into membership, exit is possible, and every state has a right to veto new treaty rules. In addition, the EU has established a comprehensive non-discrimination regime and a bicameral legislature representing both statespeoples (in the Council) and citizens (in the European Parliament) and deciding predominantly by co-decision. Finally, the supremacy of supranational law is a fundamental principle of the EU but regarding the sovereignty of statespeoples, there is de facto constitutional co-jurisdiction exercised by the European Court of Justice and the constitutional courts of the member states.
It is, however, an important insight of the demoicracy approach that the democratic quality of the EU is to be assessed on the systemic level of interaction of all demoi in connection with the EU. It is not enough to look at the EU as such. Its democratic quality is established by the institutional dispositions of the EU and of all the member states. In this perspective, some of the most problematic deficits of demoicracy in the EU result from deficits at the national level (or the relationship between the EU and the national level) rather than the supranational level.
First, the uneven and uncoordinated ratification procedures in the member states, their phased timing and the unequal application of representative or direct democracy distort an adequate representation of the will of national electorates. National demoicracy deficits further result from the uneven and partly deficient implementation of non-discrimination and transnational rights. Furthermore, if the governments deciding in the Council are to represent the statespeoples, it must be ensured that they follow the preferences of the national demoi. Comparative research shows, however, that the competences of national parliaments regarding EU legislation vary vastly across the member states and tend to be weak in a majority of member states. Finally, co-jurisdiction is exercised to a varying degree by the courts of the member states. Few national constitutional courts take the guardianship of the popular sovereignty of their people as seriously as the German Federal Constitutional Court. As a consequence, when the EU is properly understood as a demoicracy, calls for democratic reform should not be addressed exclusively or predominantly to the supranational level.
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Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.
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Francis Cheneval – Universität Zürich
Francis Cheneval is Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Zürich. His research interests include the history of political thought, global justice, normative problems of European integration and property rights. His most recent book is The Government of the Peoples. On the Idea and Principles of Multilateral Democracy (Palgrave, 2011).
Frank Schimmelfennig – ETH Zürich
Frank Schimmelfennig is Professor of European Politics at ETH Zürich. His main research interests are in the theory of international institutions and European integration and, more specifically, in EU enlargement, democracy promotion, and democratisation. His most recent book is Differentiated Integration. Explaining Variation in the European Union (co-authored with Dirk Leuffen and Berthold Rittberger; Palgrave, forthcoming).
Why should the citizens of the EU or the eurozone relish your denial of democracy any more than ‘democratic centralism’ or other perversions of the idea that government be based on the will of the people as sovereign?
Thank you for this article, because it further clarified for me into what type of federation the EU is evolving: a demoicracy, a highly unstable political construction devoid of any popular legitimacy. Canada and the Unites States are federations and relatively stable because they are democracies not demoicracies. There is a minimum basis of common culture and social values in the demos of Canada and the demos of the US. The demos of NY state and of Texas are sufficiently similar to be part of the American demos. The demos of Quebec and of Ontario are part of the Canadian demos. The president of the US is elected by the American people via the electoral college, and the Prime Minister of Canada is elected by the Canadian people via the House of Commons in the Parliament of Canada. The President of the US and the Prime Minister of Canada are accountable to their respective demos. By whom was Barosso elected in the EU and to whom is he accountable? To Eurocrats? Because even that is not clear. Whose interests does the EU demoicracy serve better? The people’s or the corporative-financier-banker’s complex? Would smaller states such as Greece get equal hearing and fair treatment as larger states such as Germany in the EU demoicracy? How do the financial bailouts for Greece constitute fair treatment when their purpose is to save bankrupt German banks by impoverishing the Greek people? How does the current EU demoicracy substantially differ from the Holy Alliance of the 18th and 19th century Europe? What have we learned from the disintegration of unstable federations based on demoicracy, such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire (a key player and supporter of the Holy Alliance)? Why would any people who want to be in control of their fate in their oen home open the doors and windows to unelected, distant political masters whose interests and deliberations are unclear at best and insidious at worst? Why would we choose to abandon bilateral negotiations between national states, between a demos and another demos, for the dubious workings of EU demoicracy? Demoicracy is a fancy name for TYRANNY, and tyrannies have a proven historical record for discord, subjugation of the many by the few, revolution, and war. Do we really want to go there?
The EU is fundamentally flawed . It was design for a limited number of members , then its was allowed to grow without modifying legislation , but third rate politicians and civil servants , who themselves are totally unaccountable directly to any EU citizen.
EU politicians and the executive have totally lost contact with citizens and no longer listen . They increase staff ( at immense cost) to listen to the lobbying sector , yet ignore citizens . This is the best way of alienating citizens and pushing more people to want their country to opt out .
Federations , which the EU executive wants , do not work correctly , look at the US , Russia , China , India ,
none of these countries are true democracies with good functioning governments . An example in the US states have different laws , how can the US really be a country .
Why are EU politicians so afraid of referendums concerning EU membership , what have they to hide , and what have they to lose.
Do politicians in the EU really want a confrontation with citizens one day about the EU organisation and membership of the EU . If they continue along current lines , there will be confrontation.
Also the idea that a big EU protects the currency from speculation etc ( as was said when the EURO was created) has been proved false time and time again . And it is only after a crisis that politicians realised that there were problems in countries budgets and organisation , shows we have third rate politicians.
Also the press should investigate the EU policy of privatisation of essential services in EU countries , the real agenda , who really gains from this , and why many privatised services today do not efficiently and well .
The late Tony Benn asked
“What power have you got?”
“Where did you get it from?”
“In whose interests do you use it?”
“To whom are you accountable?”
“How do we get rid of you?”
Judged by these simple yet powerful questions, the EU simply doesn’t deserve to be called a democracy at all. Incapable of reform, utterly corrupt, and overweeningly arrogant, it’s time this failed structure was put out of its misery.
Assuming you’re talking about the Commission (it’s always quite difficult to tell with these general arguments against the EU) the answer to your/Benn’s questions are as follows:
1. “What power have you got?”
Limited and clearly defined powers over specific policy areas which are routinely exaggerated by Eurosceptics.
2. “Where did you get it from?”
Democratically elected governments, who unanimously assigned these powers via treaties that are freely available for anyone to read and which were all ratified in democratically elected national parliaments across the EU (and in some cases by referendum).
3. “In whose interests do you use it?”
In the interests of EU citizens.
4. “To whom are you accountable?”
To the European Parliament and national governments.
5. “How do we get rid of you?”
Through the European Parliament, as has already happened on one famous occasion where they resigned en masse.
The utterly corrupt elevation of the a worthless crook like Selmayr ought to dispel that pollyanna nonsense, once and for all.
One can even extend the argument, as I argue in my latest blog for WZB. While we are slowly forming a ‘civic demos’ (Habermas) on the European stage, the ‘communitarian demoi’, represented by national parliaments, must be an equal part of the