April 3, 2014
As we are closing in on the EP elections to be held in May all across the EU, there are a couple of themes that seem to be on top of anything else: the democratic deficit of EU leadership, voters presence for European Elections and, connected with the first, the election of the new European Commission President. As it is the case with these kind of issues, they are all connected amongst them, and could, in extremis, be all labeled under the democratic deficit of the EU.
Democratic deficit of EU leadership
The current leadership of the EU, manifested in the European Council and the European Commission, has a consistent and yet unchallenged lack of democratic legitimacy. The European Parliament suffers from this too, but from a different perspective that I will describe in the following paragraphs. First off however let’s look at the Council and Commission.
The European Council
The European Council is comprised of heads of state and heads of government, pertaining to each MS’s political system. Now each of these individuals is elected, in one way or the other, to the position it holds, again pertaining to the MS’s system. But one thing these elected representatives share is the way they are elected. When we consider them to be democratically elected we recognize that they were elected by a qualified majority pertaining to the MS’s political system. However there is no debate, or argument, over the percentage of the population that qualified majority emanates from, and I’ve made this point before – If let’s say we have a country with 10 million citizens that have the right to vote, and voter presence is 42%, out of which the current leader got 62% then that means that the current leader has been elected by a “vast” real majority of 2 604 000 citizens with voting rights. A mere 26% of the actual democratic electoral body.
The following table (split in 2 parts due to technical constraints) presents the situation for the 6 largest players in terms of number of votes in a qualified majority (info from here) + Romania as I know the situation best. The table presents the designated representative in the European Council, the percentage and number of votes received in the last election for the candidate (FR and RO) or the party that the Head of Government comes from (DE, IT, PL, ES, UK), as well as percentage of registered voters that voted, total number of registered voters, the actual representativity (number of votes over number of total possible votes) and the population of each MS listed on it’s corresponding Wikipedia entry.
|MS||Member of EU Council and number of votes for qualified majority||Winning percentage of valid votes||Winning number of votes||Percentage of voters present|
|FR||Francois Hollande (29 )||51.64%||18,000,668||80.35%|
|DE||Angela Merkel (29)||45.30%||19,777,721||71.50%|
|IT||Matteo Renzi (29)||29.54%||10,047,603||75.19%|
|PL||Donald Tusk (27)||39.18%||5,629,773||48.92%|
|ES||Mariano Rajoy (27)||44.63%||10,866,566||68.94%|
|UK||David Cameron (29)||36.19%||10,703,654||65.10%|
|RO||Traian Băsescu (14)||50.33%||5,275,808||58.02%|
|MS||Member of EU Council and number of votes for qualified majority||Total number of registered voters per MS||Actual representativity||Total MS population|
|FR||Francois Hollande (29 )||46,066,307||39.08%||66,394,000|
|DE||Angela Merkel (29)||61,971,923||31.91%||80,219,695|
|IT||Matteo Renzi (29)||46,906,343||21.42%||60,626,442|
|PL||Donald Tusk (27)||30,762,931||18.30%||38,544,513|
|ES||Mariano Rajoy (27)||35,779,491||30.37%||46,815,916|
|UK||David Cameron (29)||45,603,078||23.47%||63,181,775|
|RO||Traian Băsescu (14)||18,303,224||28.82%||20,121,641|
Data sources for elections – FR DE IT PL ES UK RO. For DE the combined data for CDU & CSU was used, constituency data used for calculation. For IT data from chamber of deputies was used, without taking into account votes from citizens abroad as percentage variation is negligible in this instance.
The “actual representativity” index is presented here to prove a point – that representativity is extremely debatable, both at EU level and at MS level. But at EU level the issue further intensifies as these leaders meet behind closed doors and their decisions and debates are anything but transparent. And given that the population of the indexed MSs is a whooping 375 903 982 people, 74.01% out of the 507 890 191 strong EU, it raises even more questions on the legitimacy of the Council.This type of representative democracy works well up to a point, when multiple iterations of the representativity tend to turn the whole thing less democratic than one would expect.
It therefore becomes obvious that one of two things needs to happen – either we choose our MS representatives in a more democratic fashion, as to better represent the people, at least by a 50%+1 margin, and we will return to this when we talk about the voters presence, or we change the way the Council works. If none of these is going to happen, the democratic deficit highlighted above will continue and we are all victims of it.
The European Commission
The European Commission, what could in way be a form of EU Government is also plagued by a democracy deficit, spanning forthwith from it’s relation with the Council and implicitly MSs.First off is the election procedure for the President of the Commission- the differences in interpretation of the Lisbon Treaty by the Parliament and prominent members of the Council such as Herman van Rompuy or Angela Merkel, presented in detail in this article published on European Public Affairs will undoubtedly lead to a heated debate. Taking into account that currently the EPP and S&D are head to head in the latest polls that means that even results of the elections will not provide a direction. I would go even further than the article mentioned calls for – I would call for a Revision of the Treaty of Lisbon to establish exactly which type of role the Commission must take – either a more “presidential” one in nature – that guarantees absence of partisan position, equal respect to all sides of the problem, etc. or a more “governmental” position that by all means and purposes emanates from the choices made for the EP, and as is the case in most countries, the Political Family that holds the most seats will be awarded the right to give the head of the Commission and to establish the political program, because that is what we actually vote for! A political agenda – that is the essence of any vote for a Parliament. I can understand why negotiations between MSs have lead to this type of Commission out of the Lisbon Treaty, but this situation will never improve under the current status.
“I want to co-decide with national governments on the selection of Commissioners. I want Commissioners who have gained experience at national, regional and local level. I will not accept Commissioners who are the result of party-political bargaining or which need a quiet retirement job in Brussels”
Which leads me believe that the choice for Commissioners so far has been a pretty dubious affair, something again that touches on issues of democratic character of the Commission. I would like to think that each state could present a list of possible candidates for a EC position beforehand and that, at least in principle, everybody would have a top candidate for each portfolio. We would then know who is who and an ample debate as to who is more suited to fit the position could be initiated. A political debate of course, as I doubt it the general EU public will have a say in it. But we would like to be informed, thank you very much.
The European Parliament
The European Parliament suffers from a democratic deficit out of a few very simple things.
1. There is no unified electoral law across the Union – this means that while some candidates are chosen directly by the people in their electoral college, other are designated by a MS party structure on a list, where the voter has no say. It’s kinda hard to call that democratic, wouldn’t you say?
2. There are no Pan-EU parties with a unified agenda – this in turn means that while we do have European Political Families with a general political program on hand, each MS member party of said families comes with it’s own agenda. Voter confusion guaranteed. Also, as a reference point, Pan-EU parties that propose a candidate for the Commission would also be considered a great improvement in terms of Commission democracy.
3. Voter turn-out for the EP elections is historically bad, having been continuously falling since 1979. Latest two elections in 2004 and 2009 yielded an overall turnout of 45.5% and 43% respectively. This is why in recent months there has been an increase in activities and public messages directed at motivating voters.
The voters, citizens of EU
As the quote above clearly says there is a need for more informed citizens, for better educated voters. And that starts with explaining Europe to the citizens better. Both the Commission and MSs, together with the European Parliament should by now have worked together to come up with an educational program to be implemented in each member state, as compulsory education about EU. We should have classes for the young and classes for the not so young explaining in simple language how the EU works and why it is useful to be involved. How the Commission and Council work, what is the role of the Parliament and so on and so forth. I believe that the post-Lisbon EU would have realized by now that you can’t have a stronger EP without educating the people about it. There were no referendums for the Lisbon Treaty, except in Ireland. Everywhere else the Treaty has been ratified by Parliament, Presidents and various Committees and Councils. It’s therefore hard to believe that the general population has knowledge of it’s contents and fully understands what they are voting on. MSs National Parties have no interest to explain more than they should – voter confusion helps with party discipline. There is plenty of information available online, but how many of our citizens have read the TEU for example?
Which leads me to my next point. As people around this Union now from previous examples – Smoking bans, Differentiated garbage disposal, etc. – the simplest way to educate large masses of people is by “sticking your hand in their pocket”. Sounds awfully wrong but it doesn’t have to be that negative – because one of the things that could be easily done is implement compulsory voting. That’s right, compulsory voting! It’s not unheard off and it’s not that heard to implement – at the very least we would have a better degree of democratic representativity. And once fines are added to not participating in the elections I am pretty sure people will begin to look at it more carefully – “if I must go, then at least I need to know what I’m voting for”. There are a lot of critiques on compulsory voting, but I would say that in this particular case, for European Elections, where the stakes far surpass the general information level of your average EU voter, and implicitly his ability to reason and a arrive at a personal conclusion, we should brush them aside. There are a sufficient number of democracies around using it, starting with Belgium and Greece and ending with Australia so there is no fear of this being an authoritarian measure. Part of me really thinks that compulsory voting would be beneficial in MS elections too, as it would far increase the percentages of “actual representativity” presented above.
“The choice is unfortunately not in out hands”
In the end, if you take into account all the things mentioned above, you end up thinking that the choice, the actual choice to move things forward lies not with us, but with a bunch of politicians that don’t really represent us. But it’s not true – it is our choice that got us here – our choice to invest less time in being informed about what goes on, our choice to stay home at local, regional, national and European elections, our choice to trust that everybody else will do their civic duty so we don’t have to, our choice to take democracy for granted.
You want to change something? Go vote! Bring your cousins, your friends with you. Educate yourself about what is going on, find the best candidate to suit your desires for more democracy, push change ahead. And don’t just do that for the EP elections. Do it for every election you can be part of – they are all connected from your Mayor to your head of government and President, to your MEP and Commission President. The choice is always yours, but remember that the vote you cast in May may bear fruit 5 years from now. Or 10. But it will bear fruit – good fruit or rotten – that is precisely your choice to make.
Change is hard to achieve. It is in our way as Humans to resist change. We like our creature comforts and our way of life and would do anything to keep them just the way they are. I’m pretty sure that “dinosaurs” would have thought the same. But we must change, because you never know when a meteorite my fall and change everything. And recent events at our eastern borders might just prove to spell “m-e-t-e-o-r-i-t-e”.
So go vote. All the time. It is a right and a duty. Failure to respect any of them leads to catastrophic results.Horatiu Ferchiu