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Giandomenico Majone and Andrew Moravcsik have argued that the EU does not suffer a 'democratic deficit'. We disagree about one key element: whether a democratic polity requires contestation for political leadership and over policy. This aspect is an essential element of even the 'thinnest' theories of democracy, yet is conspicuously absent in the EU. Copyright 2006 The Author(s).
© 2006 The Author(s)
Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148,
University of Oslo
London School of Economics
Why There is a Democratic Deficit in the EU: A
Response to Majone and Moravcsik
Giandomenico Majone and Andrew Moravcsik have argued that the EU does not suffer
a ‘democratic deficit’. We disagree about one key element: whether a democratic
polity requires contestation for political leadership and over policy. This aspect is an
essential element of even the ‘thinnest’ theories of democracy, yet is conspicuously
absent in the EU.
The fate of the Constitutional Treaty for Europe after the French and Dutch
referendums will no doubt prompt further volumes of academic books and
articles on the ‘democratic deficit’ in the European Union (EU). The topic
already receives huge attention, with ever-more convoluted opinions as to the
symptoms, diagnoses, cures and even side-effects of any medication. However,
two major figures in the study of the European Union, Giandomenico Majone
and Andrew Moravcsik, have recently focused the debate, by disentangling the
various forms of dissatisfaction authors have expressed. Not only have these
intellectual heavy-weights entered the fray, they have attempted to argue against
much of the current received wisdom on the subject – and argue, in a nutshell,
that the EU is in fact as democratic as it could, or should, be.
What we do in this article is assess some of the contributions of Majone and
Moravcsik together. We start by articulating a contemporary ‘standard version’
of the democratic deficit, before reviewing how far these two scholars are
JCMS 2006 Volume 44. Number 3. pp. 533–62
DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5965.2006.00650.x
© 2006 The Author(s)
Journal compilation © 2006
Blackwell Publishing Ltd
able to refute the various elements of the received wisdom. We then highlight
our points of agreement and disagreement with the positions of Majone and
Moravcsik as expressed in some of their articles. Specifically, we disagree
about one key element: whether a democratic polity requires contestation
for political leadership and argument over the direction of the policy agenda.
This aspect, which is ultimately the difference between a democracy and an
enlightened form of benevolent authoritarianism, is an essential element of even
the ‘thinnest’ theories of democracy, yet is conspicuously absent in the EU. We
then discuss what we think can be done to reduce the democratic deficit in the
EU, and whether the Constitutional Treaty would go some way to achieving
this goal. Other issues that Majone or Moravcsik raise also merit attention, but
must await later occasions. These include the status and implications of federal
or multi-level elements of the EU, and of various non-majoritarian democratic
procedures (Majone, 1998; Moravcsik, 1998b, 2002).
I. The ‘Standard Version’ of the Democratic Deficit, circa 2005
There is no single meaning of the ‘democratic deficit’. Definitions are as varied
as the nationality, intellectual positions and preferred solutions of the scholars
or commentators who write on the subject. Making a similar observation in
the mid-1990s, Joseph Weiler and his colleagues set out what they called a
‘standard version’ of the democratic deficit. This, they said, was not attribut-
able to a single figure or group of scholars, but was rather a set of widely-used
arguments by academics, practitioners, media commentators and ordinary
citizens (Weiler et al., 1995).
Weiler’s contribution did not lay the debate on the democratic deficit to
rest in due course it become ever more diverse. An upgraded ‘standard
version’ of the democratic deficit, supplemented by a more substantive yet
‘thin’ normative theory of democracy helps assess the valuable contributions
of Moravcsik and Majone, and indicate remaining issues of contestation for
further research. The democratic deficit could be defined as involving the
following five main claims.
First, and foremost, European integration has meant an increase in executive
power and a decrease in national parliamentary control (Andersen and Burns,
1996; Raunio, 1999). At the domestic level in Europe, the central structure
of representative government in all EU Member States is that the government
is accountable to the voters via the parliament. European parliaments may
have few formal powers of legislative amendment (unlike the US Congress).
But, the executive is held to account by the parliament that can hire and
fire the cabinet, and by parliament scrutiny of the behaviour of government
ministers. The design of the EU means that policy-making at the European
© 2006 The Author(s)
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level is dominated by executive actors: national ministers in the Council, and
government appointees in the Commission. This, by itself, is not a problem.
However, the actions of these executive agents at the European level are beyond
the control of national parliaments. Even with the establishment of European
Affairs Committees in all national parliaments, ministers when speaking and
voting in the Council, national bureaucrats when making policies in Coreper
or Council working groups, and officials in the Commission when drafting or
implementing legislation, are much more isolated from national parliamentary
scrutiny and control than are national cabinet ministers or bureaucrats in the
domestic policy-making process. As a result, governments can effectively
ignore their parliaments when making decisions in Brussels. Hence, European
integration has meant a decrease in the power of national parliaments and an
increase in the power of executives.
Second, and related to the first element, most analysts of the democratic
deficit argue that the European Parliament is too weak. In the 1980s, some
commentators argued that there was a direct trade-off between the powers of
the European Parliament and the powers of national parliaments, where any
increase in the powers of the European Parliament would mean a concomitant
decrease in the powers of national parliaments (Holland, 1980). However, by the
1990s, this position disappeared as scholars started to see European integration
as a decline in the power of parliamentary institutions at the domestic level
relative to executive institutions. The solution, many argued, was to increase the
power of the European Parliament relative to the governments in the Council
and the Commission (Williams, 1991; Lodge, 1994).
Successive reforms of the EU treaties since the mid-1980s have dramati-
cally increased the powers of the European Parliament, exactly as many of the
democratic deficit scholars had advocated. Nevertheless, one can still claim that
the European Parliament is weak compared to the governments in the Council.
Although the European Parliament has equal legislative power with the Council
under the co-decision procedure, a majority of EU legislation is still passed
under the consultation procedure, where the Parliament has only a limited power
of delay. The Parliament can still amend only those lines in the EU budget that
the governments categorize as ‘non-compulsory expenditure’. And, although
the European Parliament now has the power to veto the governments’ choice
for the Commission President and the team of Commissioners, the governments
are still the agenda-setters in the appointment of the Commission. In no sense
is the EU’s executive ‘elected’ by the European Parliament.
Third, despite the growing power of the European Parliament, there are
no ‘European’ elections. EU citizens elect their governments, who sit in the
Council and nominate Commissioners. EU citizens also elect the European
Parliament. However, neither national elections nor European Parliament
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elections are really ‘European’ elections: they are not about the personalities
and parties at the European level or the direction of the EU policy agenda.
National elections are fought on domestic rather than European issues, and
parties collude to keep the issue of Europe off the domestic agenda (Hix, 1999;
Marks et al., 2002). European Parliament elections are also not about Europe,
as parties and the media treat them as mid-term national contests. Protest
votes against parties in government and steadily declining participation in
European elections indicate that Reif and Schmitt’s famous description of the
first European Parliament elections as ‘second-order national contests’is as
true of the sixth European elections in June 2004 as it was of the first elections
in 1979 (Reif and Schmitt, 1980; van der Eijk and Franklin, 1996; Marsh,
1998). Blondel, et al. (1998) provide some evidence that at the individual level
participation in European elections is related to citizens’ attitudes towards the
EU. However, this effect is substantively very small, and more recent research
has shown that, if anything, the main second-order effects of European elections
– whereby governing parties and large parties lose while opposition and small
parties win irrespective of these parties’ EU policies – have increased rather
than decreased (Mattila, 2003; Kousser, 2004; Hix and Marsh, 2005).
The absence of a ‘European’ element in national and European elections
means that EU citizens’ preferences on issues on the EU policy agenda at best
have only an indirect influence on EU policy outcomes. In comparison, if the
EU were a system with a genuine electoral contest to determine the make-up
of ‘government’ at the European level, the outcome of this election would have
a direct influence on what EU ‘leaders’ do, and whether they can continue to
do these things or are forced to change the direction of policy.
Fourth, even if the European Parliament’s power were increased and genuine
European elections were able to be held, another problem is that the EU is
simply ‘too distant’ from voters. There is an institutional and a psychological
version of this claim. Paradoxically, both may have given rise to the frustration
vented in the referendums on the Constitutional Treaty. Institutionally, electoral
control over the Council and the Commission is too removed, as discussed. Psy-
chologically, the EU is too different from the domestic democratic institutions
that citizens are used to. As a result, citizens cannot understand the EU, and
so will never be able to assess and regard it as a democratic system writ large,
nor to identify with it. For example, the Commission is neither a government
nor a bureaucracy, and is appointed through an obscure procedure rather than
elected by one electorate directly or indirectly (see, for example, Magnette,
2001). The Council is part legislature, part executive, and when acting as a
legislature makes most of its decisions in secret. The European Parliament can-
not be a properly deliberative assembly because of the multi-lingual nature of
debates in committees and the plenary without a common political backdrop
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culture. And, the policy process is fundamentally technocratic rather than
political (Wallace and Smith, 1995).
Fifth, European integration produces ‘policy drift’ from voters’ ideal policy
preferences. Partially as a result of the four previous factors, the EU adopts
policies that are not supported by a majority of citizens in many or even most
Member States. Governments are able to undertake policies at the European
level that they cannot pursue at the domestic level, where they are constrained
by parliaments, courts and corporatist interest group structures. These policy
outcomes include a neo-liberal regulatory framework for the single market, a
monetarist framework for EMU and massive subsidies to farmers through the
common agricultural policy. Because the policy outcomes of the EU decision-
making process are usually to the right of domestic policy status quos, this
‘policy drift’ critique is usually developed by social democratic scholars
(Scharpf, 1997, 1999).
A variant of this ‘social democratic’ critique focuses on the role of private
interests in EU decision-making. Since a classic representative chamber, such
as the European Parliament, is not the dominant institution in EU governance,
private interest groups do not have to compete with democratic party politics
in the EU policy-making process. Concentrated interests such as business
interests and multinational firms have a greater incentive to organize at the
European level than diffuse interests, such as consumer groups or trade unions,
and the EU policy process is pluralist rather than corporatist. These features
skew EU policy outcomes more towards the interests of the owners of capital
than is the case for policy compromises at the domestic level in Europe (see,
e.g., Streeck and Schmitter, 1991).
II. Defence of the Titans: Majone and Moravcsik
Giandomenico Majone and Andrew Moravcsik, two of the most prominent
scholars of European integration, have recently struck back at the flood of
articles, pamphlets and books promoting one or more of the elements of the
standard version of the democratic deficit.
Majone: Credibility Crisis Not Democratic Deficit
Majone’s starting point is his theoretical and normative claim that the EU is
essentially a ‘regulatory state’ (Majone, 1994, 1996). In Majone’s thinking,
‘regulation’ is about addressing market failures and so, by definition, is about
producing policy outcomes that are Pareto-efficient (where some benefit and
no one is made worse off), rather than redistributive or value-allocative (where
there are both winners and losers). The EU governments have delegated
© 2006 The Author(s)
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regulatory policy competences to the European level – such as the creation of
the single market, the harmonization of product standards and health and safety
rules and even the making of monetary policy by the European Central Bank
deliberately to isolate these policies from domestic majoritarian government.
From this perspective, the EU is a glorified regulatory agency, a ‘fourth branch
of government’, much like regulatory agencies at the domestic level in Europe,
such as telecoms agencies, competition authorities, central banks, or even
courts (Majone, 1993a).
Following from this interpretation, Majone asserts that EU policy-making
should not be ‘democratic’ in the usual meaning of the term. If EU policies
were made by what Majone calls ‘majoritarian’ institutions, they would cease
to be Pareto-efficient, insofar as the political majority would select EU policy
outcomes closer to its ideal short-term policy preferences and counter to the
preferences of the political minority and against the majority’s own long-term
In this view, an EU dominated by the European Parliament or a directly
elected Commission would inevitably lead to a politicization of regulatory
policy-making. Politicization would result in redistributive rather than Pareto-
efficient outcomes, and so in fact undermine rather than increase the legitimacy
of the EU (Majone, 1998, 2000, 2002a, b; Dehousse, 1995). For example, EU
social policies would be used to compensate losers or supplement the market
rather than only correct its failures (Majone, 1993b).
For Majone, then, the problem for the EU is less a democratic deficit than
a ‘credibility crisis’ (Majone, 2000). The solution, he believes, is procedural
rather than more fundamental change. What the EU needs is more transparent
decision-making, ex post review by courts and ombudsmen, greater profes-
sionalism and technical expertise, rules that protect the rights of minority
interests, and better scrutiny by private actors, the media and parliamentar-
ians at both the EU and national levels. In this view, the European Parliament
should focus on scrutinizing the European Commission and EU expenditure,
and perhaps increasing the ‘quality’ of EU legislation. It should not try to move
EU legislation beyond the preferences of the elected governments or try to
influence the policy positions of the Commission through the investiture and
censure procedures.
Majone consequently holds that, if the EU could increase the credibility
of its policy-making by introducing such procedural mechanisms, then the
public would or should accept the EU as legitimate and concerns about the
democratic deficit would disappear.
© 2006 The Author(s)
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Moravcsik: Checks-and-Balances Limit Policy Drift
Moravcsik (2002, 2003, 2004) goes further than Majone, and presents an
extensive critique of all main democratic deficit claims. Moravcsik objects to
four different positions in his writings on this subject: libertarian, pluralist,
social democratic and deliberative. Rather than repeat his arguments as they
relate to these four viewpoints, let us reconstruct his arguments against the
five standard claims identified, above. Moravcsik has explicit answers to four
of the five standard claims.
First, against the argument that power has shifted to the executive, Moravcsik
points out that national governments are the most directly accountable
politicians in Europe. As he states (2002, p. 612):
if European elections were the only form of democratic accountability to
which the EU were subject, scepticism would surely be warranted. Yet,
a more important channel lies in the democratically elected governments
of the Member States, which dominate the still largely territorial and
intergovernmental structure of the EU.
He goes on to argue that national parliaments and the national media increas-
ingly scrutinize national government ministers’ actions in Brussels. Hence,
while the EU remains a largely intergovernmental organization, decisions
in the European Council and the Council of Ministers are as accountable to
national citizens as decisions of national cabinets. In other words, his argu-
ment that the EU ‘strengthens the state’ (meaning national executives) also
challenges claims of a democratic deficit, since the democratically controlled
national executives play dominant roles in the EU institutions – underscoring
the democratic accountability of the EU.
Second, against the critique that the executives are beyond the control of
representative institutions, and hence that the European Parliament needs to
be strengthened, Moravcsik points out that the most significant institutional
development in the EU in the past two decades has been the increased powers
of the European Parliament in the legislative process and in the selection of
the Commission. In other words, he might grant that national governments
no longer dominate outcomes where significant independent agenda-setting
power has been delegated to the Commission, for example under the co-
decision procedure and qualified majority voting in the Council. Hence, indirect
accountability via national executives in the Council is weak under these
‘supranational’ policy mechanisms, as particular national governments can be
on the losing side on an issue-by-issue basis. However, the EU has addressed
this potential problem by significantly increasing the powers of the European
Parliament in exactly these areas.
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The European Parliament now has veto-power over the selection of the
Commission and is increasingly willing to use this power against heavy
lobbying from national governments, as was seen with the Parliament’s veto of
the first proposed line-up of the Barroso Commission in October 2004. Also,
the reform of the co-decision procedure in the Amsterdam Treaty means that
legislation cannot be passed under co-decision without majority support in both
the Council and the European Parliament. So, if a party in government is on
the losing side of a qualified majority vote in the Council, it has a chance of
‘winning it back’ in the Parliament – as Germany has done on several occasions
(such as the takeover directive in July 2001).
Third, against the view that the EU is too distant and opaque, Moravcsik
argues that the EU policy-making process is now more transparent than most
domestic systems of government. The growing paranoia inside the EU institu-
tions about their isolation from citizens and the new internal rules in response
to public and media accusations, have made it much easier for interest groups,
the media, national politicians and even private citizens to access documents or
information about EU policy-making easier indeed than access to information
from national policy processes. Furthermore, EU technocrats are increasingly
forced to listen to multiple societal interests. Both the European Court of
Justice and national courts exercise extensive judicial review of EU actions,
and the European Parliament and national parliaments have increased scrutiny
powers (as in the European Parliament’s censure of the Santer Commission
in May 1999). Also, the introduction of an ‘early warning mechanism’, as
envisaged in the Constitutional Treaty, would increase the power of national
parliaments to scrutinize and block draft EU legislation before it even leaves
the Commission.
Fourth, Moravcsik argues against the so-called ‘social democratic critique’
that EU policies are systematically biased against the (centre-left) median
voter. The EU’s elaborate system of checks-and-balances ensures that an over-
whelming consensus is required for any policies to be agreed. There are high
thresholds for the adoption of EU policies: unanimity for the reform of the
treaties; then either unanimity in the Council (in those areas where intergov-
ernmental rules still apply), or a majority in the Commission plus a qualified
majority in the Council plus an absolute majority in the European Parliament
(where supranational rules apply); and then judicial review by national courts
and the European Court of Justice. Also, no single set of private interests can
dominate the EU policy process, as the Commission consciously promotes the
access of diffuse interests, and diffuse interests have access via those parties
of party groups (on the left) in the Council and European Parliament (see, e.g.,
Pollack, 1997; Greenwood, 2003).
© 2006 The Author(s)
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As a result, EU policies are inevitably very centrist: the result of a delicate
compromise between all interest parties, from all Member States and all the
main party positions. Only those on the political extremes are really excluded.
So, free market liberals are just as frustrated with the centrist EU policy regime
as social democrats.
Just as Majone’s views of the EU democratic deficit are logical extensions
of his general ‘regulatory politics’ theory of the EU, Moravcsik’s views of
the democratic deficit are extensions of his liberal-intergovernmental theory
(Moravcsik, 1998a). Basically, because the governments run the EU and there is
‘hard bargaining’ in the adoption of all EU policies, the EU is unlikely to adopt
anything which negatively effects an important national interest or social group.
Also, because the Commission is simply an agent of the governments, there
are no significant unintended consequences of the intergovernmental bargains.
Hence, there is little gap between the preferences of the elected governments
and final EU policy outcomes; so, the EU is not undemocratic.
Finally, Moravcsik does not address the claim directly that there are ‘no
European elections’. But, his position would justify at least two answers to
this concern. First, Moravcsik thinks that European Parliament elections do
not really work and will not be genuine ‘European’ contests for some time,
since the issues the EU tackles are simply not salient enough for voters to take
an interest. ‘EU legislative and regulatory activity is inversely correlated with
the salience of issues in the minds of European voters, so any effort to expand
participation is unlikely to overcome apathy’ (Moravcsik, 2002, p. 615). Vot-
ers care primarily about taxation and spending and these issues are still the
responsibility of Member States and tackled overwhelming at the national
level. Hence, it is rational for voters to treat European elections as largely
irrelevant contests.
Second, Moravcsik (2004) likes the idea that EU policy-making is largely
isolated from majoritarian democratic contests. He agrees with Majone that
it is a good thing that regulatory policy-makers are isolated from democratic
majorities. He cites three normative reasons. Firstly, ‘universal involvement in
government policy would impose costs beyond the willingness of any modern
citizen to bear’ (Moravcsik, 2002, p. 614; 2004). Secondly, isolating particular
quasi-judicial decisions is essential to protect minority interests and avoid
the ‘tyranny of the majority’. Thirdly, and above all, isolated policy-makers
can correct for a ‘bias’ inherent in majoritarian democratic contests. Here,
Moravcsik argues that particularist (concentrated) interests can more easily
capture majoritarian electoral processes than isolated regulators or courts. From
this perspective, ‘the EU may be more “representative” precisely because it is,
in a narrow sense, less “democratic”’ (Moravcsik, 2002, p. 614).
© 2006 The Author(s)
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III. Points of Agreement and Disagreement
The contributions of Majone and Moravcsik have greatly enhanced the demo-
cratic deficit debate, and raised it from the largely impressionist and descriptive
contributions in the 1980s and early 1990s to a new level. Arguments are pre-
sented more fully, based on careful theoretical analysis backed up by empirical
evidence. This analytic clarity is a welcome improvement, not least because
it facilitates assessment and further improvement. Some of their theoretical
arguments and empirical evidence are valid, while others are questionable.
Majone: Most EU Policies are Redistributive
Majone’s main theoretical assumption, that purely Pareto-improving policies
with no redistributive effects may, on normative grounds, be isolated from
majoritarian democratic process, is surely correct. If policies reliably are,
and are meant to be, purely Pareto-improving (with no losers) then decision-
making in these areas via the usual democratic mechanisms, of electoral and
parliamentary majorities, may well not produce the desired outcomes. The
problem comes, however, at an empirical level, when trying to identify those
policies that produce purely Pareto-improving policy outcomes with one unique
solution. Majone would agree that many decisions would challenge a strict
efficiency–redistributive dichotomy. This article questions the centrality of this
distinction, when the empirical reality of decisions is a continuum between
policies that are predominantly efficient and policies that are predominantly
redistributive, with many mixes.
For example, almost everyone would accept that judicial decisions, such as
court adjudication of property rights, and certain technical decisions, such as
consumer product standards and safety protection, are at the ‘efficient’ extreme
of a potential continuum: there is a very limited number of correct outcomes,
where the distribution of benefits and burdens is largely settled in the process
of deciding on the legal and technical standards. Courts and agencies, such as
a food safety agency, might best be isolated from political interferences once
the laws and other standards are identified.
Next on an efficiency–redistibutive continuum are interest rate policies and
competition policies. The aim of delegation to independent institutions in these
areas is the time inconsistency of preferences and the need for trustworthiness,
rather than the fact that these policies by definition are purely about the cor-
rection of market failures and the production of collective benefits (Beetham
and Lord, 1998, p. 20). Even though a majority of economists and political
scientists believe that central banks and competition regulators should be in-
dependent from majoritarian institutions, these views are not universally held
(e.g. McNamara, 2002). And there may be reasons for immediate action that
© 2006 The Author(s)
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outweigh the loss in trustworthiness: trade-offs that may best be handled by
majoritarian, political accountable, agents.
Next are the bulk of policies at the European level which relate to the
construction and (re)regulation of a market. A larger market and harmonized
national regulatory standards to secure market integration certainly have
Pareto-improving elements, in that much of EU single market, environmental
or social regulation aims to make the free market work more efficiently or to
correct particular market failures, such as negative externalities of production
(such as pollution), collectively disadvantageous practices of trade barriers, or
information asymmetries in employment contracts such as rules on minimum
health and safety at work. However, many EU regulatory policies have
significant redistributive consequences. Private producers for domestic markets
are losers from the liberalization of trade in a single market (e.g. Frieden and
Rogowski, 1996). Similarly, producers tend to suffer from environmental
‘process’ standards, such as factory emissions standards. On the other hand,
some workers benefit from social policy ‘process’ standards, such as equal
rights for part-time and temporary workers.
At the predominantly redistributive extreme are EU expenditure policies.
It may seem that all Member States benefit in some way from EU expenditure
policies. Yet, the identification of ‘net contributors’ and ‘net beneficiaries’ from
the EU budget has always been a highly contested game in the negotiation of
every EU multi-annual framework programme. Moreover, winners and losers
are even more apparent at the individual level. Beneficiaries from EU expendi-
ture policies, such as farmers, depressed regions, or research scientists, tend
to be concentrated groups who receive large amounts from the EU budget as
a percentage of their income. On the other hand, the consumers and taxpay-
ers who pay into the EU budget are highly diffuse, with widely varying net
benefits of larger markets.
Majone might wish that all EU market regulation or reregulatory policies
are or should be purely Pareto efficient. The current reality is rather different.
Many EU regulatory policies have identifiable winners and losers (Pierson and
Leibfried, 1995, pp. 432–65; Joerges, 1999). At an empirical level, Majone’s
argument that EU policy-making is or should primarily be about Pareto-
improving outcomes is thus either implausible, or requires a drastic reversal of
many competences back to the Member States. Majone provides good reasons
why certain EU policies, such as competition policy or food safety regulation,
should be delegated to independent, non-majoritarian, institutions. But his
arguments do not apply to policies which allow choices with distributive or
even redistributive effects. He offers no reason why they should be isolated
from democratic contestation. Where there are short- and long-term winners
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and losers, Majone’s argument does not diminish the need for democratic,
responsive and accountable decision-makers.
Moravcsik: Democratic Contestation Would Produce Different Policies
In Moravcsik’s view:
Constitutional checks and balances, indirect democratic control via national
governments, and the increasing powers of the European Parliament are
sufficient to ensure that EU policy-making is, in nearly all cases, clean,
transparent, effective and politically responsive to the demands of European
citizens. (2002, p. 605)
Much of this we agree with. Essentially, because of the requirement of over-
sized majorities in multiple institutions, EU policy outcomes are invariably
Yet, this response to the social democratic concern is insufficient insofar
as the status quo of no-agreement does not secure ‘centrist’ but rather right-
of-centre outcomes, as the near-constitutional status of market freedoms
suggests. Moravcsik must then go on to argue that this no-agreement point is
not skewed against the political parties on the left. On this issue the jury still
seems to be out. On the one hand, as Paul Pierson (2001, p. 82) finds: ‘the
available evidence casts doubt on the claim that in the absence of growing
economic integration welfare states would be under dramatically less pressure,
and national policy makers markedly more capable of addressing new public
demands’. Signs of cut-backs and retrenchments may have other causes. On the
other hand, the demographic changes may otherwise have entailed increases
rather than stand-still in public expenditures. Thus, Anton Hemerijck (2002)
notes that: ‘The empirical evidence suggests that tax competition has so
far been limited But this may be misguided. For one, when we consider
increasing unemployment, rising poverty, expanding pensions and health care
costs, we would have expected that taxation should have risen. Instead, during
the 1980s most welfare states turned to deficit spending’.
Indirect control via national governments certainly provides some
control over EU policy outcomes, although it is greater in those areas where
intergovernmentalist decision-making rules operate (such as police co-
operation, foreign and defence policies, and some aspects of monetary union)
than in areas where supranational decision-making rules operate (such as the
regulation of the single market and now asylum and immigration policies).
Increasing the powers of the European Parliament has certainly improved the
legitimacy of policy outcomes in precisely those areas where the indirect control
of governments over outcomes has been weakened by the move to qualified
majority voting and the delegation of significant agenda-setting power to the
© 2006 The Author(s)
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Commission. Essentially, the authors are willing to accept, both theoretically
(because of the design of representation in the Council and Parliament and
the rules of agenda-setting and decision-making) and empirically (the balance
between the neo-liberal and ‘social market’ elements of the EU policy regime),
that policy outcomes from the EU may be relatively close to some abstract
European-wide ‘median voter’. The social democratic critique of the EU is
insufficiently defended and argued; it is also quite possibly incorrect.
There are still two problems for Moravcsik’s theory, however, concerning
the link between voters’ policy preferences and the policies of the EU. First,
the match between preferences and policies should not only occur as a matter
of fact, but there should be mechanisms that reliably ensure that this power
will indeed be so used. Democratic accountability is one such mechanism that
sometimes at least serves to kick rascals out and sometimes serves to prevent
domination and disempowerment (Shapiro, 1996). The defence of institutions
as legitimate must thus not only show that present outcomes are acceptable.
Proponents must also show that these institutions can reliably be expected to
secure more acceptable outcomes in the future than the alternatives considered,
for instance because they are sufficiently responsive to the best interests of vot-
ers. These are the problems with benevolent but non-accountable rulers: their
subjects have no institutionalized mechanisms that make them trustworthy.
And, there are no reliable selection processes for selecting their benevolent
successor – at most, the processes ensure selection of the next ruler, who may
turn out to be much less benevolent (Rawls, 1999; Follesdal, 2005).
Second, voters’ preferences are not fixed or purely exogenously determined.
If voters’ preferences over policies are completely exogenous to the political
process and permanently fixed, then there would perhaps be no difference be-
tween a fully-democratic majoritarian policy and an ‘isolated’ policy regime
a form of regulated benevolent authoritarianism that produces policies
that ‘voters subjectively want’ in some interesting sense of that phrase. Both
democratic and (enlightened) non-democratic regimes would produce policy
outcomes close to the median or otherwise decisive-voter (assuming a single
dimension of preferences).
A key difference between standard democratic and non-democratic regimes,
however, is that citizens form their views about which policy options they prefer
through the processes of deliberation and party contestation that are essential
elements of all democracies. Because voters’ preferences are shaped by the
democratic process, a democracy would almost definitely produce outcomes
that are different to those produced by ‘enlightened’ technocrats. Hence, one
problem for the EU is that its policy outcomes may not be those policies that
would be preferred by a political majority after a debate.
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This leads to a weakness in Moravcsik’s argument that the issues on the EU
agenda are simply not salient enough for voters to want to have a debate about
the policies, and hence allow their preferences to be shaped on these issues.
The problem is that the salience of a policy issue is also endogenous to the
political process. Schattschneider (1960) famously called this the ‘mobilization
of bias’. With no articulation of positions on several sides of a policy debate,
it is no wonder that a debate over a particular policy area does not exist and
that issues lack voter salience.
Moravcsik would still contend that such a democratic contest is more likely
to be captured by private particularist interests than the EU’s current system
of checks-and-balances and isolated regulators, who can more easily consider
diffuse and long-term interests. As it stands, this argument is incomplete. Rea-
sons must also be provided for believing that regulators will indeed reliably use
their discretion in such ways rather than for less legitimate objectives. Indeed,
many democratic theorists and empiricists would actually think the opposite.
Independent regulators are highly prone to capture, primarily because they
are heavily lobbied by the producers who are the subjects of the regulation
(Becker, 1983). Furthermore, constitutions with multiple checks-and-balances
(or veto-points), as opposed to more majoritarian decision-making rules, allow
concentrated (single-issue) interests to block policy outcomes that are in the
interests of the majority – as has been the case in the US system of government,
where the gun lobby has repeated blocked more restrictive gun control and
private healthcare companies have repeatedly blocked provisions to introduce
some form of universal health coverage, despite overwhelming public support
for both these policies (Tsebelis, 1999, 2002).
Majone and Moravcsik extol the virtues of ‘enlightened’ bureaucracy against
the dangers of untrammelled ‘popular’ democracy, or ‘majoritarian’ rule in the
current parlance. For Majone, the technocrats in the Commission, the Council
working groups and the EU agencies are more likely to protect citizens’ inter-
ests than the majority in the European Parliament or a hypothetical majority
in an election of the Commission President. Moravcsik, less enthusiastic about
technocratic rule, still sees no need for fully-blown electoral democracy since
the design of the EU already guarantees that any policies passed are in the
interests of the majority of EU citizens. We argue in the next section that there
are good reasons to be slightly less optimistic about the comparative advantages
of technocratic rule over constrained forms of democratic rule.
V. Why Constrained Democracy is Better than Pareto Authoritarianism
One plausible defence of democracy is comparative, in the tradition of Win-
ston Churchill’s quip that democracy is the worst form of government except
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for all the others that have been tried from time to time. Forms of democratic
rule in terms of competitive elections to choose policies and leaders, is better
than enlightened technocracy and the alternatives favoured by Moravcsik and
We build the case for democracy from premises that we believe are shared
by a broad range of democratic theorists. The main features of democracy are
(see, for example, Follesdal, 1998):
1. institutionally established procedures that regulate,
2. competition for control over political authority,
3. on the basis of deliberation,
4. where nearly all adult citizens are permitted to participate in
5. an electoral mechanism where their expressed preferences over alterna-
tive candidates determine the outcome,
6. in such ways that the government is responsive to the majority or to as
many as possible.
This is not intended as a complete definition, but rather as a statement about
virtually all modern political systems that we would normally call ‘democratic’.
The perennial dispute about the definition of democracy seems largely fruitless
to us, and we hope to avoid it altogether. This sketch of democracy is robust in
the sense that many theorists would agree to many of its components, though
specifying them differently.
Features 1, 2 and 3 are especially relevant for assessing Moravcsik’s and
Majone’s arguments. These are held in some form by most theorists. As an
example, for Charles Beitz (1989, p. 17), democracy is conceived as:
a kind of rivalry for control over the state’s policy-making apparatus, with
an electoral mechanism at its center in which all citizens are entitled to
participate … There is considerable room for variation in both the manner
in which the rivalry itself might be regulated and the details of the electoral
mechanism that determines its outcomes. The generic idea of democracy is
indeterminate about these matters, but because not all of the possibilities are
equally acceptable, some criterion is needed for selecting among them.
For Schattschneider (1960, p. 141), modern democracy is ‘a competitive
political system in which competing leaders and organizations define the al-
ternatives of public policy in such a way that the public can participate in the
decision-making process’. And for Brian Barry (1991, pp. 24–61), a democratic
procedure is ‘a method of determining the content of laws (and other legally
binding decisions) such that the preferences of the citizens have some formal
connection with the outcome in which each counts equally… [and] allow for
the formulation, expression, and aggregation of political preferences’.
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These first three components merit elaboration to identify the weaknesses
of Majone and Moravcsik’s arguments. Regarding the first component, the
primary issue is institutional design, not policy outcomes. Many, though not
all, democratic theorists would hold that the outputs matter when assessing
such institutions. We hold that, in order to assess institutions, more must be
known about whether they can bring about certain outputs. We cannot accept
Majone’s argument that EU institutions provide unbiased representation without
further defence. That such institutions may prevent capture by powerful minori-
ties opposing the majority’s more diffuse, longer-term or less self-conscious
concerns may be correct, but this is not enough. Indeed, much more must be
known than their current output. We also need to know about the likely, least
likely or typical outcomes, including the formative and strategic effects of
institutions on strategies and preferences.
Thus we cannot appeal only to present policy outcomes, but must also
consider their tendency to reliably be sufficiently responsive over time, com-
pared with alternative arrangements. Their track record so far is not sufficient.
We must also know whether there are mechanisms that will reliably continue
to ensure acceptable outcomes in ways that provide crucial trustworthiness.
This is of course not to argue that constitutions determine everything, but that
the choice of constitutional rules affects the bargaining positions within the
democratic decision procedures.
For example, an essential feature of the practice of democracy is an institu-
tional design that allows for an ‘opposition’ to the current leadership elites and
policy status quos (Dahl, 1971). Providing incentives and arenas for oppositions
to organize and articulate their positions is important to ensure that citizens
understand differences between the present government and the (democratic)
political order (Shapiro, 1996). If citizens cannot identify alternative leaders
or policy agendas, it is difficult for them to determine whether leaders could
have done better or to identify who is responsible for policies. Active opposi-
tion parties in parliament with many affected parties represented, and media
scrutiny, are crucial for such fact-finding, attention and assessments. These
benefits require freedom of association and information, and real opportunity
spaces for formulation and contestation of the agenda and policy choices.
Consider those who favour an alternative set of policy outcomes to the
current policies of the Commission, the Council and the Parliament. As the
EU is currently designed, there is no room to present a rival set of leadership
candidates (a government ‘in waiting’) and a rival policy agenda. This is dif-
ferent from the growing ‘anti-EU’ sentiment in many Member States, which
often presents itself as the opposition to the EU establishment. But, such anti-
EU parties and movements do not simply oppose the current policy balance at
the European level, but advocate root-and-branch reform, or even abolition, of
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the EU system – rather like the Anti-Federalists in the early years of American
democracy. Indeed, it is precisely because there is no visible quasi-official
‘opposition’, that citizens cannot distinguish between opposition to the current
EU policy regime and opposition to the EU system as a whole.
Regarding the second component, competitive elections are crucial to
make policies and elected officials responsive to the preferences of citizens
(see, for example, Powell, 2000). Electoral contests provide incentives for
elites to develop rival policy ideas and propose rival candidates for political
office. This identification of new alternatives is crucial: ‘the definition of the
alternatives is the supreme instrument of power’ (Schattschneider, 1960, p. 68).
Competition between parties with different platforms that express alternative,
somewhat consistent, conceptions of public interest and public policies helps
voters realize which choices may be made and give them some alternatives
(see, for example, Manin, 1987, pp. 338–68).
Where the EU is concerned, policies might be in the interests of citizens
when they were first agreed, but without electoral competition there are few
incentives for the Commission or governments to change these policies in re-
sponse to changes in citizens’ preferences. For example, EU policy-makers are
trying to grapple with the structural reform of the European economy, which
everyone seems to agree needs to be addressed at the European level. At the
moment this is not salient for Europe’s voters, even though the distributive and
redistributive consequences of any structural reforms are potentially huge. The
EU has policy instruments to introduce labour market reform in Europe. For
example, the Commission could propose a directive harmonizing rules on the
hiring and firing of workers for small and medium-sized enterprises. However,
such a proposal would be politically explosive, as this would involve a radical
shift from the policy status quo for most Member States. As a result, govern-
ments have tried to encourage each other to introduce labour market reforms
through the ‘softer’ process of the ‘open method of co-ordination(OMC). But,
faced with entrenched vested interests against labour market reform, domestic
political parties have no incentive to follow the informal agreements made
through OMC or to act unilaterally.
The problem for the EU, in this case, is that there are few if any vehicles for
encouraging a European-wide debate about structural reform of the European
economy that can feed off and mobilize political opposition. In a ‘normal’
democracy, rival groups of elites (parties) would have incentives to develop
and promote competing policy positions, a majority would form in favour of
a particular policy package, and a mandate for action would be established.
Without such democratic contestation, the EU is simply less capable of assess-
ing and addressing one of the central issues facing European policy-makers.
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Regarding the third component, political competition is an essential vehi-
cle for opinion formation. Competition fosters political debate, which in turn
promotes the formation of public opinion on different policy options. Policy
debates including deliberation concerning the best means and objectives of
policies are an inherent by-product of electoral competition. Without such
debates, voters would not be able to form their preferences on complex policy
issues. Electoral contestation thus has a powerful formative effect, promoting
a gradual evolution of political identities.
For example, in the history of American and European democracies, the
replacement of local identities by national identities occurred through the proc-
ess and operation of mass elections and party competition (Key, 1961; Lipset
and Rokkan, 1967). Political parties appear to play particularly important roles
in fostering and maintaining dual political loyalties in multi-level polities to
one’s own sub-unit and to the polity as a whole (McKay, 2004, pp. 23–39,
2001). Likewise in the EU, rather than assuming that a European demos is a
prerequisite for genuine EU democracy, a European democratic identity might
well form through the practice of democratic competition and institutionalized
Our concern that Moravcsik and Majone ignore the role of preference
formation in the EU does not stem from a greatly contested philosophically
esoteric version of deliberative democracy. These effects of political discourse
for ‘identity formation’ are widely acknowledged, not only among ‘commu-
nicatively’ oriented deliberative democrats – though they sometimes seem to
ignore that much of this is a shared democratic heritage (Weale, 1999, p. 37).
Where different theorists disagree is instead in their assessment of the risks,
possibilities and best institutions for regulating such preference formation and
modification in a normatively preferred direction (Schumpeter, 1976; Riker,
1982; Schmitter 2000; Follesdal, 2000).
As has also been argued by many other scholars, it is not necessarily the case
that all such formation and modification is reliably for the better (Przeworski,
1998, pp. 140–60; Follesdal, 2000, pp. 85–110; Elster, 1998, pp. 1–18; 2003,
pp. 138–58).
We deny that more and less constrained deliberation always makes
for better democracy. We are prepared to defend constitutional constraints
on democratic decisions (Dryzek, 1990), and we accept a constrained rather
than populist account of democracy. We accept the delegation of authority to
regulators where policies should be Pareto-improvements with few distribu-
tive options or when needed to build trustworthiness. We are also prepared
to consider checks and balances, for example, drawing on the US federalist
tradition or the European consensus-democracy tradition (Lijphart, 1999).
And, we are prepared to welcome human rights constraints on parliaments to
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protect minorities and Member States, rather than exposing them to avoidable
risks of unfortunate deliberations and resultant policy mistakes.
Against this background, consider Moravcsik’s claims that expanding
participation is unlikely to overcome apathy, since ‘EU legislative and regula-
tory activity is inversely correlated with the salience of issues in the minds of
European voters’ (Moravcsik, 2002, p. 615). We would object that perceived
salience is partly endogenous, a consequence of lack of political contestation.
Thus, for instance, this apathy is likely to change if media and political parties
start to claim that EU decisions impact on high-salience issues such as health
care provision, education, law and order, pensions and social security policy,
and taxation.
The links between domestic policies and EU institutional design may well
be ‘unclear in the minds of many, thereby depoliticizing the issue’ (Moravcsik,
2002, p. 616). But, increased political contestation would probably address
– and contest the nature of – such links or lack thereof. Moravcsik holds that
the formal list of EU competences is highly significant for assessing whether
democratic contestation is appropriate. Surely the relevant terms of normative
assessment are not the formal list of competences but the impact on citizens.
Such claims about impacts is the stuff of democratic contestation – and hence
salience. Moravcsik may be correct that the EU’s activities are limited to a
policy agenda focused on cross-border economic activity, with a small budget
to boot. Yet national politicians sometimes claim that their hands are tied, leav-
ing much room for two-level diplomacy. Such claims and others emerge and
are tested largely within democratic institutions. The links may well remain
unclear, but are hardly uncontested or not salient.
Moravcsik dismisses some ways to give citizens reason to care about EU
politics: Schmitter’s or Van Parijs’s suggestions regarding minimum income
with massive redistribution may well be infeasible schemes, especially in the
short run (Schmitter, 2000; Van Parijs, 1992). But other, politically more realis-
tic, agenda topics may also capture voters’ interests. The current implausibility
of Schmitter’s and Van Parijs’s proposals are irrelevant for assessing claims that
political contestation is important for enhancing democratic legitimacy.
V. Why the EU is Undemocratic and What Could be Done About It
Central weaknesses in Moravcsik’s and Majone’s denials of the EU’s demo-
cratic deficit are that EU policies currently have large distributive consequences,
rendering a purely unique Pareto-improvement argument insufficient. The low
current salience about policy issues is not a justification for no democracy, as
long as it may equally well be the result of a lack of democratic arenas for
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contestation. Currently there are several constitution-like and institutional
features that insulate the EU from political competition.
Most fundamentally, there is no electoral contest for political leadership
at the European level or the basic direction of the EU policy agenda. Repre-
sentatives at the EU level are elected, and so can formally be ‘thrown out’.
However, the processes of electing national politicians and even the members
of the European Parliament are not contests about the content or direction of
EU policy. National elections are about domestic political issues, where the
policies of different parties on issues on the EU agenda are rarely debated.
Similarly, as discussed, European Parliament elections are not in fact about
Europe, but are ‘second-order national contests’. They are fought by national
parties on the performance of national governments, with lower turnout than
national elections, and hence won by opposition and protest parties. At no
point, then, do voters have the opportunity to choose between rival candidates
for executive office at the European level, or to choose between rival policy
agendas for EU action, or to throw out elected representatives for their policy
positions or actions at the EU level.
Referendums on EU issues, such as membership of the EU or EMU or
ratification of a new EU Treaty, do better than national elections or European
Parliament elections in terms of allowing voters to express their preferences
about the EU. National politics, such as the popularity of the government, still
play a role in EU referendums (Franklin et al., 1995; Hug, 2002). However,
referendums on EU issues are considerably less ‘second order’ than European
elections (Siune et al., 1994; Garry et al., 2004). The problem with referendums,
however, is that they only allow voters to express their views about isolated
fundamental constitutional issues and not on the specific policy content within a
particular constitutional status quo. Referendums are hence ineffective mecha-
nisms for promoting day-to-day competition, or contestation between policy
platforms, or indeed articulation and opposition in the EU policy process.
Interestingly, there is increasingly ‘democracy at the European level’, in
terms of party organization and competition in the European Parliament. The
political parties in the European Parliament are now more cohesive than the
Republicans and Democrats in the US Congress, and what determines coalition
formation between the parties in the Parliament is their distance from each
other on the left–right continuum – in other words, parties that are ideologi-
cally closer together vote together more often (Hix et al., 2005). Moreover, the
powers of the parties in the European Parliament have evolved – in terms of
their influence over policy outcomes – as the powers of the Parliament itself
have grown, as has their control of resources inside the European Parliament
(such as committee and rapporteurship assignments). As a result, the members
of the European Parliament (MEPs) are increasingly likely to vote with their
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European party colleagues and against their national party leaderships when
these two sets of interests are in conflict (Hix, 2002a). This tendency came
into the open in October 2004, when a coalition of parties and MEPs in the
European Parliament for the first time refused to support the proposed line-up
for the new Commission, despite heavy lobbying by many national govern-
ments from both right and left for their MEPs to break from their European
party positions.
Similarly, there is increasing policy contestation inside the Council of
Ministers. There are a growing number of ‘roll-call’ votes and what explains
the number of times a government either abstains in a vote or votes against
the winning qualified majority is the left–right and pro- or anti-Europe posi-
tion of the government relative to the other governments (Mattila and Lane,
2001; Mattila, 2004). But, without full transparency of amendment procedures,
agenda-control rules and even the recording of roll-call votes when votes fail, it
is very difficult for academics or the media, let alone the general public, to fol-
low meaningfully what goes on inside the EU’s primary legislative chamber.
A bigger problem, however, is the lack of a connection between the
growing democratic politics inside the European Parliament and EU Council
and the views of the public. The parties in the European Parliament and the
governments in the Council may well reflect the various positions of the voters
they represent on the issues at stake. However, without an electoral contest
connected to political behaviour in these EU institutions it is impossible for
voters to punish MEPs or governments for voting the ‘wrong way’. Government
responsiveness suffers.
What is encouraging from the early seeds of democratic contestation in the
European Parliament and Council, nevertheless, is that there really is potential
for battles over the EU policy agenda. Opening the door for further contesta-
tion, to allow a greater connection between voters’ preferences and coalitions
and alignments in the EU institutions, may not require massive constitutional
overhaul. We argue that these problems may be temporary, and may not re-
quire massive constitutional overhaul – tinkering, time and controversies may
engender Europe-wide debates, possibly spurred by parties and party families
who see opportunities for votes.
Nevertheless, we would point to some details of institutional design that
seem important. For example, the Council of Ministers needs to be more
transparent. This not only means publishing voting records, which has been
the demand of many democratic deficit commentators for some time. It also
means allowing the public, via the media, to see who proposed what, what
coalitions formed, which amendments failed, and who then was on the win-
ning and losing side. Now that the EU has expanded to 25 Member States, the
Council will be forced to become ever more like a classic ‘legislature’, with
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standard rules of procedure determining the division of labour, agenda control
and amendment rights. What needs to happen is that who gets what, when and
how as a result of these rules, becomes public knowledge.
Furthermore, the Commission’s designated role regarding the European
interest should not be formulated in such a way as to imply that the content
of this term is uncontested, or that the Commission is the only institution able
and willing to identify and pursue it. Now that the basic policy-competence
architecture of the EU has been confirmed – in terms of the regulation of the
market at the European level and the provision of spending-based public goods
at the national level – the role of the Commission is not fundamentally dif-
ferent from other political executives. The purely Pareto-improving functions
of the Commission, such as the merger control authority or the monitoring of
legislative enforcement, could easily be isolated in new independent agen-
cies. Then, the expressly ‘political’ functions of the Commission, in terms
of defining a work programme for five years, initiating social, economic and
environmental laws, and preparing and negotiating the multi-annual and annual
budgets, should be open to rigorous contestation and criticism. Such criticism
should not be interpreted as euroscepticism or anti-federalism, but rather as
an essential element of democratic politics at the European level. Majone may
well agree with this suggestion, though it remains to be seen how and where he
would distinguish between purely Pareto-improving and other, (re)distributive,
functions of the Commission (Dehousse and Majone, 1994).
Related to these two ideas, an institutional mechanism needs to be found
for generating debate and contestation about politics in, not only of, the EU.
The most obvious way of doing this is contestation of the office of the Com-
mission President the most powerful executive position in the EU. For
example, there could be a direct election of the Commission President by the
citizens or by national parliaments (Hix, 2002b). Alternatively, a less ambitious
proposal would be for government leaders to allow a more open battle for this
office without any further treaty reform. Now that the Commission President
is elected by a qualified-majority vote (after the Nice Treaty), a smaller ma-
jority is needed in the European Council for a person to be nominated. This
led to a dramatic increase in the number of candidates in the battle to succeed
Romano Prodi and a linking of the nomination of a candidate to the majority
in the newly elected European Parliament. However, the process could have
been much more open and transparent – with candidates declaring themselves
before the European elections, issuing manifestos for their term in office, and
the transnational parties and the governments then declaring their support for
one or other of the candidates well before the horse-trading began.
The Constitutional Treaty, if ratified, would be an improvement on the
institutional status quo in terms of the possibility and likelihood of more
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democratic contestation. The Constitutional Treaty would increase transparency
of the legislative process, increase the powers of the European Parliament and
formally link the choice of the Commission President to European elections.
The Constitutional Treaty would also give several new powers to national
parliaments, underscoring that we are not witnessing a ‘post-national’ order,
but rather a complex new multi-level polity, with some classic federal features
and some completely new institutional innovations. National parliaments
would be able to monitor the application of the subsidiarity principle, giving
‘yellow cards’ when violations are suspected. This arrangement may well
bolster political debate and contestation, since national parliaments are to get
copies of legislative proposals, Commission consultation documents, copies of
suggested Treaty reforms and European Council suggestions of when unanimity
is not required by Council.
The increased transparency and powers of the European Parliament and
national parliaments may foster political contestation. This is not to deny
that transparency also may carry costs regarding the quality and efficiency of
agreements, for instance by foreclosing the creative exploration of new options
(Elster, 1998, p. 98; Naurin, 2004). This loss of efficiency in individual cases
does not outweigh the benefits of political contestation and more trustworthy
Our arguments for increased democratic contestation also withstand Dahl’s
pessimism about enlightened decisions in large-scale democracies. We agree
that it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine the ‘general good’ within
a heterogenous population, even with contestation (Dahl, 1999). And there
seems to be a trade-off between citizen effectiveness in smaller units and
system capacity which sometimes favours larger units. Surely, the relationship
and division of functions between units in a complex polity requires careful
and theoretically informed decisions (Dahl and Tufte 1973, pp. 139–42).
Dahl and Tufte’s arguments underscore an argument that this article shares:
democratic constestation of these issues is not a perfect procedure. However,
their arguments do not support non-democratic solutions, where these important
decisions about subsidiarity and competence allocation should be taken by
non-accountable authorities without public contestation. Such non-democratic
modes of decision-making would paper over such controversies and obscure
the political choice. They are therefore over time likely to yield even less
‘effective’ solutions than democratic mechanisms.
EU decisions have contested effects, distributive and otherwise, and there
are reasons to believe that several choices are arguably good faith specifications
of ‘the European interest’. A worry about the efficiency loss of politicization
therefore seems ill-founded.
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However, the Constitutional Treaty was a missed opportunity to be rather
more bold in trying to promote contestation of the EU agenda. For example,
there was considerable support in the Convention on the Future of Europe for
allowing the majority in the European Parliament to nominate the Commission
President instead of the European Council. This would have established a much
clearer link between the outcome of European elections and the formation
of government at the European level. But a minority of governments, led by
France and the United Kingdom, vetoed this change, fearing that this was too
‘federalist’. This was a mistake, as the potential impact of more democratic
competition could be more or less policy from the EU, depending on the type
of contest that develops and the candidate who wins.
Such a reform would also have captured the public’s imagination. With all
the other Treaty reforms, the governments promised their voters a significant
policy ‘carrot if they ratified the Treaty: the Single European Act would produce
a single market; the Maastricht Treaty would lead to EMU; the Amsterdam
Treaty would create an area of freedom, security and justice; and the Nice
Treaty would allow enlargement. In contrast, there is no major new policy
project that would be achieved if the Constitutional Treaty is ratified. As a
result, the potential costs of not ratifying the Constitutional Treaty are not
obvious to most citizens. Hence, the governments should have been bolder in
promising something new for the European public, such as a genuinely more
democratic set of institutions.
If democracy is only about matching the present preferences of voters to policy
outputs, it is difficult to explain what is wrong with the EU. However, there is
broad agreement between democratic theorists that the citizens’ preferences
that do matter are those that have a chance of being created or modified within
arenas of political contestation, and that what matters are institutions that
reliably ensure that policies are responsive to these preferences, rather than
matching by happy coincidence. Thus, one important challenge is to create
institutions that provide such opportunities and responsiveness. The endogene-
ity of voters’ preferences, while recognized and indeed a premise across many
normative democratic theories concerned with the legitimacy of democratic
arrangements, seems to be handled less acceptably at the European level than at
the domestic level. In particular, we suggest that the lack of party competition
and other lacunæ concerning a political public sphere should make us more
wary of Moravcsik’s and Majone’s optimistic conclusions. It will be much more
difficult to assume that EU policies are only – or should only be – concerned
with Pareto-improvement to a unique solution if such claims are subjected to
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public political scrutiny by different political parties that have something to
gain by convincing voters otherwise.
All is not lost though, as change is on the way. Democratic contestation, in
terms of trans-national alignments and coalitions along left–right lines have
started to emerge in both the EU Council and the European Parliament. What
is still missing, though, is the connection between these developments and the
divisions in the EU’s society at large, in terms of the potential winners and losers
of potential policy agendas. This may not even require fundamental reform of
the EU treaties. All that may be needed is for the political elites to make a com-
mitment to open the door to more politicization of the EU agenda, for example
via a battle for the Commission President, with governments and national and
European parties backing different candidates and policy platforms. European
Parliament elections would continue to be primarily ‘second-order’ for some
time. But, if there are new incentives for national party leaders to compete in
these contests on European-level issues rather than purely national concerns,
over time EU-wide coalitions and alignments between national and European
actors would begin to solidify.
Overall, Majone and Moravcsik’s contributions should be welcomed. We
do not agree with all their claims and assertions. However, we share their
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normative reasoning and the assessment of empirical evidence. The proverbial
‘bar’ has been ‘raised’ to a new level of analytical rigour in the debate about
the democratic deficit in the EU and what should be done about it.
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... Euro-experts and other bureaucrats charged with preparing a state for accession are housed within the domestic executive branch, thereby giving these leaders access to additional information and the power to influence subsequent domestic institutional formation. Throughout the accession process, executives work closely with these bureaucrats to implement the acquis' requirements (Grabbe, 2001;Follesdal and Hix, 2006), and the resulting institutions designed to fulfill these criteria are often created from above without support from political groups or civil society (Bugaric, 2015). The disproportionate attention devoted to bureaucratic institutions has negative consequences for democracy. ...
... This domestic power shift results from the fact that executives serve as primary intermediaries between their state and EU institutions. Indeed, EU scholars have identified the EU's democratic deficit wherein European integration and membership result in increased power for national executives at the supranational level, with a coinciding decrease in domestic parliamentary control (Follesdal and Hix, 2006). For example, executives represent their countries in the European Council, the EU's most powerful political body (Tallberg, 2008). ...
... The impact of the EU on executive power is not limited to the pre-accession phase. EU scholars have identified the EU's democratic deficit, characterized in part by the fact that European integration and membership result in increased power for national executives with a coinciding decrease in parliamentary control (Follesdal and Hix, 2006). All executives of EU member states represent their countries in the European Council, the most powerful political body in the EU (Tallberg, 2008). ...
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Although the European Union (EU) is considered unrivaled in its democracy promoting abilities, democracy is being challenged within its borders. Over the last decade, Hungary’s ruling party has debilitated or eliminated liberal democratic institutions; similar trends have emerged in Poland and other new democracies in the EU. What explains these surprising cases of democratic backsliding? Researchers have identified the limits of conditionality and the EU’s inability to counteract backsliding. However, given the EU’s extensive role in democracy building in its member states, it is critical to also consider the EU as an initial source of backsliding. This paper argues that the EU’s post-Maastricht policy structure, accession process, and membership requirements have made democratic backsliding more likely in new democracies by simultaneously increasing executive power and limiting states’ domestic policy space, which stunts institutional development. This combination of factors creates opportunities for executives to manipulate already weak institutions to increase their power, and democratic backsliding becomes more likely. A comparative analysis that combines typical and control cases provides support for this argument. These findings extend beyond the EU to contribute to emerging research on the limits of international democracy promotion and the related long-term effects that international organizations have on domestic democratic institutional development.
... By extending the definitions, we can point out some essential requirements for a political system to be considered as democratic: (1) a demos, (2) institutionally established procedures that regulate, (3) equal citizen participation in an electoral mechanism where citizens' preferences determine the outcomes, (4) an effective legislative body filled directly or indirectly by free, fair and competitive elections, (5) an executive body (government) authorized by demos, (6) decisions corresponding to the interests of demos and (7) an accountable executive body responsible to demos [Alvarez et al. 1996, p. 5;Follesdal & Hix, 2006;Lord 1998, p. 15;2008]. In this context the democratic deficit arguments surrounding the EU arise from the fact that the EU in some way fails to fulfill these conditions. ...
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Over the decades the European Union (EU) has evolved into a "quasi-state" of roughly 500 million citizens with 28 members. This process has also brought about the so-called 'democratic deficit' arguments arising from the (un)democratic characteristics of the EU institutions (institutional dimension) and lack of a European demos (socio-psychological dimension). Political systems need peoples' recognition, acceptance and understanding of the system and the rulers in order to preserve their existence. Hence, as a political system, as long as the EU does not make necessary reforms in terms of democracy, democratic deficit will be a challenge to the future of the EU. In this context the paper will aim to present answers to both institutional and socio-psychological dimensions of democratic deficit from a federalist perspective. (original abstract)
... We expect that populist appeals will also differ between posts focusing on issues at the European versus national level as the former seems to be a particularly attractive sphere for populist and anti-elitist communication. The EU is often criticized for its excessive bureaucracy and widely acknowledged democratic deficit (Follesdal and Hix 2006). This makes it an easy target for anti-elitist rhetoric (Stier et al. 2017), being characterized as out of touch and responsible for promoting international economic interests whose negative implications are translated to people's everyday experiences. ...
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Recent scholarship demonstrated that Facebook is a fertile space for populist political communication as its unmediated and viral nature make populist appeals highly efficient in mobilizing voters. However, less attention has been paid to the way these populist messages appear through political actors’ Facebook communication, and what post- and page-level factors they are associated with. We investigate these questions in the context of the 2019 European Parliament election based on a unique cross-national dataset covering twelve European countries. In this study, we categorized 8,074 Facebook posts published on the main Facebook pages of sixty-seven parties. Our findings show that different populist appeals are used in specific ways. For example, at the post level, anti-elitism is frequently used in relation to economy, labor and social policy, and immigration; people-centric appeals are associated with labor and social policy and used when parties call for action, while out-group messages are not related to other topics beyond immigration. “Ideational populist” communication is more frequently articulated in European level and related to the topics of economy and labor and social policy. At the party level, it seems that there are still sharp differences between populist and non-populist parties in their communication.
... During the crises, the EU and the member states have needed to act quickly, and therefore individual deals from bailouts to the ESM and NGEU have lacked a direct electoral connection. But as the EU's budgetary and fiscal decisions carry considerable weight, there should be public electoral contestation between rival forces and policy alternatives about the direction of economic integration (Follesdal and Hix 2006). National electoral cycles vary, but EP elections are held every five years. ...
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Analysing how the roles of national parliaments and the European Parliament have changed in European economic governance since the euro crisis, this article argues that their situation has deteriorated in the post-Next Generation EU regime. It identifies structural factors impeding more effective parliamentary engagement, relates these to empirical evidence about the role of domestic legislatures and the European Parliament and mirrors these practices against constitutional interpretations concerning the democratic role of parliaments in budgetary matters. The broader Economic and Monetary Union architecture has grown to encompass a variety of rules and mechanisms, many of which are located outside of the treaties and the budget of the Union. As a result, parliaments lack formal powers that would guarantee them meaningful participation rights in European economic and fiscal governance. The key to more effective parliamentary involvement is ensuring that the parliaments can genuinely shape policies and that a strong link is established between elections and budgetary politics.
This Handbook provides a comprehensive analysis of the past, present, and future of the European Economic and Monetary Union in its broader context. It incorporates economic, legal and political science perspectives to provide an in-depth and forward-looking scrutiny of the rationales, the main features and the shortcomings of the economic, monetary and financial integration in the euro area. Studying its complex, highly interconnected governance structures, the authors suggest directions for necessary reforms. With contributions from a diverse group of leading experts in their fields, this volume is truly versatile in its scope and approach, whilst remaining accessible for readers of different academic backgrounds.
This Handbook provides a comprehensive analysis of the past, present, and future of the European Economic and Monetary Union in its broader context. It incorporates economic, legal and political science perspectives to provide an in-depth and forward-looking scrutiny of the rationales, the main features and the shortcomings of the economic, monetary and financial integration in the euro area. Studying its complex, highly interconnected governance structures, the authors suggest directions for necessary reforms. With contributions from a diverse group of leading experts in their fields, this volume is truly versatile in its scope and approach, whilst remaining accessible for readers of different academic backgrounds.
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Deepening quantitative survey questions through focus group discussions can shine a light on the deeper understandings of individuals about social citizenship, and also demonstrate how ambivalent and multidimensional attitudes are about social citizenship in Europe. This paper presents the methodology, the research process and preliminary findings from a series of focus group discussions on the future of European social citizenship that were conducted over the course of 2022 in four European countries: Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Spain, involving a total of 134 participants. Importantly, as part of the focus groups, we also collected quantitative survey evidence via a short questionnaire handed out to participants before the discussion, allowing us to compare our qualitative data with quantitative evidence. The focus groups covered three topical areas: 1) support for government redistribution broadly understood (and different meanings thereof), 2) the relationship between the national and EU levels in financing and providing social policy, and 3) inequalities in access to social rights and how to address them. To summarize the core findings of our preliminary analysis: Focus group participants were generally supportive of strengthening the social dimension of the EU (as quantitative surveys have also shown), but the qualitative data also revealed a significant degree of skepticism regarding the ability of the EU in harmonising social rights and dealing with the current series of large-scale crises. Furthermore, participants differentiated between a range of social policies and how fair and effective it would be to harmonise these on the EU level. Participants also discussed what conditions should be in place for granting social rights, particularly in the case of compensatory social policies and migrants/refugees. Finally, participants noted persistent inequalities in accessing social rights, which appear to be related to socio-economic status. Specifically, lower socio-economic status groups appear to have less access to much needed social rights. A main driving force of these inequalities is likely to be a prevailing information deficit, in particular regarding the initiatives of the EU in the social domain.
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How do citizens understand political authority within multi-level systems? We use original survey data from six European Union member states to assess the roles of political identity and interest in shaping citizen attitudes towards political authority in the European Union. We find that citizens with a greater interest in politics are more likely to express views on the authority of the European Union. These individuals are less likely to be uninformed. Interest does not necessarily mean that individuals hold correct perceptions. A substantive amount of voters are misinformed about the power of Brussels. We find that citizens with an exclusively national identity are more likely to hold misperceptions than those who think of themselves as both members of their nation and as Europeans.
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According to Rodrick, there is a globalization paradox between democracy, national sovereignty, and economic integration where only two out of these three can ever be achieved. Brexit was presented by its defenders as a way of resolving the trilemma. This contribution uses a novel survey (n = 95) to examine how UK businesses assess the new Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and the EU and which model of trade they prefer moving forward. The findings by and large confirm expectations. First, the large majority considered that Brexit has had a negative impact on their businesses, including Leave voters. Second, and as regards sovereignty, the majority of Leavers thought labour shortages are a price worth paying for being able to limit freedom of movement as well as preferred to decrease EU regulations in their business sector. Third, economic integration seems to weigh heavier than concerns about sovereignty. Those who consider that Brexit had a negative financial impact on their business, including Leavers, now prefer a closer future relationship between the EU and the UK.
Democracy has been a flawed hegemony since the fall of communism. Its flexibility, its commitment to equality of representation, and its recognition of the legitimacy of opposition politics, are all positive features for political institutions. But democracy has many deficiencies: it is all too easily held hostage by powerful interests; it often fails to advance social justice; and it does not cope well with a number of features of the political landscape, such as political identities, boundary disputes, and environmental crises. Although democracy is valuable it fits uneasily with many other political values and is in many respects less than equal to the demands it confronts. In this volume (and its companion, Democracy's Value) some of the world's most prominent political theorists and social scientists present original discussions of these urgently vexing subjects. Democracy's Edges analyses an enduring problem: how to establish the boundaries of democratic polities democratically.
Cambridge Core - Political Theory - Discursive Democracy - by John S. Dryzek