Is the European Union democratic? Can the European Parliament elections help reduce the EU democratic deficit? We discuss the relevance of voting in European elections. Vote and join our discussion forum below.
Are the European Parliament Elections important?
The European parliamentary elections have often struggled to capture the public imagination. The average European Election turnout has fallen every election since the first time they took place in 1979. As this article attempts to lay down, at the heart of it all is a public sceptical towards the power of the European Parliament. Are these criticisms unfounded? Some may be, but increasingly the Parliament is empowered to make decisions on legislative initiatives that impinges on the day-to-day lives of European citizen. European Parliament elections do matter, and the governing institutions have to galvanize the electorate to be interested in elections.
The history of the European Parliament
The European Parliament was established as a way to mitigate the EU democratic deficit problem. Its predecessor was the considerably less democratic The Common Assembly was composed of 78 national MPs nominated by their Parliaments. This reflects an early concern of a runaway Parliament, and the desire to concentrate European decision-making in the hands of national governments. However, in 1979, it was first directly elected and in subsequent treaties it has been empowered with a wide-range of powers. Today the European Parliament is composed by 752 members by an electorate which is about 375 million citizens. Although the European Parliament still does not have legislative initiative, which is in the hands of the European Commission, it does possess legislative powers. Therefore the Parliament may reject or amend legislation. The European Parliament has currently three main work places. The headquarters are in Strasbourg (France), but there are also "plenary sessions" in Brussels (Belgium) and in Luxembourg, where the administrative offices of the "General Secretariat" are located.
European Parliament Elections matter because:
- Under the co-decision rule, the European Parliament shares powers with the Council of the European Union. This means that they have significant legislative discretion and wide-ranging powers. As much as 90% of EU legislative bills requires the Parliament’s assent.
- Increasingly, the European Union has more powers over domestic policies. The primacy of EU laws over the law of Member states (also know as the supremacy of EU law) means that the legislation passed by Parliament has real chances of affecting EU citizens' lives. The power of the European Parliament includes legislation in areas of the EU freedom of movement, competition policies, transportation and digital policies.
- The European Parliament has a strong indirect influence on policy through many of their non-binding resolutions and the committee hearings. Moreover, its supervisory powers, mainly granted by the Maastricht Treaty, allow the Parliament set up Committees of Inquiry and to call other European Institutions to aswer questions. It also has the ultimate budgetary powers in the European Union since the Lisbon Treaty.
- Many criticize the democratic deficit of the European Union, however, the European Elections represent a unique opportunity for citizens want to actively voice out their opinions. Through the elections, they have the opportunity to directly elect their representative and try to influence EU legislation. These elections are a way to show commitment to the European values.
Reasons for being sceptical about the European Elections:
- In European Elections, voters seldom know who their MEPs are. This is particularly the case where parties run a “closed list” system in which party leaders first decide a set of parliamentary members to be elected and voters merely pick between competing parties. The consistent drop in European election turnout from 61.99% in 1979 to 42.61% in 2014 suggests that EU citizens are increasingly disinterested.
- Many political parties treat European elections as “second-order” elections. This means that they disregard the European Union during election season, focusing instead of domestic politics. This means that EU policies are seldom translated into domestic politics, and voters are consequently less aware of the EU. The European Parliament is sometimes considered an exile or retirement for politicians when their career in domestic politics is declining.
- The European Parliament also rarely changes fundamental decisions, unlike domestic parliamentary elections. The 28 heads of the EU Council nominate the Commission president, taking into account the European Elections, although such a requirement is not binding. EU Commissioners (who function like ministers) are also nominated by each member states. The MEPs in the European Parliament merely carry out a vote of approval to accept or reject the Council’s nominations. Thus the power of those appointed by national governments in Europe seems superior to that of those appointed directly by the people through the European Parliament Elections.
- The legislative powers of the European Parliament are significantly more limited than those of national Parliaments. Bills are written by the EU Commission rather than put forward by the Parliament. The Parliament only has powers of approval or rejection. These bills are initiated by the Commission, and then privately negotiated between committee rapporteurs (agents appointed by party groups), the Commission and the Council.
Emerging questions: To what extent we should care or be concerned about the European Parliament and its elections? Is the EU legislative process undemocratic or simply democratic in a formal or indirect way? Should the EU strengthen the European Parliament? Is is better that decisions are made by the national governments or by the representatives that EU citizens have directly elected?
Watch this video on how the European Parliament Election works
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EU democratic deficit: Are the European Parliament Elections important?
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