Monday, October 13, 2008

European Union and "Democratic Deficit": Addendum

Hans Köchler
University Professor
Chair for Political Philosophy
University of Innsbruck, Austria

Two days ago, I blogged on Hans Köchler's article "The European Constitution and the Imperatives of Transnational Democracy" (Singapore Year Book of International Law, Volume 9 (2005, pdf)) to clarify the charge that the TCE would result in a European Union (EU) with a "democratic deficit."

As one commentator noted, Köchler was analyzing the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) -- which met with difficulties due to rejection by the French and the Dutch in referenda when it was proposed for approval -- but the process of EU integration has moved beyond the TCE, so one should now look at the Lisbon Treaty, which aims "to complete the process started by the Treaty of Amsterdam and by the Treaty of Nice with a view to enhancing the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union and to improving the coherence of its action" (Preamble of the Treaty).

That commentator is correct, of course, and I will look into this further. Eventually. For now, however, I'd like to add a bit more to my study of Köchler's analysis of the TCE's "democratic deficit":
The Constitution for Europe juxtaposes the "principles" of representative and participatory democracy,[54] while "founding" the very functioning of the Union on representative democracy alone. It assigns participatory democracy mainly to the area of lobbying and public relations in the traditional sense. Article I-47 states that the institutions of the Union shall give the citizens and N.G.Os ("representative associations") the opportunity to make known their views, and obliges those institutions to maintain an open dialogue "with representative associations and civil society". Apart from information and consultation, the Constitution provides only for one rudimentary form of citizen's participation, namely a "citizens' initiative" for "inviting" the European Commission to submit a legislative proposal in cases where citizens consider "that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Constitution".[55] Such a demand may be submitted to the European Commission if it gets the support of at least one million citizens from a "significant number of Member States".[56] Too much excitement has been expressed about this "European referendum"[57] which, in fact, does not provide for any legislative authority of the citizens in the sense of direct democracy, but merely defines a right to request the Commission to make proposals for certain acts of legislation. In the strict sense of the term, this provision is not one of participatory democracy. It might well be perceived as a kind of placebo[58] handed out to European citizens' groups that have desperately lobbied for the insertion of provisions of direct democracy into the European Constitution.[59]

As regards the exercise of "participatory" democracy, it is noteworthy that the Constitution places citizens and "representative associations" on an equal level. However, "civil society" should not be represented by transnational lobbies and economic interest groups. The ambiguity of Art. I-47 of the Constitution in regard to the nature of civil society (namely its constituent elements) makes the need for genuine procedures of direct democracy even more obvious. The importance of such measures is further underlined by the predominant, [End of page 10.] though unavoidable, role of national executive power in the shaping of European legislation (according to the mechanisms described earlier). Only the possibility, in principle, of direct citizens' participation in the legislative processes (without the interference of lobbies and interest groups) could provide the democratic leverage that is necessary to make the European project succeed in the long term. Thus, one of the imperatives of transnational democracy in what is so far the strictly representative context of the EU would be the insertion of genuine forms of participatory democracy into the Constitution, such as a pan-European referendum, measures that are complementary to, not in lieu of, the representative models of decision-making.


54 Arts. I-46 and I-47, supra note 12.

55 Art. I-47[4], supra note 12.

56 The organisational details are not set out in the Constitution. The minimum number of Member States from which the supporting citizens must come and other administrative procedures of the citizens’ initiative are to be decided through European laws.

57 See, for instance, Michael Efler, A Rollercoaster Ride towards Transnational Democracy: Transnational Democracy in the Making (Amsterdam: Initiative & Referendum Institute Europe, 2003), online:

58 See the evaluation of the "People's Movement" in "A Brief Critique of the Provisions of the Proposed Constitution for Europe", online:
People’s Movement. "The provision is . . . practically useless but by mirroring the initiation process for a popular referendum, gives the illusion of democracy."

59 For an overall evaluation of the provisions related to what the Constitution calls "participatory democracy", see Bruno Kaufmann & Theo Schiller, Intitiative for Europe into new democratic territory. (Working paper on the Options and Limits of Art. 47.4 in the EU Constitution -- the European Citizens' Initiative process for the Initiative & Referendum Institute Europe, October 2004),
I find both interesting and encouraging that such an establishment figure as Hans Köchler would analyze the TCE's democratic limitations and call for "the insertion of genuine forms of participatory democracy into the Constitution," for one of the charges leveled against the EU is that it represents the interests of European elites, who have an undemocratic distrust for ordinary Europeans.

On other issues, Professor Köchler and I would undoubtedly differ in our analyses. For instance, I see little merit in his article "The 'Global War on Terror' and its Implications for Muslim-Western Relations" (International Roundtable Conference, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Centre for Policy Research and International Studies (CenPRIS), Penang, Malaysia, 13-14, December 2007). This paper never once mentions the Islamic concept of "jihad," nor even the neutral term "Islamism," and it naturally does not discuss the Islamic division of the world into the Dar al-Islam and the Dar al-Harb (Realm of Islam and Realm of War, respectively). Yet, a treatment of these topics would be necessary in any analysis of Islamist terrorism with a view to its roots. Köchler, however, seems to treat 9/11 as a reaction by al-Qaeda to Western provocations.

But let that be, for now.

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At 3:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I happen to disagree with Prof. Köchler again. Not so much because I think that participatory democracy is so bad, but because he seems to demand from the EU to adhere to higher ideals than most of its member states.

The mentioned "European Referendum" is of course no referendum. It can be compared to what exists for example in Austria in form of citizens petition. The value of it would lie somewhere else than what Prof. Köchler is discussing. The value lies in the fact that those EU wide petitions would be a great tool to foster political discussion in Europe beyond national borders, not between politicians, but between the citizens themselves. It could help forming the basis for every democracy, a European civil society on questions that need European solutions.

I seem to disagree with Prof. Köchler also in the basic assumptions. I consider a parliamentary democracy, ie a representative one not as some inferior 2nd class democracy. Not in regards to the EU, nor its member states and also not outside of Europe.

At 5:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

We read Köchler differently on this point:

"I seem to disagree with Prof. Köchler also in the basic assumptions. I consider a parliamentary democracy, ie a representative one not as some inferior 2nd class democracy."

My reading of Köchler is that he wants the EU to have more parliamentary democracy.

When he distinguishes between "representative democracy" and "participatory democracy," he seems to mean the difference between the "Council of Ministers" and the "European Parliament," respectively -- the former not being directly elected, the latter being directly elected.

His point is that the EU parliament has too little power in governance (though as you've noted, things have changed with the Lisbon Treaty).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Demanding more parliamentary democracy in the EU is definitely a good thing.

Direct democratic tools might be worth to think about as well, but they are not a precondition for an entity to be democratic as such.

Regarding the democratic deficit in the EU in case the Lisbon treaty gets ever adopted: It still exists, but its considerably smaller than at the status quo. The Parliament clearly gets full powers in a larger area, pushing back the areas where its powers are limited or mere symbolic gestures.

Mind you that the treaty of Lisbon is not yet in power and serious doubts if it ever will be are justified.

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I really do need to get more familiar with the Lisbon Treaty before I begin citing it.

Life is short; scholarship is long.

Perhaps I should have gone into art...

Jeffery Hodges

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