The democratic deficit in the EU

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A democratic deficit may be defined in two ways; John McCormick gives a general definition to be 'the gap between the powers held by European institutions and the ability of European citizens to influence the work and decisions of those institutions' (McCormick, 1999). Christopher Lord of Leeds University adds that a democratic deficit exists 'wherever political powers are transferred to EU institutions that are less democratic than national ones'. Both definitions assume a definition of a legitimate democratic institution as an accountable and representative body working in its citizens' interests.

The democratic deficit in the EU has many sources; not least of which is the impotence of the European Parliament. The European Parliament is the only body within the Union that is directly elected, and therefore the only of the institutions that may claim Europe-wide legitimacy. However, the Parliament does not function as the legislature but rather as one of the legislative branches of the European policy-making process.

It cannot introduce new laws, but may only suggest proposals for the European Commission to review, and it also lacks other powers commonly held by the legislative branches of governments. For example, most elected legislatures 'hold the purse strings' to limit the spending power of executives, but the European Parliament has no power to raise revenues and consequently is no rival in power to either the Council of Ministers or the European Commission. In a traditional role the Parliament should also be an effective scrutiniser of executive practice, but in reality the Parliament's committees perform roles which focus on legislation matters and the activities of the other European institutions demand little time on the Parliament's agenda. The Parliament asserts its legitimacy when it claims it should have greater legislative powers, but national governments enjoy the undue influence and autonomy that the supremacy...