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The Democratic Deficit and the „No Demos“-Thesis

Hausarbeit 2012 12 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Thema: Europäische Union


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. What Is a Democratic Deficit?

3. The “No Demos”-Thesis

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

Scholars have vigorously argued that a democratic deficit exists within the European Union (EU). This paper analyses the concept democratic deficit, firstly in general, defining democracy and the term democratic deficit, and providing general reasons for this perception. This paper supports the thesis of a democratic deficit for multiple reasons, including a dominating executive in the EU, a lack of accountability of EU institutions, technocratic untransparent decision-making and a European Parliament with too few powers.

The focus of this paper rests on the “No Demos”-Thesis: that European democracy cannot be achieved simply because the lack of a European demos, which is the Greek word for people. Therefore, at the beginning of the second part, the term demos will be defined and the role of citizenship of the EU explained. Thereafter, reasons for the lack of a demos at EU level are contextualised: the disregard of citizens of the EU, the lack of a European-wide public discourse, the complexity of European decision-making and the distance of the EU to the average citizen. These factors result in a low and steadily decreasing voter turnout in EU elections.

Finally, the paper supports the notion of the lack of a demos and existence of a democratic deficit, which can not be done away with the mere strengthening of the European Parliament alone. Nevertheless, the deficit could be overcome and this paper proposes some ideas on how to establish a European demos and democracy at EU level.

2. What Is a Democratic Deficit?

The key facet of any democracy is the public's ability to change governments and that  governments are subject to their electorate. Follesdal argues, democracy is characterised by institutionally established procedures that regulate the competition for control over political authority on the basis of deliberation. Almost all adult citizens are allowed to take part in elections of political representatives that constitute a government response to the majority of the people.[1] Bache and George state that democracy implicates “[] public control of the people over their leaders, exercised by citizens with broadly equal rights.”[2] The important liberal democratic criteria of the legitimacy of the authority of the EU are the effectiveness of policy-making, democracy and identity, which is currently merely embryonic in the EU.[3] According to Craig and De Búrca, the most important characteristic of a democracy is that voters can change their government.[4] Thus, summed up, democracy concerns the public control, whereas legitimacy the public accountability of the exercise of power.[5]

Many scholars maintain that there is a democratic deficit within the EU. As Choate aptly put it, the “democratic deficit is an expression pointing to several inconsistencies in the institutional organization of the community.”[6] The key concern is the lack of public accountability of EU institutions.[7]

This is not the only problem: the executive dominates EU politics. Competence is transferred from member states to the EU, empowering the executive at the expense of national parliaments. Only with difficulty can national parliaments influence EU decisions. The Council of Ministers and the European Council, which together form the EU's executive, hold principal roles in the process of decision-making.[8] The increase of rights and powers of the European Parliament (EP) over the last decades could not match the pace of the transfer of authority from the member states to the EU. The result is what Choate calls the democratic deficit.[9] In the EU, the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the EP share legislative power. Only the EP is directly elected, which implies that even if citizens could change the composition of the EP, this would not automatically bring about a major paradigm shift in EU policy.[10] The division of power is undemocratic as the EP as only elected body obtains only a limited role and the Council of Ministers is executive and legislative at the same time.[11]

Additionally, “EU law is proposed and implemented by the commission whose leadership is not accountable to European voters.”[12] Since the EP gained more and more powers during recent years, this problem got better but was not removed. It inheres only limited powers and voters have limited interest in EP elections. Moreover, the EU lacks a developed party system.[13] EP elections are not truly dealing with parties at the European level or the direction of the EU policy agenda.[14] This is also why voter turnouts are low and steadily decreasing.

Secondly, democracy is bypassed in the EU, due to the complex committee structure, also called comitology. These committees make many technical but important regulations and were created as a result to the delegation of power to the Commission. Nevertheless, as they consist of technocrats and national interest groups, they exclude the EP and the Council.[15] Experts dominate decisions and limit public and democratic control to accelerate the political process. European governance is consensus and compromise oriented as there is no political discussion and no alternative political options.[16]

Thirdly, it is argued that the EU is too distant from the citizens to be democratic, as many issues are transferred from member states to the EU. Moreover, expansion widens the gap between governing and governed. Citizens do not trust Brussels, which lacks legitimacy.[17] Additionally, European citizens (if there is anything like this), do not share a common language and culture, and thus no common political identity.


[1] Follesdal, A. and Hix, S., 2005, p. 14-15

[2] Bache, I. And George S., 2006, p. 66

[3] Ibid., p. 66

[4] Craig, P. and De Búrca, G., 2011, p. 150

[5] Bache, I. And George S., 2006, p.75

[6] Choate, A., 1994, p. 7

[7] Bache, I. And George S., 2006, p.67

[8] Ibid., p. 150

[9] Choate, A., 1994, p. 7

[10] Craig, P. and De Búrca, G., 2011, p. 150

[11] Bieling, H.-J., 2009, p. 229-238

[12] McCormick, J., 2008, p. 141

[13] Craig, P. and De Búrca, G., 2011, p. 150

[14] Follesdal, A. and Hix, S., 2005, p. 14

[15] Craig, P. and De Búrca, G., 2011, p. 150

[16] Bieling, H.-J., 2009, p. 237

[17] Ibid., p. 238-242


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
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Institution / Hochschule
Universität Hamburg – Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften
Democratic Deficit No-Demos Thesis




Titel: The Democratic Deficit and the „No Demos“-Thesis