Is the EU a democratic institution?

Bachelor Thesis, 2012

22 Pages, Grade: 1



1. Preface and Introduction

2. What makes a Democracy democratic

3. An impartial System?
3.1 Imbalance
3.2 Favouritism
3.3 The Death of Opposition

4. Conclusion

List of tables:


1. Preface & Introduction

After World War II many, like Churchil, thought that a United States of Europe would be a good idea, especially since the entire world was tired of waging war on such a scale. There were plenty of different kinds of ideas for such a superstate, even before any of the world wars. But due to the reluctance of some, like De Gaulle, none of these ever saw the day of light (cf. Pollack & Slominski, 2006).

Today Europe is in disarray. Many people have lost their faith in their governments and the European Union as a whole. Right-wing parties are on the rise and the economy is collapsing, one state at a time. Many blame the EU for the current recession. While Greece looks like a hopeless cause, Spain, Portugal and Ireland seem to be next in line. Fearing a domino effect, the european leaders pump ginormous amounts of funds into Greece, hoping to avert the catastrophy. However a multitude of people are against this course of action. The newly added eastern states, who were under communist rule not that very long ago, fear the loss of their national sovereignty, which they have fought so hard for. Even the people of richer countries, such as Austria are largely against mechanisms like the ESM (European Stability Mechanism).

The European Union has often been critiqued in the past, as well as the present, for its apparent lack of democratic values. Now many find themselves questioning whether the critics were not right after all. Many different points have been raised in contemporary literature which reinforce this viewpoint, making further research in this field of study not only relevant, but necessary in our current crisis. I will review and analyse some of these accusations in this paper and attempt to disprove them if possible. Issues include the lack of a government and classical opposition, which leads to opposition of the entire system, the nationality problem, which can be found in almost every text about the European Union, as well as the powerful position of the Comission, the lack of power in the hands of the European Parliament and the favouritism of negative integration over positive integration. The main questions I will try to answer are: Is the EU a democratic institution? If so, what makes it democratic? If not, what does it lack and how can these issues be overcome?

It is my opinion that the EU is not a sui generis construction and can and should in fact be compared to other states and institutions. By doing so, parallels and differences will inevitably emmerge, granting us a greater understanding of its inner workings and showing us just how democratic the EU really is. I will look at the European Union from different theoretical angles and try to identify single democratic elements (for democratic archetypes and what constitutes them, see Schmidt, 2000) in its various institutions and processes, as well as conflicts. For this purpose I define democracy as a form of government which is legtimised by the people whom it rules over through direct elections of actors, who are thereby mandated to uphold the interests of their electors.

The aim of this paper is to determine whether the European Union can be viewed as a democratic institution, whether it fits into currently accepted categories or whether a new democractic type has to be invented to fully describe it in its entirety. If it is not possible to ascertain a democratic status for the European Union I will try to determine a viable solution for its democratic deficit.

2. What makes a Democracy democratic

When we speak of democracy we usually talk about representative democracy and not direct demorcracy, since it is the most common form of democratic government. The European Union too is a representative democracy. Because of this, I will only focus my efforts on representative democracies.

The word democracy originates from the ancient greek words demos and kratos which translated mean the people of the state and strength respectively. From the roots of the word, we can deduce that a democracy has to be a system in which the people who live in its confines are strong.

Over the ages in which humanity has ruled our planet, many forms of government have been used, including a multitude of different democracies. But for all that, in the year 1999 Arend Lijphart identified only 36 stable democracies in the world, which were Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belgia, Botsuana, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, India, Ireland, Isreal, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritius, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, the USA and Venezuela. (cf. Schmidt 2000, p. 290)

All of these systems were/are specific in their own ways, however they all follow(ed) certain patterns, which led us to establish a few general types of democratic systems.

Presidentialism is a system, in which the directly elected head of the state is identical with the head of government. He/she is is not accountable to the legislature and chooses the members of government. (cf. Müller 2011, p. 143)

Parliamentarism on the other hand seperates the position of head of state from head of government. The head of state is capable of dissolving the parliament. The prime minister and the government are accountable to the parliament and can be removed from office via a vote of no-confidence. The exact procedures vary from country to country. (cf. Müller 2011, p. 143)

These two forms of government are the generally most accepted forms of democracy, though there are many more forms, such as the swiss directorial government or the soviet republic and mixtures of parliamentarism and presidentialism, the so called Semi-presidentialism.

Whatever the type of government and culture, a few elements always remain the same in a representative democracy:

- The people have the right to vote for their representatives.
- In theory any person can compete in elections (as long as they have the required support).
- Representatives are elected for a predetermined period of time.
- Representatives are supposed to act on behalf of their voters.
- The person/party with the highest amount of votes wins the election.

Now to see if all of these features can be found in the system of the European Union. The European Council is formed by the heads of state or government of all member states. They have already been elected by their respective peoples. Members of the European Parliament are directly elected by the citizens of the Union on a national level. The Council of the European Union is composed of the member states' ministers. The Presidency of the Council is rotated between the member states. While the ministers may not have been directly elected by the citizens, they represent the parties the people voted for during their national elections. The Commissioners and their president are appointed by the European Council, making them the only representatives, who have not been elected by the people in some way, however they are elected by their representatives, who are acting on their be­half. All of the other points apply to the system of the European Union. In conclusion, I have no doubt that the European Union is in fact a democratic system. However the EU does not fit into classical archetypes of democracies. It does not have an elected government or head of state per say and thus no opposition to their rule. It is closer to the swiss system, with the rotation of the presidency in the council of the European Union, but that is only one chamber of the Union. The EU is a complex multi-level institution and while it is not an uncomparable sui generis construction, it combines enough different elements of different systems that it would need its own theoretical archetype if that were necessary for further studies.


Excerpt out of 22 pages


Is the EU a democratic institution?
University of Vienna  (Institut für Staatswissenschaft)
Comparing the EU
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
512 KB
European Union, Europäische Union, European Integration, Europäische Integration, democracy, democratic, deficit, Demokratiedefizit, negative integration, opposition, multilevel governance
Quote paper
Dominik Kirchdorfer (Author), 2012, Is the EU a democratic institution?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Is the EU a democratic institution?

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free