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The ‘Democratic Deficit’ in the European Union Revisited

2001 / No. 1
Print Edition

No. 1, S. Schlemmer-Schulte, “The ‘Democratic Deficit’ in the European Union Revisited”

Many critics of the European Union (Union) maintain that, while the Union as­sumes tremendous powers, it suffers from a “democratic deficit”. People have still little to say in the Union’s political and legislative decision-making process, and a true separation of executive, legislative, and judicial powers is missing in the Un­ion. This paper by Dr. S. Schlemmer-Schulte, Senior Counsel and Personal Assistant, Office of the Vice President and General Counsel, World Bank, qualifies the criticism of a “democratic deficit” in the Union as flawed. Democratic institutions and principles build upon the notions of state and nation. The Union is neither a state nor are its Member States’ citizens a (single) nation. Consequently, the definition and standards of democracy should not be auto­matically applied to it. By contrast, since European integration is about the Union of many European states and their several peoples, special “democratic” principles should be relied upon. Principles sui generis such as the concepts of (special) representation of peoples and institutional checks and balances both rec­ognised by the European Court of Justice ought to be consolidated. Further princi­ples could be developed. Such approach, while strengthening the Union’s democ­ratic structures, would not compromise the Union’s unique character as a phenome­non that allows for “common and differentiated nationalities” (EU citizenship and Member States’ nationalities) and “common and differentiated statehoods” (EU and the Member States) to co-exist and cross-fertilise each other.


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