How to strengthen the Democratic Legitimacy of the EU? New FES Policy Recommendations

In advance of the upcoming debate on EU reform during the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), three policy papers by Manuel Müller and Julian Plottka of the Institut für Eurpäische Politik identify major deficiencies of the EU’s democratic legitimacy and provide recommendations for enhancing it. They conclude that European elections have to become more meaningful, that civil society and citizens’ involvement should be organized in a bottom-up way and that European economic policy needs more direct accountability. The policy papers have been commissioned and financed by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung EU Office in Brussels.

Make European Elections More Meaningful

The EU is characterised by an unusually high degree of institutional entanglement and little majoritarian decision-making. This strong consensualism not only reduces decision-making efficiency but also the competitiveness among pro-European parties and hence the democratic meaningfulness of EP elections. At the same time, the absence of a loyal opposition within the system reinforces populist anti-EU parties. To overcome this situation, it is necessary to make EP elections more consequential and to increase the scope of majoritarian decision-making in the EU. The first paper outlines short and long-term reform paths regarding European electoral reform, the parliamentarisation of the European Commission, and the reform of the legislative procedure.

Make Civil Society Involvement More Bottom-up

Compared to most member states, EU-level participative democracy is quite advanced. However, to remain in the pole position, the EU needs to further develop its instruments for involving individual citizens as well as organized civil society. In order to move from the current top-down to a more bottom-up approach, citizens must be given a true right of initiative, policy makers need to become more responsive to citizens’ input, instruments must be simplified and participation should be increased. The second paper provides ten recommendations how to address these reform needs. The planned “Conference on the Future of Europe” is the best opportunity to test these ways of bottom-up citizens’ involvement.

Make EU Economic Policy Accountable

Due to latest reforms during the crisis in the euro area, European economic governance has evolved into an overly complex structure lacking sufficient democratic legitimacy. In order to give citizens more influence on European economic policy, it is necessary to better clarify responsibilities for European economic governance, make it more transparent, and simplify the institutional structures. The third paper provides seven recommendations on how to make European economic policy more accountable.

All three papers present preliminary results of a study on “Enhancing the Democratic Legitimacy of the European Union” conducted by the Institut für Europäische Politik for the Brussels Office of FES. The complete study will be published in autumn.



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