WHAT IS DEMOCRACY?
Democracy is the idea that a society can be governed by its citizens. The idea was born in Athens in Greece 2,500 years ago. The word contain of two concepts. Demos means “people”. Kratos means “ruling”. Democracy therefore means government by the people.
Democracy is the governing form in all 28 member states of the European Union. It is enshrined in their national constitutions. No country can become a member of the European Union without having strong democratic institutions.
The idea of democracy is in opposition to other ways of governing a society. It can be an oligarchy where rich people decide instead of the voters. It can be a meritocracy where rulers are picked for their wisdom. It can be a dictatorship where one or a few persons or a party decide without giving real influence to the citizens.
Democracy is also in opposition to fascism where corporations shall govern instead of the voters and some Marxism where the working class shall govern by a dictatorship of the proletariat.
Democracy can have the form of direct democracy where voters decide directly in referendums. It can be indirect democracy where voters elect an assembly to represent them.
The core of democracy everywhere is that the voters have the last word on the government and the laws of the country. Voters can participate in elections, have a new majority and then create both a new government and new laws.
DEMOCRACY IN THE EU
This idea unites the peoples of Europe. It can also be found in the Lisbon Treaty Article 10 TEU stating:
- "The functioning of the Union shall be founded on representative democracy".
In all EU member states the idea of democracy is implemented by different institutions with similar functions.
There is an elected legislative body most often called the parliament. It is elected by the voters in universal elections. It approves the government and the laws.
There is an executive body that is the government, which is held accountable to the national parliament. It is appointed or approved by the majority in the parliament. It is the case everywhere that the government must leave if a simple majority in the parliament so decides.
The government serves the parliament by proposing and implementing the decisions and laws of the elected representatives for the voters.
There is a judicial body, an independent Court deciding on concrete conflicts on the interpretation of the law.
And there is a more or less clear division of powers between the legislative body, the executive and the judiciary as recommended by the French philosoph Montes
In all 28 member stateph the elected members of each parliament can amend the law by a simple majority of members if they are not satisfied with the implementation by the government or the interpretation by the court.
In federal systems a new law may also require a support in a second chamber representing the participating states.
The core belief everywhere is the same: There is no one above or besides the voters. We, the voters may decide. That is democracy.
EUROPEAN ORGANS WITH DIFFERENT ROLES
In the European Union, we have institutions with similar names to those governing the national democracies. However, they have rather different functions.
The European Parliament does not decide the laws in the same way as the national parliaments.
The European Parliament has a so-called power of co-decision in many areas. This method is now called the Ordinary Legislative Procedure and is presented in Article 294 TEU.
It offers MEPs an increased influence on the daily life of citizens and companies - but not the legislative power as in national parliaments.
Only the non-elected Commissioners can put forward proposals for laws. And only in the so-called third reading is it necessary for the European Parliament to positively adopt a text before it can become law.
In the first and second readings a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers can decide a law without the positive support from the European Parliament. So are the rules.
In practice individual MEPs has a much greater influence on law making than many MPs and even ministers. 80% of all law making under the ordinary legislative procedure is done through compromises between the representatives from the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament.
The compromises are found behind closed doors in so-called “trialoque”-meetings and offer the participating “rapporteurs” and “shadow rapporteurs” a personal influence on law making which is much more seldom in national parliaments.
The European Parliament counts – and it is worth voting for, even if it is still very different from what we call democracy.
MEPs CAN PROPOSE AMENDMENTS
Members of the European Parliament can propose amendments. From 1999 – 2004 the EP had 307 amendments accepted, 809 were agreed in a different form and only 228 amendments were not accepted.
These figures show an important influence of the elected members of parliament. An efficient MEP can influence more laws than national MPs. However, it is mainly working as political lobbyist convincing the non-elected and by participating in the trialogue. It is only very seldom as an expression of legislative power.
The European Parliament is elected in the same way as the national parliaments. The MEPs have gained an increased influence on European laws. But the power to decide the law is very seldom with the elected members of parliament.
The European Parliament can only “co-decide” the tip of the iceberg of European rules according to the rules.
THE ROLE OF THE COMMISSION
The European Commission functions like most national governments in terms of its role in preparing new laws and their implementation. Yet the 28 Commissioners do much more than serving the elected. They decide far the most EU rules on their own. Not the most important ones, but most of them. And they cannot be amended by normal majorities in the Council or in the European Parliament.
The Commissions own legislative power is immense which can be shown by some figures provided by the European Commission. In these figures the Commission have excluded all acts not published in the Official Journal and all routine management acts valid for a limited period only.
In 2008, the Commission adopted 574 regulations, 53 directives, 612 decisions and 24 recommendations, in total 1,263 legal acts.
In fact, the total number of Commission decisions is much higher. In 2008, the Commission decided 269 files through oral procedure, 3,067 in written procedure, 2,227 in empowerment procedure and 4,008 in delegation to Commissioners or sub-delegation to civil servants.
This gives a total number of 9,571 files adopted in the name of the European Commission in just one year.
Also in 2008, the total number of implementing measures further decided by the Commission through the so-called comitology procedures was 2,125.
Furthermore, the Lisbon Treaty has established new implementing powers through so-called delegated legal acts.
The Commission has also gained strong powers through the so-called six-pack regulations of the Economic and Monetary Union. The Commission shall now approve national budgets before they are delivered as proposals for the national parliaments, and the Commission can decide fines against member states breaching the roofs for public deficits.
These fines can only be changed by a qualified majority in the Council. The elected European Parliament has nothing to say in most economic management.
APPOINTED IN SECRET
These powerful Commissioners are not elected. They are appointed by prime ministers behind closed doors in the European Council. Formally the appointment is through a vote by super qualified majority.
Under the Treaty of Nice, the appointment of a Commissioner required the support of 18 of the 27 prime ministers. Under the Lisbon Treaty, from 1 November 2014 it requires the support of 72% - 21 of the 28 - prime ministers.
In addition, the 72% of the member states must also represent 65% of all EU citizens. Prime ministers vote with the number of their citizens from 2014 when the new voting system is introduced.
For law making based on proposals from the Commission only 55% of the member states must vote in favour in addition to the requirement for the governments also to represent 65% of all EU citizens.
The full Commission must also be elected by an absolute majority vote in the European Parliament.
Commissioners cannot be sacked by national governments or parliaments. The non-elected Commission may govern for 5 years. Only in theory, the Commission may be sacked by members of the European Parliament.
It would require a majority of 2/3 and an absolute majority of members. Not a simple majority as in the national parliaments. Minorities in the European Parliament have been threatening with motions of censure. Even when applied, they never succeeded.
The European Parliament cannot sack an individual Commissioner or insert another Commission. Only prime ministers have the right to propose a new Commission if the European Parliament should reject their first proposal or sack with the 2/3 majority.
ABSOLUTE MAJORITY IN THE EP
The European Parliament has increased its influence dramatically on European laws. In 2013, the European Parliament participated in around 1000 so-called trialogue-meetings about the legislation.
From July 14, 2009 to August 12, 2013, the Parliament participated in 247 first reading agreements, 25 early second reading agreements, 25 second reading agreements and 8 third readings with conciliation committees.
In 2008, it influenced 48 regulations, 53 directives, 30 decisions and 1 recommendation, in total 132 proposals through joint decision making with the Council of Ministers.
In 2005, the total figure was only 61 under the so-called co-decision procedure.
Formally, the elected members of parliament can decide nothing without approval from the non-elected Commission. The elected MEPs can only propose amendments to the decisions taken by the non-elected. The amendments only count in the second reading when the EP is able to assemble an absolute majority of members behind them.
An absolute majority is equal to 376 of 751 MEPs.
Usually around 100 MEPs do not participate in voting at any given time. An absolute majority would usually therefore normally require compromise agreements between the biggest political groups in the European Parliament or the support from at least around 60 % of the MEPs.
This is the reason for the special relationship between the two biggest groups, the Christian-Democrats and Conservatives in the EPP and the Social democrats and socialists in the S&D party, previously PSE. They have normally more than 60% of the seats in the Parliament and coordinate their amendments and votes.
If members would not coordinate across the political spectrum, the elected members of parliament would have no influence at all.
CONCILIATION COMMITTEE AND TRIALOGUE
The Commission only needs to read proposals having an absolute majority of members behind them. Only those proposals can go from the second reading to the third reading in a so-called conciliation committee.
This committee is composed of an equal number of representatives from the member states and the European Parliament appointed after the so-called d`Hondt method (which favors the biggest groups).
They meet to negotiate behind closed doors. In practice, the real negotiations are between civil servants from the different institutions and perhaps the Council President and one or more rapporteurs or group coordinators or shadow rapporteurs. Their assistants and lobbyists often have a real influence on the outcome.
Civil servants from all institutions meet and decide upon most laws behind closed doors, most often without the full insight of the Commissioners, ministers and the elected MEPs in the so-Called trialogue meetings.
THE COUNCIL OF MINISTERS
The representatives of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament may agree on a compromise. There are in reality few cases where the result is put to a formal vote in both the Council and the Parliament in the so-called third reading.
In the Council of Ministers the legal text of compromise law would normally require a qualified majority of members to get through. This is 260 of 352 votes in a vote where e.g., Germany has 29 votes, Sweden 10 votes, Ireland 7 votes, Luxembourg 4 and Malta has three.
The Lisbon Treaty gives more voting power to the biggest member states by introducing a vote according to the size of the population. This gives Germany 80,5 million votes over Ireland’s 4,6 million, from 1 November 2014. It will make it much easier to reach an agreement in the Council corridors. It will not offer a bigger say to the voters.
The ministers in the Council formally represent the governments of the 28 member states. However, only 15 % of the EU laws are negotiated in the Council.
The vast majority of laws – maybe even 85 % - are negotiated and - in reality - decided in 275 secret working groups in the Council. They are prepared in the non-elected Commission with its 3,000 secret working groups where we still do not know who all the advisors are.
ONLY FEW VOTES WITH NO UNANIMITY
Besides the 132 legal acts carried out through co-decision with the Parliament in 2008, the Council of Ministers has also adopted a further 137 regulations, 14 directives, 245 decisions and 8 recommendations on their own - this is not including the many implementing acts from the Commission.
This adds up to 404 from the Council on its own after proposal from the Commission, and 536 including the 132 acts adopted in cooperation with the European Parliament.
The Council only published 147 voting reports in 2008. The table from the Council showed 19 votes with different opinions. 128 decisions were unanimous.
In the 19 files we could find there were 8 countries voting against and 32 abstentions. Of 3,544 possible votes by the 27 member states only 40 were not unanimous, and only 8 countries voted against a file put for an official vote.
Disagreements between the member states are settled behind closed doors. The public are not informed.
The figures prove that only a very little tiny tip of the iceberg of disagreements are being shown to the public.
The Lisbon Treaty has not changed the secrecy in law making, but disagreements with Parliament can now find their ways to the medias.