Is the European Union truly democratic?

It often feels like a giant bureaucracy decides everything above us. Many Europeans tend to think that their vote in the European elections will not change anything and that the EU is not democratic. But is this really the case?

The YouTube channel Hugo Décrypte is run by Hugo Travers. Useful for young and old alike, his channel summarizes and explains the daily news. The graphics in this video were created in cooperation with Kurzegesagt, a German animation studio.

The EU is a construct that seeks to have rules and laws that its member states actually apply, and its Court of Justice can issue binding judgements on states. It is, in a way, a superstate that wants to become democratic and legitimate for all its citizens. To do this, the EU has to solve the problem of the diversity and will of its actors, as every member-country has very different priorities.

According to the video, if you want to create a democratic union, you have two options.

Option one: allow everyone to elect national representatives who then decide together for the union. Option two: allow every citizen to vote directly for an independent institution that would have binding power over the states. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages, and the EU has ended up combining the two.

In addition to the European Court of Justice, there are 4 main institutions that this video presents: the European Council which is composed of the heads of state and government of the member countries ; the Council of the European Union is made up of the ministers of the member countries ; the European Commission is the government of the EU, with one commissioner per country, and finally the European Parliament, the only part of the European Union that is directly elected by you, the citizens, in the European elections.

In principle, all these institutions are directly or indirectly derived from your vote at national or European level. But some more so than others. For instance, you vote for a head of state and thus form a government which will be represented by its head in the European Council. These heads of state choose the President of the European Commission and its Commissioners, who are then validated by the European Parliament. It is a kind of indirect democracy. To put it simply, you don’t vote for the Commission but you vote for those who appoint them and those who approve and control them. So in reality, two and a half out of four of the main institutions of the European Union depend on the governments of the member states.

But since, as a citizen, you elect the European Parliament, the question arises: how much power does it have and what is the real influence of your vote? The European Parliament started out with very little influence but has become increasingly powerful over the last 20 years – it now has to approve laws and also votes on the use of the EU budget and especially on international treaties. All this gives the Parliament a lot of power and makes your vote very important, also at international level.

However, the European Parliament cannot take the initiative to propose a law itself. This is the main argument used to say that the EU is not democratic enough and that Parliament’s powers should be strengthened.

Today, the governments of the Member States practically control the EU. Strengthening the powers of the European Parliament would make the EU more democratic but would reduce the power of the member states. The best approach between these two is not obvious, but the choice is ultimately up to the states and us citizens to decide the future of the EU.

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