21st Jan 2019


Democratising the European Union

  • The European Parliament has to start making itself heard (Photo: European Parliament)

The 'democratic deficit' in the European Union is perhaps one of the few things that almost everyone knows about it, causing scepticism and mistrust towards the European institutions and the European project amongst many of our citizens.

This problem will only be dealt with directly by a strong agenda of putting the citizen at the centre of European decision-making. There is only one European institution that can do that: The European Parliament, and it has to start making itself heard louder publicly.

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In the first months of the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, the parliament must take the opportunity to insist on its importance, in order to give to the representatives of the citizens the power to decide on the direction of the European Union. Up until now the union has relied on the nation states to provide its impulse.

The passing of the Lisbon Treaty must be made into the occasion where the citizens are finally given the right to be in the driving seat.

The European Parliament must be given the possibility to propose European legislation under the new framework agreement with the Commission. As soon as there is an understanding that the resolutions of the parliament will result in legislation, the basic functioning of the Union will become comprehensible to the majority of European citizens, the political debates in the parliament will have a real importance in their eyes, and be identified with meaningful European parties. Citizens will then have democratic choices over the direction of the union in a functioning representative democracy.

The common objection is that this would require a change in the European treaties, and after the bumpy process of Lisbon no-one is in any mood for another ride. But in fact no immediate change in the treaties is required for this to happen: The formal power to initiate legislation can stay with the commission, all that is needed is an agreement that if the parliament decides that certain legislation is necessary, the commission should come up with a proposal within a reasonable timeframe.

The forthcoming vote of the parliament on the European Commission is the perfect moment to set this arrangement in place and for the parliament to make itself heard publicly and the seat of the citizens in the Union.

Lorenzo Marsili and Niccolo Milanese are directors of European Alternatives, a trans-national organisation based in London, Paris, and Bologna

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