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Lisbon Treaty in Furthering Democratic Legitimacy in the European Union

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Following the failure to ratify the 2004 Constitution, the European Union (EU) began its recovery from the anti-constitutional discourse among European citizens. The Treaty of Lisbon has been introduced as a series of institutional reforms to improve the EU in multiple sectors: legitimacy, accountability, citizen support, and transparency. These sectors collectively relate to the ongoing debate that claim there to be a democratic deficit within the EU. The Treaty states that it desires to “[enhance] the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union and to [improve] the coherence of its action.”[1] Whether the Lisbon Treaty has made a significant impact on resolving and diminishing the democratic deficit is widely debated. Its reforms will be analyzed in order to prove the Lisbon Treaty has been successful in revitalizing democratic life in the EU. This paper will not prove the Lisbon Treaty is the last step in EU institutional reform, but rather the extent of its significance is higher than academic beliefs. Despite opposition, the Lisbon Treaty has succeeded in furthering democratic legitimacy in the European Union.

To begin, the origin and arguments surrounding the democratic deficit will be discussed to gain further understanding on its influence. The term was coined by Professor David Marquand, referring to the European Economic Community (EEC). In his book Parliament for Europe (1979), Marquand argued that the European Parliament was suffering from a democratic deficit because it played more of a “decorative role.”[2] Marquand called for direct elections by citizens to increase the level of Parliamentary accountability.[3] Following the first direct elections in 1979, the definition of democratic deficit expanded to include accessibility for European citizens, and the lack of accountability, transparency and European demos.[4] The democratic deficit regarding the European Union is often deemed as a structural problem. Since the EU is neither a transnational organization nor an intergovernmental one causes a mixture of “two apparently opposing principles, with a unique decision making mechanism and representation formula.”[5] For example, the European Parliament (EP) has increased its roles following direct elections, leading its structure towards more of a national parliament. However, Members of Parliament cannot propose Community laws as a national parliament would do.[6]

The democratic deficit also feeds into Eurosceptism due to the dissent its causes among Europeans. The opposition to further European integration expressed by Eurosceptics causes difficulties in the development of the EU. The democratic deficit increases the rallies to halt the integration process by providing arguments against EU successes.[7] By answering the democratic deficit, the EU would be able to solve the problems that citizens rally against and therefore limit Eurosceptics.

Further, the existence of the democratic deficit has been vastly debated. Among these arguments is the idea that as a supranational union, aspects of democracy may not suitable within the EU.[8] Skeptics of the democratic deficit suggest that instead of focusing on democratic reform, Europe should “embrace the mode of indirect oversight currently employed.”[9]Among arguments in favour of its existence is the belief that the EU is a “product of state’s will.”[10] The idea holds that the European construction works around the sovereignty of the state, which limits the democratic structure. However, whether the democratic deficit exists within the EU does not take away from the importance of the reforms within the Lisbon Treaty to increase democratic legitimacy. If such reforms gain the confidence of European citizens through further democracy and representation within the EU then no time is wasted.

To address the democratic deficit, the EU ratified the Treaty of Lisbon in December 2007.[11] The Treaty consists of a series of amendments to the EU’s primary constituent treaties, the Treaty Establishing the European Community and the Treaty on European Union.[12] The Lisbon Treaty was created out of the failure to ratify the Constitution of 2004, however it incorporates most of its institutional changes and innovations.[13] Within the Lisbon Treaty is several key amendments that aim at addressing the democratic deficit by increasing the opinion and representations of European citizens, democratic forms of voting, transparency and efficiency. The rest of the paper will focus on the role the Lisbon Treaty has effectively played in breaking down the democratic deficit, analyzing its critically discussed and debated sections.

For one, the Lisbon Treaty aims to increase Council transparency within in the EU. Article sixteen of the Treaty requires the Council of Ministers to deliberate in public, meaning citizens are able to know the positions of ministers in discussions which were previously done in secret.[14] The higher level of transparency increases democratic legitimacy in two central ways. First, political accountability increases as citizens are now given information on ministers who fail to make the supranational laws they want.[15] This knowledge allows citizens to threaten to vote out governments that do not properly represent them, giving Europeans an increased representative power within the EU framework. Second, the new visibility may lead to an increased connection with citizens. By providing European citizens the opportunity to understand the Council’s deliberations can cause a deepening relationship between the Council and citizens as Ministers begin to listen to the populace in order to maintain their positions. As for answering the democratic deficit, more representation and accountability accompanied with the deeper connections with citizens causes an increase of legitimacy given to the Council.

Counter arguments to increasing council transparency call for an expansion of transparency of other institutions and highlight the transparency that already existed within the Council. The reform does not subject the European Council or Commission to such rules. It is suggested that the reform should be extended to these institutions to further transparency and accountability within the EU.[16] While the increased council transparency has had a significant role in dismantling the deficit, it is true that expanding the requirement would further increase its benefit. Although the Treat of Lisbon does show areas of possible improvement it is important to still credit the transparency changes. For without one step in the right direction than other reforms cannot follow. Moreover, it is argued that the Council of Ministers has always had a level of transparency, meaning the reform have not made a significant change.[17] The position of Ministers has always been well-known to citizens, so the Treaty merely offers a first-hand account of what they already knew. The obvious objection to this argument is that what the Council of Ministers were previously openly sharing was second hand information which leaves room for manipulation of actual events and allows Ministers’ to select the information revealed. It is better to have a required transparency than a voluntary one which may not present the full scope of arguments. Thus, I would argue that the Lisbon Treaty has effectively been able to increase transparency and accountability in regards to the Council of Ministers, a significant step in addressing the democratic deficit.

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