The European Democratic Deficit

The Response of the Parties in the 2014 Elections

by Cesáreo Rodríguez-Aguilera de Prat (Author)
©2016 Monographs 168 Pages


The «never-ending crisis» that started in 2008 and the technocratic and fiscal measures demanded by the «Troika» have aggravated the EU’s so-called «democratic deficit» more than ever before. In this essay the principal theoretical and practical dimensions of this phenomenon at the levels of institution, procedure and social legitimacy are set out and developed. With this in mind, the dysfunctions in the architecture of the institutions, the elite, complex and opaque mechanisms in decision-making and, most importantly, the growing critical estrangement of many citizens reveals that poor democratic quality of the EU constitutes its principal and most serious political problem. To empirically illustrate this debate, Rodríguez-Aguilera evaluates the positions and proposals of the parties in the six most populous countries that have addressed this issue through a comparative analysis of their political programmes.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Prologue
  • Introduction
  • Chapter I. A Sui Generis Political System
  • The debate on democratic deficiency: theoretical aspects
  • Academic contributions
  • The character of the European Union: objective elements that complicate the resolution of democratic deficiency
  • Neither State nor People
  • Incongruences of the European Union as a polity
  • A system for the States
  • Representative deficiencies and consociationalism
  • Chapter II. Elements of the Democratic Deficit
  • Why is the European Union not a genuine democracy?
  • Real European democracy and the issue of the parties
  • Accountability and “Enlightened Absolutism”
  • Issues that worsen democratic deficiency
  • National versus European democracy.
  • A supranational democracy?
  • Democratic models and effective shortcomings
  • Institutional limits: the European Parliament
  • Other institutions
  • The social deficit: elites and public opinion
  • Chapter III. The Question of the People of Europe and the Problem of Social Legitimacy
  • Demos, Demoi, Demoicracy.
  • A public sphere for Europe?
  • The criteria of community legitimacy
  • Deliberative versus participative democracy
  • Other legitimacy criteria
  • Supranational democracy and Community treaties
  • The problem of national States
  • Proposals for reform
  • The European and national Parliaments
  • Chapter IV. The Electoral Programmes
  • The European Parliamentary Elections of 2014
  • The parties of the European Popular Party
  • The parties of the European Socialist Party
  • The parties of the European Conservative and Reformist Party
  • The parties of the European Alliance Liberals and Democrats
  • The parties of the European United left / Nordic Green left
  • The parties of the Greens and Free European Alliance
  • The parties of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy and the Unregistered
  • Conclusions
  • Direct Sources
  • Bibliography
  • Glossary of Acronyms

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A long standing academic in the studies of political and institutional processes, the author has focused his analytic interest on countries and situations beyond the frontiers of Spain. His qualities of observation and capacity for synthesis of the diverse contexts examined are reflected in his numerous publications. Cesáreo Rodríguez-Aguilera de Prat is a generous writer both in quantity and quality.

An interest in unravelling the issues that concern the development of Europeanisation is recurrent in work of the Barcelona based political scientist. In the widest sense, this book is concerned with the so-called “Democratic Deficit” in the construction of Europe. And it does this dealing with what the European state parties say regarding integration in the Old World. The starting rationale in the conception of the book is perceptive. Is the European Union facing a situation in which the principal problem is the insufficient degree of democracy?

We must remember that Europeanisation has been modelled by the diffusion of shared ideas and values, by the harmonisation of economic structures and by a super state type institutional system. It involves countries that have acquired democratic values of equality and human rights. But the concept of Europeanisation suffers from normative precision. It is polysemic and subject to various interpretations given its dynamic character, leading inexorably to the erosion of the individualised sovereignty of the member states of the European Union and the gradual development of common continent-wide institutions and policies (the Schengen Agreement, the Court of Justice or the Monetary and Economic Union and the common currency, for example).

The author focuses on the impact of the dichotomy posed to EU member states when greater powers are conferred to supranational institutions without this being accompanied by greater involvement of citizens in the processes of political decision-making. The book reveals meticulous investigative work into the dimensions of institution, procedure and social legitimacy. With respect to this last area, special attention is paid to the effects provoked by the increase in the power of the markets.

In reality, and despite the intensity and reach of the so-called “endless crisis” which started in 2008, European governments have continued to develop their macroeconomic strategies with a preferred focus at state level. With this end in mind, they have used the four traditional channels of their institutional prevalence: security, production, knowledge and ← 11 | 12 → finance. However, the fourth area has become the most limiting in national sovereign policy making. With her premonitory vision, the political economist Susan Strange (1923-1998) had, at an early date, identified finance as the most decisive variable concerning contemporary international relations which now affects the EU in a crucial way. Given the nature of widespread “casino” capitalism from the transition to the third millennium, European states have seen their powers and influence as independent protagonists shrink unremittingly.

How is it feasible to conserve the European model without endangering “democratic quality” of member states? In the last chapter in the book, the author carries out an analytical dissection of the electoral programmes of the political parties of the six most populated countries of the EU that obtained representation in the European parliament after the elections of May 2014.

The searching interest in the approaches of party programmes is not only restricted to “democratic deficit”, but to a range of items such as constitutional and electoral reform, market regulation, adaptation of community institutions or citizen participation. With the contrasting complication of the set of areas examined, the author constructs comparative templates that rigorously clarify the positions of the political groups. The reader can then carry out transversal contrasts that permit a verification of the convergences and divergences among the various ideological families in Europe.

With his penetrating capacity for inquiry, this senior professor of the University of Barcelona gives an excellent lesson for an audience interested and concerned about the progress of our European societies and their common future. In the end, Europeanisation means the integration of its national states in favour of continental political union, respecting democracy and social justice as shared supreme principals, This was the intention of the founders of the European Union, summarised in the preamble of the constitutional Treaty of Rome itself in 1957, lending weight to the aspiration of “a ceaseless tapering union between European countries”.


Research Professor

Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

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This is the third book devoted to research on the positions of various national parties concerning European integration, in this case focused on the question of the so-called democratic deficit in the EU. The severe crisis that began in 2008 has highlighted more than ever the serious design problems of the common currency – the Euro – and the dysfunctional institutional architecture in the community unable to provide quick and effective responses to correct growing regional imbalances and serious social inequalities. More particularly, this has reached a stage in Europe in which the insufficient degree of democracy – despite some partial progress – can be seen as its main political problem and this is what will be analysed in this book. Indeed, it is increasingly untenable to continue ceding limitless parcels of national sovereignty to the EU with no democratic redress, that is, with no substantial compensation at the community level with institutional controls, procedural transparency and solid mechanisms of popular participation in decision-making processes. There is an often told yet meaningful in-joke circulating among civil servants in the community: if the EU were a state and requested admission to itself today, it would have to be turned down … for being insufficiently democratic!

The debate on democratic deficit has a long history – dating back clearly to the Treaty of Maastricht (1993) – and in this research its main dimensions are addressed at the levels of institution, procedure and social legitimacy. The first chapter discusses the EU as a very particular political system (the famous “UPO” – Unidentified Political Object – labelled by Jacques Delors during his term, probably the most political of all the Commission Presidents that have served, or the even more sophisticated “Almost Constitutional Unidentified Flying Object” from Hans-Dieter Klingemann) and the theoretical aspects of the debate on the democratic deficit are addressed, with a specific review of the academic contributions in their various forms. The EU cannot be compared to a State or evaluated as such, not only because it is not a State, but also because the doctrinal transposition of statist elements to the EU, rather than clarify, confuse – since the concepts that define both realities are neither comparable nor interchangeable. However, it is not acceptable to take refuge behind these differences to avoid a critical analysis of the democratic shortcomings the EU in itself objectively presents and which may be largely resolvable if there were a political will to do so by the principal actors in the current process of European integration. ← 13 | 14 →

In the second chapter we review the main elements that explain why the EU has “structural” problems – those derived from its very nature – to tackle and eventually overcome its democratic shortcomings. In this area it is especially important to analyse the role of representative Community institutions – notably the EP –, and the parties at European level.

The third chapter addresses the key issue of the problem: specialised literature had focused excessively on the question of institutions – and, to a lesser extent, procedures – as the basic (and almost exclusive) explanation of the democratic deficit. Of course institutions matter, but the approach overrated this dimension and fostered excessive hopes for the supposedly decisive impact of an eventual “major institutional reform” to solve the problem. It is true that institutional change is relevant – among other factors because it forces the protagonists to change their strategies and behaviours –, but the ultimate solution to the issue is not to be found here. This does not mean that the EU should not be ready to undertake a thorough review of the currently hybrid and confusing model of horizontal division of functions between EU institutions and the vertical division of competencies between the EU and the member States. Likewise, simplifying procedures and making the decision making process more transparent would help improve the low democratic quality of the EU, but neither would this be enough. It may essentially lie in increasing social legitimacy: this has recently encouraged a profound debate about what the most suitable type of democracy for so singular an entity as the EU (consociational, deliberative and participatory democracy) would be, given the objective difficulties when trying to organise a supranational democracy.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (June)
Evaluation: EU Levels of institutions Social legitimacy Democratic deficit
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 168 pp., 1 fig., 14 tables

Biographical notes

Cesáreo Rodríguez-Aguilera de Prat (Author)

Cesáreo Rodríguez-Aguilera de Prat is Professor of Political Science at the University of Barcelona. Author of a wide selection of works dedicated to comparative politics and political theory, his current research is centred on political parties and European integration.


Title: The European Democratic Deficit
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168 pages