The EU has become increasingly democratic – not only with the introduction of direct elections to the European Parliament (EP) in 1976, but with every Treaty reform since Maastricht new sources of democratic legitimacy have been introduced. The EP has been continuously strengthened and tied more closely to the European Commission to make the EU’s main executive institution more accountable; national parliaments have been more involved, particularly over the safeguarding of the subsidiarity principle; and participatory democratic instruments have been more recently introduced, such as the European Citizen’s Initiative.
However, all this did not do away with the notion of the EU’s democratic deficit and citizens’ demands for democratically legitimate government and decision-making processes. According to the latest Eurobarometer poll, less than half of EU citizens think that their voice counts and do not consider it highly important to vote in EP elections.
This thus leads to a crucial question – what is the real issue with EU democracy and how can we solve it?
While this debate is anything but new, it really is necessary to rethink EU democracy now – not only has the Conference on the Future of Europe injected fresh momentum into the debate on EU democracy but a possible new round of EU enlargement over the next few years requires a genuine attempt to ‘put the house in order’.
Most importantly, we are only one year away from the next EP elections, a critical moment for citizens and voters to express their stance on democracy and for a public discussion on how to strengthen the EU’s democratic legitimacy and empower citizens.
Against this backdrop, SWP Berlin and CEPS are joining forces to set up a High-Level Group on bolstering EU democracy:
Mission: To develop and disseminate policy recommendations to strengthen EU democracy, to be published within a dedicated report in September 2023.
Format: An expert group composed of well-known academic and authoritative practitioners (politicians, diplomats, advisors). The group reflects the EU’s political, geographical and institutional diversity. It is a cross-party project and includes participants from as many Member States as possible.
Chair: Kalypso Nicolaidis, EUI