The notion of democracy deficit within the European Union has been widely used referring to a variety of factors affecting the European democratic process. Before to move forward into the critical assessment of those factors, it is worth to mention where the concept of democracy comes from and how the European Union has approached it since its establishment.

The term democracy comes from the Greek term demos (=people) and its literal translation to English would be “rule by the people”; it therefore refers to a political system in which the people have active participation in the policy-making process. This participation can be expressed through 2 different types of democratic system; direct democracy, where everyone has a say in the decision-making (as in the case of referendums), and representative democracy, where citizens elect their representatives to make legislative decisions on their behalf. Staying at Article 10 the European Union is a representative democracy, confirmed by the fact that since 1979 European citizens can directly vote for their representatives at the European Parliament.

However, several features are arguably undermining the normal course of the democratic process within the European Union, especially since the organization seems to move gradually from an intergovernmental organization to a supranational one. The establishment of EU as a treaty-based organization – rather than a constitution-based one – has limited the people intervention in the decision-making process. Indeed, while a constitution would imply direct approval by EU citizens, the treaties can and have been approved directly by the European institutions, hence affecting the people will to participate in the policy making as they would do in their national context. As a result, the voter turnout in European election so far has been lower than in national elections around Europe; in 2014 only the 42,6% of the electorate went to vote for the Parliament elections. This lack of engagement is partly caused by the absence of a strong European identity, but also by the contradictions present in the European institutions themselves.

An example is the concept of political parties within the European Parliament; here national parties are not a single entity, rather they are members of bigger political groups along with other MPs from other countries which often do not share the same ideals. Within the EPP, for example, there are socialist as well as centre-left and right-wing parties that normally compete against each other in national elections. This makes things confusing for the electorate, because if they want to vote for their national party they’ll have to support also all the other parties contained in that group that may have contrasting ideas.

Also, the appointment of European Commission’s members is another facet where the democracy deficit is manifested. Indeed, its 28 members are nominated by the Heads of Government (HOGs) and oversight by the EP, which is supposed to represent the people interest. However, the Parliament cannot go beyond questioning the possible candidates; if they would actually want to vote out a commissioner they would have to extend the vote out to the whole Commission. A similar concept applies for the election of the Commission President, nominated by Council of Minister while EP is left with the mere approval of this entity. Many critics have been raised over the reasons why European citizens cannot vote – directly or through the parliament – the members of such a crucial institution.

Furthermore, the impact that different countries may have on the decision-making raises many concerns over the democratic representation of Eu member states. In order to adopt a decision within the European Union the Council of Ministers – which as both executive and legislative roles within EU – adopts the Qualified Majority Vote system, under which each country has a number of votes based on its population; bigger countries like Germany, UK and France have a lot of votes whereas smaller country don’t. Partly this is made to ensure that the majority of eu population support legislation, but it also discriminate smaller countries (e.g. Greece during the Eurozone crisis).

The consequences that those contradictions have generated over the years motivated many institutional and academic figures with different strands of opinions to propose some solutions that may mitigate the democracy deficit. Surely the most popular at the moment is the Eurosceptic wave, which by means of radical and sovereign actions is seeking to reduce the subsidiarity of the nations towards the European Union. They support the idea that national governments should hold the power to propose, decide and execute the legislation affecting their own country, while Eu’s role should be limited to a few aspects of the market as it was at the time of its establishment. However, it would be unrealistic to think that in order to improve democracy the solution is to give back power to national parliaments, as this would led into a decrease of collaboration within member-states and eventually the dissolution of the European Union itself (something that nowadays does not seem as far as it was a few years ago).

More radical arguments instead have focused on a series of structural reforms within the European Union’s institutions. Regarding the EP, the only way to employ it to democratize EU is to grant the power to initiate legislation as well as extending its power of scrutiny towards the Commission and Council. However, even here, there are some complications; the EP is too ideologically and politically disorganized to take coherent decisions over certain issues.  For the Commission instead, it has been proposed to elect directly the commission president from the nominees made by the party groups; this would open the door of such a shadow institution and increase the people participation in the policy-making. A similar concept may be applied to the Council presidency. A direct election of this figure would guarantee a certain level of control and scrutiny over its actions – member states could actually complain and influence the choices of the president if he doesn’t make what he actually promised.  

In conclusion, the last and probably most efficient solutions is based more on ideology than structural reform. It has been widely argued that what Europe really miss is a sense of shared identity within its citizens; as far as today the Union has not been able to establish or reinforce a shared history, common language, a constitution that unify the population over the same principle and also or an army that unify them in the same principle of security. I would be therefore necessary to focus on the creation of shared values that …….

In conclusion, considering the current structure and constrains in which the different European institutions operate, it is unlikely to find a solution which would grant the Union the right degree of transparency, accountability and legitimisation to be considered fully democratic. However, as argued by Moravcsik (2002, 605) it is useless to look at EU in the same way we look at the ancient or Westminister-style of democracy, as they are incomparable concepts of governance. Hence, maybe, the only solution would be to look at the issue with a sui generis political theory.