October 24, 2013
Governance is one of the buzzwords that politicians, scholars and civil society use to define a unique blend of relationships that make the EU such a distinctive construction in terms of functions and representation. Traditional governments are not capable anymore to capture the dynamic of inter-governmental agreements and supranational decision-making processes having a direct impact on our lives.
In the past fifty years the internal market created new opportunities for an increased number of institutions and private actors. At the same time, their legitimate right to associate resulted in a multitude of interest groups. In such circumstances, it is worth wondering if the institutional transfer of sovereignty from the national governments towards supranational institutions or private entities affected the true essence of the EU’s democratic system.
We could start, for example, with the analysis of the new institutional powers received by the European Parliament after the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty (2009). In this context, it will be interesting to observe if these new found attributions of the EP will result in a larger presence at the polls during the 2014 elections.
If not, it is worth to consider if the citizens can easily shift from the traditional sources of legitimacy – through elections, parties and institutions – to one embodied by private interest groups, non-profits or other types of civic associations. Put differently, in a representative democracy such as the EU, a governance system needs to be able to reflect the will of the people in a direct and transparent way. In both cases, the EU has to answer many questions concerning its in-built democratic deficit.
Brussels hosts the headquarters of the mainly EU institutions. Thus, it attracts an array of lobby actors with different policy agendas. They all seemed to me as being caught in a constant competition for a wide variety of resources. In this sense, the access to information the enhances their capacity to influence key decision making processes. Thus, we can assume that information appears as a prerequisite for exercising power. But, in the context of a deepening democratic deficit the citizens have limited access to information and, consequently, to power.
Different background experiences can cast an altered perspective on the notion of power. For lobbyists, power means the capacity to influence the formulation of a public policy. Usually they have a well defined set of clients and do not account for the ways in which their decision impact on the on the final target group, i.e the EU citizens.
Opposite to this, a representative of the European Parliament can see power as a transparent decision making process, defined by negotiations and networking efforts. Subjects to public elections, one of their objective is to maximize the number of citizens benefiting from the final outcomes of their decisions. Nontheless, an intrinsic risk for politicians is their limited capcity to control the ways in which the results of their work determine the outcome of the voting process.
Good lobbyist can speculate this weakness and try to influence the MEP’s to act against their working agenda. According to the Nobel Prize winning theory of public choice individuals tend to keep their market instincts even when they act in a public system. More exactly, they might be tempted to use their public capacities to acquire private benefits.
Recent corruption cases in the EU Parliament support this idea. Further discussion on the relations between the notion of power seen in democratic terms and the capacity of the citizens to access and influence its outcomes should be at the core of the EU project. Such a discussion can be integrated into the larger topic concerning the transition from traditional governments towards the new systems of governance capable to exercise and obtain what Joseph Nye called smart power, i.e. power not exercised over, but with others in order to more effectively achieve desired policy outcomes
In modern terms the democratic system acts both vertically and horizontally. Debates about legitimacy and sovereignty cannot be avoided each time when a Brussels institution receives new attributions. Moreover, lack of communication, bad management and overlapping attributions can furthermore affect the relationships between the EU institutions and other international organizations such as NATO, OECD or UN.
Despite all these problems, the EU is one of the most “organic” forms of government nowadays, prone to innovation and open to surpass previous policy bottlenecks and shortcomings through the use of primary and secondary legislation. Practically, for the past five years the answer to the actual economical and financial crisis was a constant push for more integration. In this context, the EU is urged to produce win-win results through a deeper political and fiscal integration and to answer the critics about its illegitimate use of power or the so-called democratic deficit.
 Hertie School of Governance, The Governance Report 2013, ed. Oxford University Press, page.41
Author : windnielsen