Governance Without Democracy? Analysing the Role of Parliaments in European Economic Governance after the Crisis—Conclusions

14 Jun 2019

‘The EU’s not democratic’ was an oft-repeated phrase during the UK’s 2016 referendum on whether to remain in the European Union (EU) or leave it. The instant rebuttal from pro-Europeans was: ‘The EU is democratic. There are elections to the European Parliament.’ While the riposte was technically accurate, it left many things unsaid. Since 1979, the EU has had the formal trappings of democracy—periodic free and fair elections to an elected parliamentary body—yet there have long been concerns that the EU is too far removed from its citizens. These concerns were paradoxically highlighted by the European Parliament itself when it was considering the UK’s departure from the Union (EP, 2017, recital P and para. 32). Over the last quarter century there have been repeated claims of a democratic deficit in the EU and each time the response has been to empower the European Parliament, a choice reflecting a belief that what is missing from the EU is parliamentary accountability. The Lisbon Treaty of 2009 was hailed as a ‘treaty of parliaments’, intended to overcome some of the criticisms of the EU by (re-)empowering national parliaments in conjunction with the European Parliament (Rozenberg and Hefftler, 2015, p.15). Such ambitions were rapidly overtaken by the need to tackle the financial and Eurozone crises, which led to the numerous formal EU, Eurozone and adhoc arrangements which once again ensured that executives, whether at national or European level, were the beneficiaries at the expense of (national) parliaments (see e.g. House of Lords, 2016 and EP, 2017).