Final dates! Join the tutor2u subject teams in London for a day of exam technique and revision at the cinema. Learn more

Study Notes

Democratic deficit (EU)

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

A democratic deficit occurs when supposedly democratic organisations or institutions, such as governments, do not fulfil the principles of democracy in how they operate. It is mainly used in discussions over the Government of the UK when referring to the governance of the European Union, as the UK is subject to directives from the European Commission, and rulings from the European Court of Justice.

The democratic deficit in the EU is related to the question of whether power is dominated by bureaucrats and national politicians rather than by the elected representatives of the people.

Because the majority of policies are hammered out in the Council of Ministers, the big member states tend to make the deals, expecting the smaller countries to follow. The European Commission has a lot of power in initiating policy and ensuring its implementation afterwards. The European Court of Justice has some ability to shape policy as it has power to interpret law, and the European Central Bank has strong influence over the economic policy of sovereign countries who are member of the Euro.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament (which is elected) is comparatively weak. For example, it can’t raise taxes, sack any of the Council of Ministers or appoint or sack the Head of the European Central Bank. The Lisbon Treaty has conferred some more powers on the European Parliament, but it is not clear the effectiveness of these powers compared to the unelected institutions.

Even if it had more power, the European Parliament might still not solve the democratic deficit, with voter turnout for elections to it being around 40%, and small states like Malta having an MEP per 67,000 voters whilst Germany has an MEP representing 857,000 voters.

© 2002-2024 Tutor2u Limited. Company Reg no: 04489574. VAT reg no 816865400.