Friday, May 26, 2006

The democratic deficit

Just been reading Simon Hix and Andreas Follesdal on the 'democratic deficit' in the Journal of Common Market Studies (subscription only). Here's the argument, in a nutshell:

The new 'standard version' of the democratic deficit argument:

  1. European integration has strengthened national executives at the expense of national parliaments; national executives' actions in Europe are now decreasingly subject to control and/or oversight by national parliaments. “Governments can effectively ignore their parliaments when making decisions in Brussels” (p. 3). This is taken to be undemocratic.

  2. The power of the elected European Parliament relative to the unelected Commission and indirectly elected Council is limited. Despite increases in the EP's powers, it still has limited budget power and influences executive formation only in exceptional circumstances.

  3. There are no 'European elections': EP elections are second-order contests. “If anything, the main second-order effects of European elections – whereby governing parties and large parties lose while opposition and small parties win irrespective of these parties’ EU policies – have increased rather than decreased” (p. 4). Consequently, the requirement of the responsible party government model, that citizens vote on the basis of policy proposals, is lacking.

  4. The EU is simply 'too distant' from voters, in both institutional and psychological senses. Institutionally, the chain of delegation from national voters to EU institutions is too long and convoluted. Psychologically, the complexity of the EU polity, and its differences with national systems, make it tremendously difficult to understand the EU.

  5. European integration produces 'policy drift' from voters' preferences: governments agree to policies they cannot undertake at the national level; absent pressure groups, competitive party politics, neo-liberal policy outcomes, including monetarism and competitive de-regulation, are enacted, despite the fact that they are to the right of the median (national or European) voter. Often a criticism of German Social Democrats.

Majone's defence:

  1. The EU is, in essence, a regulatory state.

  2. Regulation is about addressing market failure and thereby creating Pareto-efficient outcomes.

  3. Due to temporal inconsistency, myopia, or emotive irrationality, democratically-elected national governments tend to be poor regulators, adopting policy positions which are not Pareto-efficient, but do have significant redistributive outcomes.

  4. Consequently, national government, realising this weakness, and acting in the best interests of their citizens, have delegated these regulatory tasks to the European Union.

  5. Pareto-improving regulatory measures may justifiably be bracketed from the normal rough-and-tumble of democratic majoritarian politics

  6. The EU does not need to be democratic; rather, it needs to be efficient.

  7. Institutional reforms which promote efficiency – including greater transparency in decision-making, more use of ex post review, and better scrutiny by the Parliament – should be implemented.

  8. Conversely, institutional reforms which promote democratic competition – direct election of the Commission or its selection by the Parliament – should be resisted.

Moravcsik's defence:

  1. National executives are the most important actors in Europe; this is only fitting, because they are the most accountable actors in Europe, far more so than either the Commission or the EP.

  2. Those areas in which national executives dominate less – for example, in classic 'supra-national' policy areas – are those areas in which the role of the EP has been strengthened to match. So, “if a party in government is on the losing side of a qualified majority vote in the Council, it has a chance of ‘winning it back’ in the Parliament – as Germany has done on several occasions (such as the takeover directive in July 2001)” (p. 8).

  3. The EU is not opaque or distant: paranoia about the democratic deficit has meant that it is now much easier for interest groups and citizens to gather information on EU policy-making than it is for them to gather information on their own national polities.

  4. The argument about policy drift is incorrect: the high majority thresholds mean that EU policies are centrist, not neo-liberal; governments vote their policy preferences and that's it.

  5. Because the primary act of delegation is between national voters and national executives, the fact that there are no 'European' elections is of little consequence.

Arguments against Majone:

  1. Policies can rarely be separated into pure regulatory versus pure (re)distributive policies. The allocation of property rights and issues of consumer protection are classic regulatory issues designed to ensure Pareto efficient outcomes. Interest-rate decisions are not by definition about correcting market failures, but are commonly delegated because of temporally inconsistent preferences. The bulk of market-building regulation has significant redistributive consequences – mostly between producers and employees. EU expenditure programmes are purely distributive.

  2. Given this continuum, then either the scope of action of the EU should be drastically reduced to pure market correction, or democratic contestation should be introduced for those EU areas which have significant (re)distributive elements.

Arguments against Moravcsik:

  1. At the current time, it does not seem likely that EU policy outputs significantly diverge from the preferences of some hypothetical EU-wide median voter.

  2. However, in order for a system to be considered democratic, the link between voter preferences and policy outputs should not be contingent but should be based on process.

  3. In the EU, there is no reliable process to ensure that delegation of authority to national executives is not abused.

  4. Consequently, either the primary dimension of national political dimension becomes Europe, or selection of the principal actors should rely on a more immediate voter-representative link.

  5. Voters' preferences are in part shaped by democratic discussion. Were the EU executive to be democratically selected, voters' preferences may consequently change. Therefore, it is not the case that “more democracy is unnecessary, because there is a good voter-preference-policy match”.

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