How Enlightened is the European Despotism? The Persistence of the Democratic Deficit in the European Union

  • Abstract:
    There is a wide variety of denominators for the EU in addressing its political structures of decision making and its inherent democratic deficit features, and yet there is still room for conceptual innovation. The democratic problem or the democratic deficit issue was and continues to be one of the main challenges facing the European Union in any terms or from any position is understood or described. The problem of accountability for the decision making inside the EU was there from the beginning and it emerged gradually as more emphatic on the agenda of vivid debates as the powers of the EU have grown after the Maastricht Treaty. This was concomitant with a growing disenchantment of citizens from member states with politics in general, with debates over the democratic deficits inside member states, with enlargement and with a visible and worrying decrease in voters’ turnouts at both national and especially European elections. The optimist supporters of EU believe in its power to constantly reinvent and reshape while the pessimists see either a persistence of existing problems or a darker scenario that could lead in front of current problems even to the end of the EU as we know it. This paper surveys some of these current debates and addresses once more the challenges of the EU polity in a context of multiple crises that confronted Europe in recent years. It supports a moderate transformative view that involves balanced weights of optimism and pessimism in a belief that the unfold of current events and the way EU deals with delicate problems will put an increased pressure in the future on matters of accountability and will require some institutional adjustments that address democratic requirements for decision making. We argue that the eventual polemic future of the problem of the democratic deficit in the EU might result from the persistent sub-optimal results provided by the ‘enlightened’ birocracy and national elites involved in decision-making processes in Brussels. In this respect we argue that the true question will be now ‘how enlightened is the European despotism?’ or how prepared are the EU decision makers to react to internal and external shocks that require particular skills and political ability? And these in the circumstances that under the logic of the fait accompli the EU transcends one of the essential elements of democratic polities: fallibility.