March 30, 2023

Is the European Union undemocratic?

It is a common argument of critics of the European Union that its representatives were unelected and it was an undemocratic organisation. Brexiteers want to “take back control”. They see a loss of sovereignty by being part of the EU.

Is this really the case?

One can delve into the specifics of the European institutions, into how they work and how they are constituted, and one will find answers to these questions in any desired length and detail. Not many are willing to do this or have the time or interest for this.

Therefore in short: European representation effectively rests on three pillars:

  1. The British government

Any critical European regulation or transfer of power requires the agreement of the British government, either through vote or through non-application of a British veto.

  1. Representative/indirect democracy

Most political roles and committees in the EU are elected indirectly (exception is the European Parliament, see (3)). This is the case in most democracies. They are indirect democracies, or representative democracies.

In effect, the British government and Prime Minister are not elected by British voters either but through a directly elected parliament.

The alternative to a representative democracy is direct democracy and running a country through referendums.

  1. The European Parliament

The members of the European Parliament are directly elected by European voters. And they have an increasingly important role to play in the European Union’s decision and law making process.

The problem is that giving more power to the European Parliament is by many critics a sign of a federal Europe or a super-state. These are often the same who criticise the EU for being unelected.

So, European representation rests on three pillars – each is a means of democratic decision-making.