GHDI logo

The Democratic Deficit (June 5, 1989)

page 2 of 4    print version    return to list previous document      next document

Not the representatives elected on June 18 from roughly 160 parties, not even the powerful heads of state and government who celebrate their all-too-frequent summit conferences. Rather, thousands of civil servants from the member states and the Euro-metropolis of Brussels will shape the future face of Europe and lay down European law. Guidelines and regulations will be proposed by public servants, negotiated by public servants, and resolved by public servants. The new Europe lies in the hands of one of the oldest powers on the old continent: the bureaucracy.

The EC Commission in Brussels, with its seventeen commissioners and twenty-two directors-general, is the only agency in the Western world that has the right to draft laws without having the democratic legitimacy to do so. The Council of Ministers, the highest decision-making body in the Community, only issues general guidelines or framework conditions. It’s the Eurocrats who are responsible for implementing them in detail.

When ministers from the twelve capitals vote on a new directive in the Charlemagne Building in Brussels, they usually feel the same way that former Bonn Minister of Health Rita Süssmuth did. In the EC capital, she felt that she had been degraded to a “mouthpiece for benevolent public servants.”

On her left, a deputy EC ambassador from Germany whispered in her ear; on her right, a high-ranking expert prompted her. And immediately behind her she knew of at least four ministry officials who were ready to jump at any moment to expound upon the complex issues at hand and provide her with tactical suggestions. On the table were her written stage-directions and speech notes, which not only prescribed the course of the session, but also told her exactly what she was to say about certain agenda items.

Democratic control does not take place within this imposing alliance of Western European democracies. Although European parliamentarians are allowed to express their opinions on new guidelines, neither the Council nor the Commission is obliged to take the parliament’s majority vote into account.

Members of parliament have no access to the offices in which the Community decrees all its binding guidelines and regulations, such as those concerning environmental norms and security standards, the mutual recognition of university diplomas, or the harmonization of tax laws.

first page < previous   |   next > last page