Since the inception of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, Europe has seen a deepening in integration across all possible realms. The extent of this integration has been gradual but severe, with the turn of the century signalling a new era for integration on all fronts.
This integration, despite yielding numerous benefits for member states, has had a markedly negative impact on the level and quality of political representation experienced by European citizens.
The primary way in which European integration has negatively impacted political representation is through the inefficacy of the European political parties.
The political integration that the EU has embarked upon has led to national parties having to join wider European parties in order to impact legislation in the European Parliament (EP) due to its size and ideological sparseness.
This has led to lack of representation as parties have privileged allegiances over representation by following the legislative agenda of their larger European party instead of enacting the policies for which their parties stand. The ideological vastness of the larger parties also makes it hard for them to have any level of consistency in their agenda.
This is precisely why the British Conservatives decided to break away from the Christian Democrat European People’s Party (EPP) and form their own party, the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) in June 2009.
Furthermore, political representation is also impacted by the steady increase in the power and competences given to the executive branches of the EU, taking power away from the EP and the citizens they represent.
Through the evolution of legislative and executive dynamics and amendments to treaties, decision-making power within the EU has been centralised and the EP marginalised, undermining their core representative body of the EU.
This is most aptly seen in the evolution of control over monetary policy. In 1951, it was the members states who controlled their monetary policy, this power was then shared after 1979 after the formation of the European Monetary System, and by 2000, the EU had exclusive control through Economic and Monetary Union.
In addition, since the adoption of the Common Commercial Policy, the European Commission has had exclusive control over trade negotiations through its authority to negotiate trade deals on behalf of all member states.
These increased delegations to the EU’s executive have constituted a shift in the centre of gravity of politics from legislative to executive politics, taking the power to represent the views and enact the mandate of the people away from elected representatives and given it to the executive.
That being said, the dramatic political integration that the EU has driven has also enabled a level of political representation that was previously unachievable. It has done this by giving the European electorate a voice on the supranational level and the chance to participate in the European legislative process.
It is worth noting that this goal was codified in the Treaty of the European Union where it stipulates that ‘the Union shall be founded on representative democracy’ where ‘every citizen shall have the right to participate’ and ‘political parties form political awareness and express the will of citizens of the Union’.
The EP can be seen as retaining an expansive role in policymaking, evidenced by treaties such as the Treaty of Amsterdam, which recognised the EP’s involvement within the field of home and judicial affairs as well as the Maastricht Treaty which afforded the EP new powers in appointing the Commission.
These powers, however, cannot overcome the markedly negative impact that European integration has had on the political representation that its citizens enjoy. Through the delegation of policymaking to the executive branch and the inability of the political parties to represent their voters, the EU cannot be said to be an effective representative institution.
Author: Nicholas Madsen
Nicholas is a scholar in international relations at the University of Amsterdam, specialising in European and Middle Eastern integration and security.