Democratic Empowerment in the European Union
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Democratic Empowerment in the European Union

Edited by David Levi-Faur and Frans van Waarden

This book looks at democratic empowerment via institutional designs that extend the political rights of European citizens. It focuses on three themes: first, the positive and negative effects of the European Union institutional design on the political rights of its citizens; second, challenges for democratic regimes across the world in the 21st century in the context of regionalism and globalization; third, the constraints of neoliberalism and capitalist markets on the ability of citizens to effectively achieve their political rights within the Union.
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Chapter 3: Political inequality and democratic empowerment in the European Union: the role of the European Parliament

Sandra Seubert, Oliver Eberl and Daniel Gaus

Abstract

Chapter 3 by Sandra Seubert, Oliver Eberl and Daniel Gaus deals with political inequality in the European Union (EU) and the role the European Parliament (EP) can play in the process of democratic empowerment of EU citizens. This chapter provides a combined empirical and normative-theoretical analysis of political inequality in the EU related to low voter turnout in EP elections. The empirical analysis of EP elections between 2004 and 2014 shows that low turnout is related to social inequality of voting. Socially weak EU citizens are overrepresented in the group of non-voters. This in turn creates inequality in the democratic representation of social interests in the EP and European politics. On this basis it is argued that political equality as a pre-condition for democratic empowerment of EU citizens needs institutional reform and politicization of social issues. It is wildly held that political inequality among EU citizens is related to the EU’s current institutional architecture. Despite the EP’s growing competences, it remains secondary to national governments’ role in the EU’s political process. Based on our empirical findings it is suggested that reforms of the EU’s electoral law are necessary, but not enough. In order to overcome political inequality among EU citizens due to low turnout, an institutional reform to transform the second-order character of EU elections and a politicization of EU politics have to go hand in hand.The authors’ argument suggests that the way ahead for empowering European citizens lies in further empowering the EP up to the level where Council and Parliament share political authority in the EU equally, with neither of them having the final decision-making power. The EP as the cornerstone of a transnational politicization of social and economic issues in the EU will need transnational party lists and transnational social movements to back up the parliamentary process. But democratic empowerment demands more than this: breaking the international structure of political authority means putting the EP on a completely equal footing with the authority of national executives. Only by becoming a European (co-)legislator that is on a par with the Council in all political matters can an EP create the dynamic needed to address problems of justice related to economic and social interaction in a common market. This means equality not only with the Council in the ordinary legislation procedure but also with the European Council in changing the EU treaties. Democratic empowerment also includes the deconstitutionalization of the treaties as a necessary condition for the politicization of economic and social issues in the EU.

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