Chapter 2 Guidance on answering assessment questions

Official institutions of the European Union

‘The EU is, and always has been, characterized by its “democratic deficit”.’

Critically evaluate this statement by reference to the composition and function of the EU institutions.

  • Meaning of ‘undemocratic’.
  • Consider the main EU law-making institutions, in turn.  In so doing, make reference to developing powers through the course of Treaty development.
  • European Commission. Describe its composition and the appointment of Commissioners. Consider the Commission’s input into law-making. Conclusion: a lack of democracy – Commission is not democratically appointed but has considerable power.
  • Council. Describe its composition and the appointment of members. Consider whether appointment is democratic and compare this to the other main law making institutions, particularly the European Parliament. Discuss law-making procedures, the Council’s extensive input, and its power of approval. Discuss voting methods and evaluate how far voting is democratic.
  • European Parliament. Discuss its composition and the appointment of MEPs. Evaluate its input into law-making via the ordinary legislative procedure (OLP). Trace the development of Parliament’s power, from mere consultation to co-decision/OLP. Note control over the Commission by holding it to account.  Conclusion: the only directly elected EU institution but, arguably, the institution holding the least power.
  • Conclusion. An evaluation of the composition and powers of the institutions supports the view that the EU is lacking in democracy, though this deficit has been partially addressed by the extension of co-decision (now OLP), particularly by the Treaty of Lisbon, which further progressed the ‘democratization’ of the EU.