The Sense and Nonsense of Eurozone Level Democracy

Written by | Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Stijn Verhelst (Egmont – The Royal Institute for International Relations)

One of the essential factors necessary for the creation of the Economic and Monetary union is democratic legitimacy on the basis of which decisions concerning the Eurozone can be made. The economic crisis contributed to a deeper integration, yet no democratic structures that would reflect the changing dynamics of integration have been adopted. Consequently, the decision-making processes are lacking parliamentary control in accordance with the definition of democracy: Eurozone governance through the Eurozone and for the Eurozone. It is namely the European Parliament that is currently responsible for the oversight of the Eurozone.

There is a number of reasons for the elimination of the democratic deficit in the Eurozone. It is necessary to counterbalance the weakening of the national parliaments, but parliamentary control will also be important, particularly if Eurozone’s own budget is finally approved. First and foremost, the democratic oversight of the decision-making process should be conducted at the level where the decision had actually been made. Many decisions apply only to those countries using the euro, though their parliamentary control takes place in the whole EU. This implies that for example the MEPs from the Great Britain or Denmark could influence the decision-making related to the Eurozone policies despite of the fact that the Eurozone rules do not apply to their residents.

The building of democracy at this level is also considered pointless by many people if only because its creation could endanger the very integrity of the whole EU. According to the founding treaties, the euro holds the status of a currency of the whole Union and only the European Parliament is entitled to decide on issues concerning the EU as a whole. Only non-binding legislative acts could be passed at the Eurozone level. Since also other policies, such as the Schengen area or the Banking Union, could then be seen in a similar way as the democratic deficit in the Eurozone, this could lead to the gradual adoption of the á la carte model of Europe. Last but not least, the problem with insufficient democratic legitimacy will solve itself in time since an overwhelming majority of EU states are obliged to eventually adopt the euro.

And what would the newly-constructed democratic elements of the Eurozone look like? An independent parliament dedicated to the Eurozone could be established. Nevertheless, this assembly could also suffer from the lack of legitimacy (indirect election of the MPs) or the creation of a complicated election system of its MPs. Another option would be   to gather an inter-parliamentary assembly, which will mostly consist of national MPs. However, the challenge here would be to ensure that national interests are not overly advocated at the expense of the shared interests. The best possibility of eliminating the Eurozone’s democratic deficit is by forming a special committee inside the European Parliament, which would comprise only of MEPs from the EU Member States using the euro, who would in turn be entitled to vote on any legislative acts related to the Eurozone. A sensitive configuration of this committee could also help prevent an eventual split of the Parliament into MEPs from inside and outside of the Eurozone.

(The study can be downloaded here)

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