In one of his speeches, Pat Cox, the President of the European Parliament said Turnout across Europe [in 1999] was higher than in the last US Presidential Elections, and I do not hear people questioning the legitimacy of the presidency of the United States.'. Since 1979, indeed, the European Parliament has been the only pan-European, directly elected body. Its powers have increased with successive decisions of the European Court of Justice and amendments to the treaties that define the political life of the European Union. However, paradoxically, turnouts in European elections are worryingly low and democracy seems to be in trouble, considering the lack of public interest for the European Assembly. Democratic deficit concerning the European Parliament can be defined through three main elements. The first point is the feeling of a lack of representation by this institution since the Parliament seems to have less power than the Commission and the Council whereas it is the only body to be elected. Secondly, people are not aware of what happens within the European Parliament, nor do they know much about its competence.
[...] Consequently, in order for it to break out of the cycle of failing public interest and legitimacy, the European Parliament must continue to cooperate with national governments that are often eager to debate on European affairs. The European Parliament should not suffer from a politic deficit. If their governments begin to have close relations with a European institution, people might get more interested in the role of the European Parliament. But political cooperation cannot solve the problem of the so- called European identity. [...]
[...] The European Parliament definitely suffers from a lack of accountability. Moreover, since the Brussels Treaty of the 22nd of January 1975, the European Parliament has a budgetary power. It can propose a modification of the compulsory expenditures to the Council and is able to adopt amendments concerning the non-obligatory expenditures. Finally, after a complex procedure of conciliation between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission, the European Assembly is the only institution able to adopt or reject the budget. At last, the European Parliament was progressively given a power of control. [...]
[...] The on-going processes of enlargement and constitutional reform in the EU have prompted many to ask whether the European Parliament's powers of legislative co-decision with the Council should be increased, and whether it should have wider-ranging powers over the Commission. Expanded parliamentary powers could include having the right to initiate legislation. But extending political and legal powers is not enough. The big issue is to create a real European unity, a feeling that would make people go to vote because they feel the European Parliament has a power over their lives. [...]
[...] The European Parliament has three main tasks: the co-decision power in decision-making, the appointment of the Commissioners and a budgetary power. However and quite paradoxically, it definitely appears that the European Parliament has less power and legitimacy than the other European institutions even if it is the only elected body. The European Community aimed at creating not only a union of States but also a union of the European people. It was then natural to institute a parliamentary Assembly, which was to be elected at universal suffrage. [...]
[...] In a nutshell, the democratic deficit of the European Parliament seems to be a consequence of the lack of European identity and unity. Most people still feel only concerned by national affairs and do not take an interest in European policy-making. Moreover, the Parliament must take measures to catch European citizens' attention. It has to tap into the oxygen of media attention which surrounds national parliaments but has never filtered through to Strasbourg. The democratic deficit is then not a myth but a really serious issue that the European Parliament must answer very seriously. [...]
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