While the European Union is still evolving as a governing body, it has made steps toward promoting democracy, a fellow at Columbia University said Thursday at an event at Luce Hall hosted by the Yale European Studies Council and the European Union Studies Program.
Before an audience of 15 students, professors and locals, Gianfranco Pasquino, a former Italian senator turned political science professor at the University of Bologna, refuted critics’ claims that the three main councils that form the EU are not democratic. He argued that even though two of three councils appoint their own members, the members were originally elected democratically within their own nations, so the councils themselves are inherently democratic. He said that though not directly elected by constituents, the members of the third council represent the interests of their respective member states.
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Pasquino started the event by explaining the terms mentioned in the event’s name, “Is There a Democratic Deficit in the EU?” He said a governing body has a “democratic deficit” if it has established a democracy that now is challenged by its constituents or has been found to be illegitimate.
“Democracy is not necessarily about elections,” he said.
Which is a good thing, he said, because otherwise, critics could argue that because the Council of the European Union, the EU’s main governing body, appoints as members the president or prime minister of every EU country, it is not a democratic body.
Pasquino’s eyes lit up under his tortoise-shell glasses as he countered that presidents and prime ministers represent the interests of their countries, not just the interests of their electorate majority. Pasquino added that the European Commission, the council responsible for carrying out EU policy, is also democratic because its members, nominated by their respective member states, work “to create a more perfect European Union.”
Finally, he said, although critics argue that the elections for members of the European Parliament, directly in charge of the constituent’s rights, are “second-order,” he said the elections are legitimate and all-inclusive as evidenced by heated campaigns and automatic voter registration across the EU. Regardless of the low voter turnouts in the most recent election (only about 25 percent in Great Britain alone, according to Pasquino), he said, all Europeans are given the opportunity to vote because of automatic voter registration. But whether they actually go out to vote does not determine a legitimate democratic election.
Pasquino ended by reminding the audience that comparing democracy within the EU to that within the United States is unfounded. He said America was founded more than 200 years ago, whereas the European Union is just starting and has a learning curve to overcome.
After the event, audience member Joseph LaPalombara, the Arnold Wolfers professor emeritus of political science and management, praised Pasquino for his refutation of critic’s comments concerning the EU’s democracy.
“He’s made it clear that a good deal of the criticism … is based on highly impressionistic, as opposed to solidly realistic, understanding of how [the EU’s] institutions work,” he said.
Pasquino has written more than 15 books on political system across the world.