Work and World

Is The EU Democratic? Does Your Vote Matter?

Being a citizen
of the European Union means that many aspects
of our lives are regulated
by a weird entity. It feels like a huge bureaucracy
is making decisions over our heads. Many Europeans think that their vote
in the EU elections doesn’t count, and that the EU
is not democratic. How democratic
is the EU really? And, does your vote
actually achieve anything? In democratic states, public policies are based
on the will of the people. But, the people are not a coherent thing. Countless different groups
are battling for influence and power to establish laws
and rules that benefit them. In a working democracy, there are checks
and balances that are supposed
to create a fair environment where these battles
can be fought. Term limits stop factions
from dominating too much. But all of this ends
at our borders. International politics
are not democratic, but anarchic. No central authority is powerful enough
to ensure fairness, or enforce laws, so the only law is the tyranny
of the strongest, and anarchy. So for most of human history, powerful countries
took what they wanted from others either by extortion or by violence. After World War Two, the United Nations
were founded to overcome this anarchy by establishing rules
on how countries should behave. But since the UN has
virtually no power, and its members
often have opposing interests, it’s usually politely ignored. The EU is a construct that tries
to have rules and laws for its member nations that are actually enforceable, as the European Court
of Justice is able to make binding decisions. Originally, the EU was founded
to ensure peace between European nations and prosperity
for the continent. But it’s also an attempt
to gain international power for its members. It’s like a super state and it’s striving to be democratic
and legitimized by all of its citizens. To do that, it has to solve the problem of
different actors wanting different things. Only, that its members
are countries with very different priorities. So, how does this work? Since the EU
is ridiculously complex, and politicians are even worse
than scientists at naming things, we’ll simplify massively and omit
a lot of details. You can find further reading
and explanations in our Sources Document. OK, if you want to create
a democratic union of independent nations, you have two options. you have two options. One: Let everybody vote
for national politicians who then make decisions
for the Union together. Or, two: Let every citizen vote directly for an independent
institution that’s able to make
binding decisions. Both approaches have
their upsides and downsides, and the EU ended up
with a mix of both of them. Next to the European
Court of Justice, there are four main institutions
that we’ll talk about today. The European Council, which is made up of the heads of government
or states of the member countries. The Council of the EU, with ministers
from the member countries. The third one is
the European Commission, which is the de facto
government of the EU, having one Commissioner
for each member state. And, lastly, the European Parliament. The Parliament
is the only part of the EU that is directly elected
by you, dear Citizen, in the European elections. In principle, all of these institutions of the EU
originate from your direct or indirect vote, be it at the national or EU level. But some
do more than others. For example, you vote for
your national representative and therefore contribute
to form a national government whose head of state has a seat
in the European Council. These leaders choose the president of
the EU Commission and its fellow commissioners, who eventually are confirmed
by the EU Parliament. So, this is a sort of
indirect democracy. You didn’t vote for the Commission, but you voted for the people
who appointed them and for those who confirmed
and police them. So, in effect, 2.5 of the 4
main European Union institutions depend on the member state governments. But since you, as a citizen,
can only directly vote for the European Parliament, the question is, “​How powerful is it?” How much influence
does your vote have? The European Parliament
started out with very little influence but has become more and more
powerful over the past two decades. Today, it has
to approve new laws which can be binding
for the member countries. It also votes on how
the EU budget is spent and on international treaties. All of this makes
the Parliament very powerful and, thus, your vote
very influential, even on an international level. Compared to national parliaments,
one major power is still missing though. The EU Parliament officially
can’t propose new laws on its own which is often the core of the argument
the EU is not Democratic enough and that the European Parliament
should be given more influence. Right now, the member states’ governments
pretty much control the European Union. Giving the Parliament more power would make
the EU, as a whole, more democratic but it would also take power
from member states. It’s not clear
which approach is better. Ultimately it’s for the Member States and us as citizens
to decide how the Union should develop. OK, so can we draw
a conclusion here? As a whole, the EU is not as democratic
as most of its member states. But it is democratic. If you don’t like decisions they make, regarding copyright, for example, you can look up what your representatives
voted for and vote them out. The struggle to make it
more democratic is closely tied
to who holds power over what. The EU keeps changing. You, dear Citizen, are not only voting
on the current politics but also on what the system
will look like in the future. There are many parties and politicians
that vow to make the EU Parliament, and therefore
your vote, stronger. Many others want
to keep it as it is, or even diminish it. It’s for you to decide what you think
is better for the future of the Union. Currently, it’s equally important
for the EU who you vote for at home, because these are the people who have
the most influence in the European Union right now. Opinion At home is also where the EU
is often used as a scapegoat. Politicians, especially
before national elections, like to pretend the EU is all-powerful and mix up rules and laws
over the heads of the governments and citizens. Although, often, they were
directly responsible for what the EU did. Democracy is annoying and complicated, and often very boring. In the European Union, even more so
than in the Member States. But, voting and caring about
how our political institutions change and develop is one of the most powerful things
we can do as citizens. The last few years have shown that
extreme things can happen through elections. We have to decide if we want
to be an active part of this process. If we don’t take part in the struggle
for power that is politics, others will. And we might not like
what they decide for us. Because Europe is
an important topic for us, we’ve translated this video
into as many European languages as possible. A couple of European YouTubers narrated it, and uploaded it
to their own channels. Thank you to Funk and all YouTubers who helped us. You can find the playlist
with all language versions in the description.
Video source:

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