Is Supranational Citizenship an Irreplaceable Factor for EU Democracy?

An analysis on Sociological Inquiry

            Carly Elizabeth Schall has argued in her sociological inquiry that there is a lack of development of social citizenship in EU that challenges the potential for EU to be a democratic polity. By comparison, Schall stresses on how U.S successfully forms a national citizenship identity in its federal system to achieve democracy. The difference of whether there is “successful transference of citizenship identity from a lower to a higher level” (Schall, 1) is considered distinction between social citizenship in EU and U.S, and the deficiency of having a supranational citizenship hinders EU to be a truly democratic institution. While there may exist a consensus of categorizing the EU as a supranational polity engaging in post-national democracy, numerous differences exist concerning the interpretation of the latter. For historical and contemporary structural reasons, Europe seems to be moving away from the nation-state toward a larger supranational organization. The collectivity of members in distinctiveness and a singularity within the supranational EU along with the central institutional instrument of the EU is now a party to the interstate strategic interaction, where community institutions combine instead of exercise exclusion. However, the comprehension of how they combine and the true nature of supranational citizenship are still subject to debate.

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            The word citizenship is simply defined as “the position or status of being a citizen of a particular country”. Being a citizenship of a country portends that the person’s rights and safety are protected by the country. Moreover, citizenship is usually guaranteed with social rights and responsibilities in democratic unions just as Schall says in her article that “Democracy, thus, can be a mechanism for ensuring equal citizenship, but equal citizenship is also necessary for democracy to exist (schall, 127). Author Robert Dahl also indicates in his article On Democracy that “Democracy guarantees its citizens a number of fundamental rights that nondemocratic systems do not, and cannot grant (Dahl, 48) and “Democracy helps people to protect their own fundamental interests” (Dahl, 53). One of the fundamental rights that Dahl mentions is the direct and indirect universal suffrage (Coutant 12).

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            In EU, citizens have the power to exercise their suffrage rights and vote on social policies. However, the decision making process is fairly complicated in this multi-governance political institution. The voting usually happens in the council, which is made up of representatives from member-states. Figure 1.1 illustrates the voting system within EU (Council of the EU). The votes are based on the representatives from each member-states, and based on different issues, the legislations are passed under different conditions: simple majority, qualified majority or unanimity. The process of voting by representatives seems similar to the Democratic Representative of United States. However, the deficit of EU is that the votes for member-states are based on population size, but are not representative of the population. This contradicts with William’s idea of democracy that “equalities was astate among the people” and people should all deserve equal respect in a democratic regime (97).  EU voting system only protects the equality of the member-states but not the equality of citizens under the central institution. Moreover, although the European Parliament is elected by the citizens, the commission is designated by Governments of the Member States and the heads of the States. Council of minister of the Union is also only a meeting of the Minister of the States (Coutant, 2). The system retains the sovereignty of the federal institution and allows states to work closer in a confederation. This concept weakens public’s consciousness of supranational identity, and does not consider European citizen as one entity under the democratic regime.

            The structural nature of the EU resembles a multi-level governance system; one that bears a territorial organization around many centers of authority. Although the distribution of powers and resources is debatable, each can promote their interests and perspectives through the mobilization of veto positions. Nevertheless, by moving toward a supranational or some form of vertical federalization, the EU does not embrace fully the configuration and judgment that was formed in the EU. Indeed, the vertical federalization has intermixed with a horizontal separation of powers between the members states that contributed to the nature of EU as analytically different from the one adopted in a pure federal system. Since there is no other political system that resembles one that is built around the multiple separation of powers, apart from Switzerland, many scholars and analysts, including Schall, have remarked it as a truly extraordinary system. However, its uniqueness only fully stands when compared against individual European states. The EU is, in actual fact, not exceptionally different from other continental federal experiences such as the United States (US). An analysis of the US system reveals that it is based on both horizontal and vertical separation of powers. Furthermore, the US has experienced the first endeavor to develop a democratic form of governance out of a contradictory and double source of legitimacy, that is, individual states and territorial and states. The endeavor signified the expression of a definite constitutional choice to establish a democracy.  In spite of this, the American case is rarely compared with that of the EU, perhaps because Eurocentrism engulfs EU discussions.

            The functional logic and institutional nature of the EU has raised debates of its uniqueness. Specifically, the huge difference between the EU as an institution and the member states has been cited as a major point of inquiry. As Wallace (9) says, “it has become a commonplace for commentators on the EU to stress its distinctive features, and indeed often to argue that they result in a unique kind of politics.” Such exclusivity is defensible on the following base; that the EU not a system of government but rather a scheme of governance. This implies that it signifies the end of the distinction between state and society which had earlier been an instrumental sign of European political modernity. Seemingly, governance is quite different from government because the latter represents a pattern of decision-making processes that develop within a formal institution as well as involving publicly renowned representatives who work in a vertical structure of influence and relations. The EU does not embody this system but rather embraces the post-statist situation of contemporary politics.

            If not to create a new ‘form of state,’ the EU characterizes an effort to build a public authority that has supernatural features and is more of an economic arrangement than a political one. Many policies that would be traditionally be categorized as domestic are influenced, structured and defined at the EU level. During structuring, the EU was founded on three pillars. The first one pertained to the coordination of foreign and domestic policies; the second concerned the increasing number of policies related to the functioning of the common market; and the third involved collaboration in areas of home affairs and execution of justice. These three foundations were accumulated in one draft constitutional treaty particularized by the constitutional convention. Even so, this accumulation does not affect the double method of decision-making the EU has so long adopted; including the federal and intergovernmental methods. It might be safe to say that supranationalism is the amalgam of the two methods. As a supranational organization, the EU has undergone a phase of institutionalization through a complex structure of intermingling governmental bodies. Yet, this complexity does not negatively affect the effectiveness with which the organization supports integration and promotes the consent of member states. The organization rests on the central institutions of council of ministers, the European council, and intergovernmental bodies that represent the executives of individual EU member states. These institutions are responsible for demarcating the objectives of the EU as well as for defining rules and laws. On the other hand, the constitution vindicates and strengthens these institutions though it does not interfere with their structure.

            Even so, these institutions continue to be assessed by community-oriented institutions such as the European commission. The president of the commission is appointed by the European council and the endorsed by the European parliament, which has been popularly elected since 1979. The influence of the European parliament has particularly risen since the signing of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997. This augmented effect influence is fully revealed in the constitutional treaty. It is important to note that though the parliament is endowed with limited legislative powers than those of national parliaments, the constitution recognizes its capabilities in co-decision with the Council of Ministers on many policy issues. Concurrently, the constitutional treaty recognizes the principle of subsidiarity which has come to play a huge part in the territorial relations of the EU. In spite of this conceptual ambiguity, the embodiment of this principle in the constitution may formalize a quasi-federal trait of the EU. By examining it from a territorial perspective, the EU is more complex than any other form of federal system. Generally, federal systems are constitutionally organized around a bi-level government structure. The first is the federal center while the other constitutes individual federal units or states. The EU is more multifaceted given that it is structured around a supranational, national, regional, and local levels of governance. In summary, the EU has a diffused power system in which authorities overlap. This multiple separation of powers is then moderated through the use of pragmatic devices and balances and checks. Thus, it can be seen that EU does not fit in the category of bodies established to uphold cooperation among member states. Rather, since its formation in the 1950s, it has reduced its initial intergovernmental to realize the structure of a supranational organization.

            On exploring the case of federalist system, the EU was established as a multilevel system or treaty federalism and could be contrasted against a democratic federal system. All federal systems retain elements of confederal type in their structures. Federal Germany is perhaps the most used model of federal system when comparing federal systems to the EU. Essentially Federal Germany consists a Bundesrat which is very much similar to the council of ministers they represent the executive. The espousal of confederal elements is also common in Canada with the provincial prime ministers as well as in the growth of American federalism through the indirect election of senators by the state legislatures prior to 1913. It seems more reasonable to compare the EU with developed systems of federalism whether or not all embrace federal or confederal elements. Nevertheless, the federal point of view only accounts for a small part of the EU reality since, as opposed to the EU, developed federal systems characterize vertical separation of powers but not horizontal ones. This harmonizes with the case of quasi-federal democracies such as post-2001 Italy or Spain but with exceptions of Germany, Canada, the US, Belgium, Australia, and Switzerland. Although Switzerland, in particular, is structurally similar to the EU, its limited geographic and demographic size makes an unfit comparative reference for the EU.

            By examining the case for compound democracy, it can be concluded that the diversity of institutional separation is intended to guarantee an anti-hierarchical and anti-hegemonic character of the republic. Lacey (100) describes compound democracy as a polity characterized by concurrent and overlapping units of government or a form of governance with multiple centers of power that reflect rival interests. In 1787, the political theory of a compound republic in Philadelphia was expounded so as to solve a contradiction or to “form a more perfect union,” as mentioned in a preamble of the American constitution of 1787, without the creation of institutional conditions for the ascendancy or formation of a political majority. According to Dahl (16), the main formulator of that hypothesis, James Madison, cited two possible ways of regulating the effects of a majority fraction. The first is the prevention of the same passion while the second maintains that the members of a majority fraction should be rendered incapable of working together effectively. The US experience evidently foreshadows some problems that are common to the EU along with its member states. Currently, discussions on the EU focus greatly on the democratic deficit that emanates from the predominance of state ministers and bureaucrats in the decision-making structure. Even so, this essay finds that even if individual EU member states decide to give more power to the European parliament and significantly less to the EU ministers and bureaucrats, various accountability issues are bound to arise due to the complexities of shared powers.

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In conclusion, the EU structural system of governance reveals the multi-dimensional nature of EU citizenship. At the EU level, the both political and civil elements seem to be the most established while the rest seem to be existing in a shadow reality. Firstly, the importance of citizenship and social rights cannot be ignored because it is possible to examine how the EU and welfare states have developed. Secondly, social policy represents one of the most instrumental realms of the EU integration as well as one in which the union is expected to reign relatively supreme, although with some limitations on state sovereignty and autonomy. Additionally, since welfare state policies bear moral and ethical dimensions, cultural citizenship also plays a role in social policy. In sum, the EU Social citizenship suffers from solidarity and cultural deficits and embodies supranationalism, multi-level governance, and inter-governmentalism.

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