Simon Hix on Democracy in Europe and a brief Comment

, by Vincent Venus

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Simon Hix on Democracy in Europe and a brief Comment

Why do the losers of decision making processes accept the outcome as legitimate in a democracy? Does this also apply for decisions made on the European level? And what does that reveal about the real or perceived democratic deficit within EU decision making processes? Starting out from those questions, Simon Hix gave a brief presentation of his most recent research findings on Democracy in the European Parliament and the EU in general.

By looking at the voting behaviour within the EP, he found empirical evidence that the traditional consensual way of doing politics (where the EPP and the S&D would more more less agree on an issue beforehand) slowly gives way to a more majoritarian style in the EP. Broken down to single issues and the fractions it appeared, that shifting coalitions would form the majority. Despite being the strongest group (not only in the EP but also in the EC and the council) the centre-right (EPP) is not able to dominate the decisions taken in the Parliament.

Interestingly, there is a growing left-right split which gives those parties lying between the EPP and S&D a pivotal role: by voting either with the conservatives or the social democrats they often provide the necessary votes for the majority.

He thus concludes that the European Parliament is becoming an ever more attractive democratic arena and, indeed, a well working parliament, which no doubt reflects the democratic discourse in Europe. In doing so, it provides a stark contrast to the closed-door decision making of the council, which structurally works more like a senate. He ended his presentation with the question on how to bridge the gap between public perception of democratic deficits and the improving performance of European Parliament? Tackling this question will be fundamental for the EP to gain public support.

In the following discussion, he argued for an election of the EC President out of a set of rivalling candidates, to provide a focal point to the decisions made in the EP, as direct elections are still to far off. (Co-written by Lutz Gude.)

Brief Comment from a Federalist Perspective

Simon Hix findings once more point out the need to politicise the European Parliament – not only in terms of the institutional frame but actual public political discussion. His idea to let the EP vote on rivalling Commission President candidates is the right step. The Young European Federalists have been demanding this reform for years. Next to that the parliament candidates should be freed from national boundaries. The EP should not only be a European but a transnational parliament. Thus, transnational lists should be introduced as proposed by MEP Andrew Duff. The idea behind those two proposals: To make the European citizens realise how important the European Parliament is, wee need them to get engaged in it.

Simon Hix explains his findings

In January already he explained his main findings during a different event.

This article was first published on the blog of the 2011 Dahrendorf Symposium. The symposium addresses major challenges facing Europe. Our German edition is a media partner of the event.

Your comments
  • On 10 November 2011 at 13:36, by Aymeric L. Replying to: Simon Hix on Democracy in Europe and a brief Comment

    Here is a very interesting presentation by Simon Hix to illustrate this article:

  • On 10 November 2011 at 14:34, by Vincent Venus Replying to: Simon Hix on Democracy in Europe and a brief Comment

    Hi Asymeric. That was a good idea. I found a more current video of him, so I chose the latter.

    Thank you nevertheless, Vincent

  • On 29 November 2011 at 13:23, by Niels Thue Replying to: Simon Hix on Democracy in Europe and a brief Comment

    A two speed Europe, might be the only solution. But it also has to regain popular support and be based on democratic institutions, or else it will surely fail like the Soviet Union did.

    EU should consist of Core-countries and of Rim-countries, thus creating a federal room and a confederal room in the European house.

    To become a Core-country, you would have to be part of a much more integrated euro-zone with a common economic and financial government. This government should be formed from a majority in the European Parliament, only Core-countries would have elected representatives in this new powerful European Parliament.

    Rim-countries would only have a vote in the EU-Council, but wouldn’t have any seats in the European Parliament. After all, Rim-countries such as Britain and Denmark have opt-outs on critical parts of the EU-project and shouldn’t interfere in the governing of the Core-countries.

    This would add much needed democratic legitimacy to the EU-project and stabilize Europe’s future economic growth.

  • On 5 December 2011 at 01:46, by Simxn Replying to: Simon Hix on Democracy in Europe and a brief Comment


    With regards your categorisation of, “core countries”, could you please explain to me precisely what the difference would be between this and actually comprising, in essence, a provide of one new super-country/state?

    From the noises Merkozy are making; being part of the Eurozone, in the very near future, will in effect be to concede all sovereignty and be amalgamated as ’part’ of a single new nation.


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