European Commission - Legitimacy


Some argue that the method of appointment for the Commission increases the democratic deficit in the European Union. While the Commission is the executive branch, the candidates are chosen individually by the 27 national governments, which means it is not possible for a Commission Member or its President to be removed directly by the ballot box. Rather, the legitimacy of the Commission is mainly drawn from the vote of approval that is required from the European Parliament, along with Parliament's power to dismiss the body, which, in turn, raises the concern of the relatively low turnout (less than 50%) in elections for the European Parliament since 1999. While that figure may be higher than that of some national elections, including the off-year elections of the United States Congress, the fact that there are no elections for the position of Commission President calls the position's legitimacy into question in the eyes of some. The fact that the Commission can directly decide (albeit with oversight from specially formed 'comitology committees') on the shape and character of implementing legislation further raises concerns about democratic legitimacy.

Another problem is the lack of a coherent electorate, even though democratic structures and methods are developing there is not such a mirror in creating a European civil society. The Treaty of Lisbon may go some way to resolving the deficit in creating greater democratic controls on the Commission, including enshrining the procedure of linking elections to the selection of the Commission president. An alternative viewpoint on the Commission states that the policy areas in which it has power to initiate legislation are ill suited to an institution subject to electoral pressures. In this respect the Commission has been compared with institutions such as independent Central Banks which deal with technical areas of policy. In addition some defenders of the Commission point out that legislation must be approved by the Council in all areas (the ministers of member states) and the European Parliament in some areas before it can be adopted, thus the amount of legislation which is adopted in any one country without the approval of its government is limited.

In 2009 the European ombudsman published statistics of citizens' complaints against EU institutions, with most of them filed against the Commission (66%) and concerning lack of transparency (36%). In 2010 the Commission was sued for blocking access to documents on EU biofuel policy. This happened after media alleged the Commission of blocking scientific evidence against biofuel subsidies. Lack of transparency, unclear lobbyist relations, conflicts of interests and excessive spending of the Commission was highlighted in a number of reports by internal and independent auditing organisations.

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