Political system of the European Union (further in text: EU) is being labeled as sui generis political system. That associate us on its high dynamics and, of course, the specific developmental path. Thesis and purpose of this article go little deeper in the sui generis concept, which means that I will try to explain the EU itself by its very complicated structure (idea of the EU) and ambiguous categorization in terms of variants of democracy. For the first part (structure) I am going to use some insights of “complexity theory” and English school theoretical approach and for the other statement I am going to problematize the EU as consensus democracy, the concept invented by Dutch political scientist Arend Lijphart. Recent events with immigrant/refugee crisis were perfect incentive to explore the EU in this way and to possible warn about its potential incapability regarding non nation-state issues.
To deal with the EU’s rather complicated structure I will briefly present two theoretical approaches and then place the EU where it fits best. Frist of all, there is “complexity theory” with its two main tracks: rational and reflexive one. Rationalists see and research integration and development of the EU through natural sciences paradigm within so called “Newton frame”. Their main idea is that the EU has progressed evolutionally, according to in natural path. Potential peak of this path would be “Europe of one vote”. Reflexive track is based on a complex system concept. The complex system is system consisted of many elements with high degree of integration between them. Those kind of systems operate in conditions that are far from equilibrium and each of the element does not perceive the system as a whole. There are three kind of complexity that we have to be aware of when talking in reflexive approach context: mechanic complexity, organic complexity and sphere of conscious. It should be mentioned that reflexive approach sees European integration as non-linear, rather than linear. Secondly, there is “English school” approach which is based on two terms (international system and international society) and on two concepts (“society of the world” and “empire”). International system is a system in which at least two nation-states influence decision making process and are part of the system as a whole. In international society nation-states form the rules and institutions together and are conscious of common values. In “society of the world” individuals from social groups are sharing their identity and interests. There is no nation-state in focus. The idea alludes on deep integration (political, economic, cultural…). Within “empire” concept it is not obligatory that units of the whole system have to be modern nation-states. It is also acceptable if they are formed into unions, federations, confederations. Here, the EU is seen as a post-national, non-territorial liberal project. Relations between center and periphery are crucial in this idea.
Those are ideas of theories which have been exploring the EU. Of course, political system of the EU fits (maybe not entirely) in all three (if we count two tracks of “complexity theory” as a separate approach) of the approaches, but in my opinion the reflexive track is the most convenient at the moment. Before trying to prove that I will briefly state obvious reasons why all three approaches are correct. Keep in mind that common denominators of all three approaches are: complexity and desire for integration (political, cultural). Rationalists could base their idea on the broadest context possible, and that is Christianity as a common European “value” and unavoidable part of European history. “English school” approach can be applied in the EU context on the basis of: history as common intellectual climate, common values and supranational activities of the NGO sector.
Now I will try to defend my choice (reflexive track) for the most convenient theoretical environment for contemporary EU. First reason why I have chosen reflexive track is its reliance on concrete practices in the EU system and institutions (other theories sound more like ideals to be achieved in the future). Orientation on practice could be discovered in the emphasis on non-linear integration which reflexive track thinkers cherish. The most linear part of the EU integration is short term power relations between EU institutions (e.g. raising power of the European Parliament), but long term development is non-linear. I would find a reason for that in lack of political integration. I mentioned above that there are three kinds of complexities in reflexive track. Now I will apply them to current EU practices. Mechanic complexity could be seen in voting and election system (European elections). Organic complexity we see in the EU-nation-state relations and interactions (international commitments, the EU treaties provisions, crises and unexpected global political events) form which incapability and sluggishness of the EU political system could easily arise – this complexity could be defined as a reaction on the environment. Sphere of conscious covers myths, symbols and identity- that is the idea of “creation” of European citizens and citizenship which is also lacking deeper political and cultural integration. Proof of that is hesitation to identify yourself as a European first and then as a French, British, Spanish etc. In other words, the EU is a complicated system. In my view, its complexity in so deep that we even cannot describe European democracy through basic categorization, but just as sui generis democracy. Arend Lijphart is stating that the EU belongs to category of consensus democracy. I will try to prove that argument is not entirely correct and it can only be taken with a reserve in the broadest possible context.
What is consensus democracy? First of all, this kind of democracy is a counterpart to majority democracy. As Lijphart is stating is his book Patterns of Democracy, consensus democracy prefers consensus with high level of inclusion instead of an opposition. Instead of being satisfied with simple majority within political system, this consensus is trying to maximize (governing) majority. This type of democracy is typical for divided, inhomogeneous societies (e.g. Belgium, Switzerland, Northern Ireland). There are ten traits of consensus democracy in general and regarding Lijphart’s thoughts on the EU as a consensus democracy. I will briefly point out five (which I find most important and discussible) of ten traits of the EU as a consensus democracy and bellow each trait I will try to put down a bit of proof/critics that we cannot use those statements as final or absolute thanks to the, you guess, EU’s complexity.
KEY: “S” – general Lijphart’s trait of consensus democracy; “LA”- Lijphart’s argument why the EU should be consensus democracy; “C”- critics trying to prove complexity of the EU
1. S- executive power-sharing in broad multiparty coalitions
LA- the European Commission (EC) as a broad and international coalition
C- the EC cannot be entirely classified as a government; coalition is consisted of the EU institutions, not parties; members of the EC are not directly elected by people (even though elections of the EC are connected to the elections for the EP)
2. S- executive-legislative balance of power
LA- the EC as equal partner with Council of the EU (Council of Ministers); though elections of the EC are connected to the elections for the EP
C- history of the EP in terms of its powers; we can perceive powers as balanced, but behind balance there might be a desire for “artificial” political integration through empowering the EP because it has substantial political legitimacy on the EU level
3. S- multi-party system
LA- the EP has seven recognized political parties (European People’s party, Socialists, Liberals…)
C- political parties are conducting their election campaigns on the national, not the EU level; voters vote on the national, not the EU level; European elections are often “barometer” elections meaning they are highly dependent on inner political affairs of every member-state; European parties are “party-families” in which not all members think alike (e.g. British Labor Party may not as “socialist” as French Socialist Party)
4. S- federal and decentralized government
LA- the EU is highly centralized in comparison to other international institutions, but it is “confederal” and decentralized in comparison to nation-states
C- centralization of the EU as an international organization is advisable and applied, but because of high degree of bureaucratization and different political climate in member-states or even in international environment can be the reason for confusion, sluggishness and inefficiency (e.g. immigrant/refugee crisis); decentralization in comparison to nation-states again opens the sovereignty issue and member-state as an independent decision maker (especially in crisis)
5. S- rigid constitution
LA- founding treaties are rigid because they can be modified or changed only with consent of all member-states
C- founding treaties certainly are rigid, but there is no official constitution of the EU (France and the Netherlands reject the EU constitution proposal/ratification on the referendums in 2005); can Lisbon Treaty be treated as “unofficial” constitution?
To conclude: three things are NOT questionable: the EU is a political system (sui generis), the EU has democratic foundations and is a democratic political system (even though categorization regarding variant of democracy is not so simple), the EU is a very complex socio-political venture. Absence of substantial political and cultural integration may be aggravating factor for higher effectiveness and efficiency on the EU level. Like Jean Monnet said: “If I had to do it again, I would begin with culture”.
PICTURE SOURCE: www.academia.edu