Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell

Sources – EU-Elections

If you learned one thing from our video it’s probably that the EU is a bureaucratic monster – but one we’re still pretty lucky to have. After all, this whole paperwork tangle is the result of trying to consider every nation’s opinion and interests. Well, you only know the half of it before you had a look at the sources. Make yourself some coffee, this could take a while.

A huge thanks to the following scientists and experts for their help with this video:

  • Prof. Alberto Alemanno

Professor of EU Law at the HEC Paris; Global Professor of Law at the NYU School of Law in Paris, Founder of the "Good Lobby"

  • Dr. Barbara Lippert

Head of Research at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs

  • Erik Brandes

Researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs

  • Anna Hundehege

Researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs

  • Anonymous

Professor for Applied Science

EU-Elections – Sources:

– Being a citizen of the European Union means that many aspects of our lives are regulated by a weird entity.

On this website the EU summarized all its regulations.

#Summaries of EU-Legislation


– Many Europeans think that their vote in the EU elections doesn’t count and that the EU is not democratic.

The opinions regarding whether voting for the EU Parliament has an impact on the EU politics or not are currently changing. In 2017 for the first time more respondents thought that their vote would make a difference than the other way around – 48% said yes, 47% said no. So that’s an improvement, but still less than half of all people.

#Parlemeter 2018, D72.1, Page 31,2018


– In democratic states, public policies are based on the will of the people.

Literally translated from the ancient greek word, democracy means “rule of the people”. The 16th president of the USA, Abraham Lincoln, added the following to this definition: ”Democracy is the governance of the people, by the people, for the people”

Both are theoretical approaches which describe the basic idea of democracy. In reality in no country on Earth the rulers are the ones being ruled at the same time.

That’s why you should see our statement that the policies in democracies are based on the will of the people as a more general assertion.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica gives a more detailed picture:

#Democracy, retrieved 2019


– 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.

Some examples for these control mechanisms are the separation of powers, the checks and balances, equal and secret elections and the controlling function of the parliament. Parliaments generally have the possibility to dismiss the government. In the EU this is possible with a majority of two thirds, in most other countries with an absolute majority. Another control measure is that the representants of the government have to answer the questions of the parliament.

#Features of ideal democracy, Encyclopaedia Britannica


– International politics are not democratic but anarchic.

Fair warning: here comes a pretty heavy dose of political theory but it’s worth it.

In the field of political sciences there are different theories which try to explain international relationships.

It’s undisputed that there is no central power on an international level to punish single states. So participants of the (neo-) realism, one of the leading theories, conclude that the international system is predominated by general anarchy.

Other theories, like the institutionalism, observe that beside the states there are also other non-governmental actors involved in international politics, like NGOs, global corporations and banks. The original anarchy on the international level is gradually diminished by interdependency. Social and economical organisations are cross-border dependant on each other. Because international collaboration is an advantage for the involved actors, more and more organisations will be interested in global networking, which will ultimately lead to global collaboration – at least that’s what the theory says.

No theory of international politics is undisputed and it’s still not decided which one of them will gain acceptance in the political sciences.

So it’s very complicated and in this field it’s barely possible to state something that all theories would support equally.

#International Relations, Principal Theories, 2011


– But since the UN has virtually no power and its members often have opposing interests it is usually politely ignored.

The first major problem of the UN is that in its most important committee, the Security Council, the permanent members France, Great Britain, the USA, Russia and China each hold the right of veto. That means each one of them can block a decision. Since these five countries already hold different opinions regarding many questions, there is rarely an agreement.

The second problem is that the International Court of Justice (the main institution for judicature of the UN) only is allowed to step in if all involved parties agree with it. Additionally there is no international executive, which could enforce the Court of Justice’s sentences. So in reality, the conviction and enforcement of sentences completely rely on the collaboration with the accused state, which makes it hard to enforce sentences.

#United Nations, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019


#Wikipedia-Article: Criticism of the United Nations


#The United Nations Explained: Its Purpose, Power and Problems, New York Times, 2017


– The EU is a construct that tries to have rules and laws for its member nations that are actually enforceable.

Legal acts of the EU can be objected by the European Court of Justice. For example, if someone doesn’t agree with a court decision in their home country and had passed through all official channels, they could bring their case to the European Court of Justice as last option.

The jurisdictions and competencies of the European Court of Justice are arranged in Art. 19 in the treaty on the European Union.

#Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union, retrieved 2019


– Originally the EU was founded to ensure peace between European Nations and prosperity for the continent.

This refers to the first predecessor of the EU, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). It was founded in 1951 to bring those branches of industry under international control, which were needed for the manufacturing of weapons. 1957 the “EURATOM” compact was added, which was used to regulate the use of nuclear technologies.

#A peaceful Europe – the beginnings of cooperation


– It's like a “super state”, and it is striving to be democratic and legitimized by all of its citizens.

Technically speaking, the EU is not a state at all, but an international organisation. Based on the three-elements doctrine of Jellinek, a state is based on three pillars: a common national territory, common constitutive people and a common state authority. But the members of the EU still autonomously govern their national territory under the rule of their own state authorities. Also the question if there is even such thing as the “European people” is highly debated.

#Essential Elements of a state


#The Fragility of the 'Failed State' Paradigm, 2010, S. 6


To offer a more vivid image we still decided to call the EU a “super-state”. A lot of experts will disagree with this, but for the sake of making things easier to imagine in this video we are fine with that.

– If you want to create a democratic union of independent nations you have two options.

At this point we had to simplify a lot:

In the political sciences these two described options are called “supranational” and “intergovernmental”

Intergovernmental organisations act cross-national. This means that decisions of the organisation only can be made if all involved actors agree, making the decision a decision between states. Supranational institutions stand above their members, meaning that all members only have one vote for a decision and have to accept the vote of the majority.

#Supranational? Federal? Intergovernmental? The Governmental Structure of the European Union After the Treaty of Lisbon, 2013


#Wikipedia-Article: Intergovernmental Organization


#Wikipedia-Article: Supranational Union


– Both approaches have up and downsides and the EU ended up with a mix of both of them.

The advantage of supranational organisations is that they are more democratically legitimized. All citizens would equally vote for both, a parliament and a government, but it includes the disadvantage that national states have to cut their power, which they generally dislike.

Exactly this is the advantage that intergovernmental organisations have: ultimately the power remains in the hands of the member states, which makes it more likely that decisions are made at all. But this way decisions are approved by the heads of the states, but hardly by the citizens.

Over time a mix of both approaches developed in Europe. In today’s version the EU is a compromise made up of both, because it forces supranational Institutions (EU Parliament and EU Commission) and the both intergovernmental institutions (Council of the European Union and the European Council) to collaborate.

#Supranational? Federal? Intergovernmental? The Governmental Structure of the European Union After the Treaty of Lisbon, 2013


#Wikipedia-Article: Intergovernmental Organization


#Wikipedia-Article: Supranational Union


– Next to the European Court of Justice there are four main institutions that we’ll talk about today.

Additionally there are also two other institutions we didn’t mention in the video – the European Central Bank and the European Court of Auditors.

#Glossary of Summaries


They are a minor part in the decision process, but are not unimportant though. The European Central Bank for example can make important decisions on their own, which can have extensive consequences for the member states. This was highly criticized during the financial crisis of 2008 for example, when cost-cutting measures were imposed in Greece, while Greece itself hardly had a possibility to oppose them.

#ECB criticised for overstepping mandate in eurozone crisis, Financial times, 2017


– 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.

The European Council: You vote your national parliament → which elects the head of government → The head of government makes decisions for the EU

Council of the EU: You elect your national parliament → which elects the head of government → the head of government elects ministers → these ministers make decisions in the EU

EU Commision: You elect your national parliament → which elects the head of government → the head of government nominates a commissioner, who is undertaken by the European Council and approved by the EU Parliament

EU Parliament: The parliament is directly elected by all Europeans.

#The European Parliament: The Citizens Voice in EU


– These leaders choose the President of the EU Commission and its fellow Commissioners, who eventually are confirmed by the EU Parliament.

The commissioners are appointed by the national governments, then picked by the European Council (the heads of states and governments) and ultimately they are elected by the EU Parliament.

#European Commission


The EU Commission president is appointed by the heads of states and governments and is later elected by the EU Parliament. Since the introduction of the “Spitzenkandidaten-process” (top-candidate process) the European Council has to evaluate the results of the EU elections prior to its decision. This means that the top candidate of the party with the most votes is most likely going to be the new commission president. But this is not a given. Theoretically the European Council could go against the election results and suggest another candidate. In that case the commission president would probably not gain the majority of votes in the EU Parliament, which is the reason why it is improbable that the European Council will not follow the election results.

#Election of the President of the European Commission


– So in effect 2.5 of the 4 main European Union institutions depend on the member state governments.

Half of the organ is the Commission, since the EU Parliament could object the election of the single commissioners. But this very rarely happens and in most cases the commissioners, which are proposed by the national governments, are undertaken.

– The European Parliament started out with very little influence but has became 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.

When the parliament was founded in 1952, it was merely a powerless control organ inside the European Coal and Steel Community. It only got its name in 1957 with the treaties of Rome. And later with the treaties of Maastricht in 1992, Amsterdam in 1997 and Nizza in 2001, the parliament became a part of the EU legislation.

#The European Parliament: historical background


Since the treaty of Lisbon in 2007 the parliament is engaged in almost all political fields and is even deciding over the EU budget.The EU Parliament also votes on international treaties. But only regarding the fields of politics in which the EU is responsible, like trade and commerce.

#The European Parliament: Powers


#European Parliament, Overview


Today’s competencies of the parliament are written down in article 13 to 19 in the Treaty on European Union.

#Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union, retrieved 2012


– Compared to national Parliaments one major power is still missing though. The EU–Parliament officially can't propose new laws on its own.

We are making a little excursion here. What is the difference between the EU Parliament and national parliaments?

The political system of the EU is different from the ones of its member states, which is why one should not use the same standards comparing them. But you can indeed compare the single competencies to see in which aspects the EU Parliament differs from national ones. Besides not all national parliaments in Europe are equally strong. But all European national parliaments can propose laws.

The only EU institution which can propose laws is the EU Commission. But the EU Parliament and the EU Council are allowed to request new law proposals from the Commission (By the way, EU citizens can do that as well by submitting petitions). If the Commission is not following this request, they have to justify this decision.

#Planning and Proposing law


But the requesting of new laws is still no official right, which is a common accusation that the EU has to face.

#European Parliament, Overview


– Right now the member states governments pretty much control the European Union.

One reason is that the Council of the EU still plays a more important role than the EU Parliament. In the ordinary legislative procedure they are both equally involved. But in the so called consultation procedure the EU Parliament can only advise the Council in its decision, but it’s not able to vote on the final law.

#Ordinary legislative procedure


#Consultation procedure


Additionally based on the composition of the Commission you could say that the member states enjoy a larger influence.

– As a whole the EU is not as democratic as most of its member states. But it is democratic.

The question if the EU lacks democracy is a highly debated topic in the field of political sciences. Some researchers even deny that there is a democracy deficit in the EU at all. According to them, the EU matches the democratic standards with its indirect and direct channels for participation, its constitutionality, through checks and balances and with independent institutions.

#In Defense of the “Democratic Deficit”: Reassessing Legitimacy in the European Union, Moravcsik


Scientists who accuse the EU of a democracy deficiency hold this opinion for different reasons. Their main argument is that political decisions are not sufficiently legitimized by parliaments. Some demand more rights of say for the national parliaments (meaning that decisions of the heads of states and governments should be approved by the national parliaments), others want to empower the EU Parliament.

Others don’t see the problem of the EU democracy in the institutions, but in the public discourse, which is more of a national than a European one. Representatives of this view mainly demand the increased establishment of European media, which could contribute to a Europe-wide discourse.

The core of the argument of the EU lacking democracy is based on the parliament not being allowed to propose laws. That’s why we focused on this aspect in our video.

#Wikipedia-Article: Democratic legitimacy of the European Union


– Currently the member states have a much greater say in the EU than its independent institutions.

This is for example the case when it comes to the personnel of the EU commission. And in some political fields, the EU Parliament doesn’t have a final vote.

#European Commission