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Is the Eurogroup democratic?

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The Eurogroup is an informal body that effectively operates as a “European Council” for the Euro Area. The Economic and Monetary Union as such lacks a proper decision-making entity compatible with norms of representative democracy. It also has no legislature specific to it. The European Parliament is for the Union as a whole, notwithstanding proposals to create a Euro-specific super committee—an effective mini Parliament—within it.

There have been discussions and plans to improve this suboptimal state of affairs. These include European Commission proposals and joint reports by various presidents of Community institutions or entities (see here, here, and here — pdf files). All have sought ways to elevate the status of the Eurogroup, in the overall effort of transforming the EMU from this quasi-confederal entity it now is into a state-like, “federal” formation, while maintaining the non-Euro EU at the level of integration it now enjoys.

These are worthy efforts, aimed at the longer-term correction of present flaws. While I do think that they need to proceed, I wish to turn attention to a persistent dynamic that often escapes our attention. This concerns the sovereignty mismatch at the core of the broader architecture.

Single government without single governed

Let us assume the Eurogroup is the Euro Area government. Each one of its members indeed is a representative of a democratic state. What needs to be examined is this: does the aggregation of democracies foster a greater democracy?

A government in a representative democracy partakes of the sovereignty of an indivisible body of citizens. Put differently, the government is the manifestation of a certain citizenry’s sovereign will.

In federal states the body of citizens performs two distinct functions without ever dividing itself into separate peoples. One concerns the sovereign will-formation at state level. The other is the same process, only it occurs at the federal level. Whatever the case, the body of citizens is one, while the authority of each government, be it state or federal, perfectly matches the boundaries within which each of those two distinct functions is realised (also read Constitutional subject and order, and On Habermas’ European Democracy).

This is not the case at the European level. Take the Eurogroup, which we assumed to be the Euro Area government. Where does the Eurogroup’s body of citizens make itself manifest? _I am not referring to the individual citizenry of each member state, I am searching for the _constitutional subject that outright legitimises and underpinns the constitutional object of Euro-level government.

I repeat, the point is not if each individual member state is democratic. That is a given. The issue is whether there is a consistent application of the democratic norms from the national to the supranational level. In particular, whether there is correspondence between a body of citizens and a certain government’s operations of governance over it.

My understanding is this doesn’t happen. There is no European People to speak of, at least not in the substantive, constitutional way that concerns sovereignty. Indeed there is European citizenship, predicated on a rich corpus of law that effectively concretises the freedoms of movement and establishment, while slightly expanding on them. Yet there is no context in which a unified body of European citizens—let us confine it to the Euro Area—proceeds, in a clear and unambiguous manner, to exercise their sovereign will, which in this case would be to elect their executive state function.

A group of democracies may not be a democracy

It is typical, at least among European policy analysts, to refer to the present order as featuring—or as fostering—a “democratic deficit”. Though I do understand the signification people are trying to attach to that notion, I personally am not at ease with it, for it can be interpreted as a mere quantitative flaw, rather than a qualitative or substantive one.

I would rather speak about a sovereignty mismatch, or some similar concept, by which to suggest that the “federal-level” government of the Euro Area does not draw its sovereignty from a “federal-level” body of citizens. Such misconfiguration cannot be solved by means of increasing existing functions and mechanisms—the quantitative approach—but only by altering their qualitative aspects.

As noted above, I seek the _consistent _application of the norms germane to representative democracy; those that provide legitimacy to a government; the ones that substantiate the sovereignty of the subject-object binary, of the constitutional order as a whole.

As of now, we do not have that at the European level. Instead, we have formal and informal fora, where individual democracies congregate to formulate policies under circumstantial power relations, which are then implemented by technocratic or mostly technocratic agencies.

For the latter claim, take the European Commission as an example. If it were indeed democratic, as the spitzenkandidaten process that brought Mr. Juncker to power has supposedly established, then it would not need any mandate whatsoever from entities exterior to it. It would have the outright approval of the sovereign body of the European People. That would have been enough.

In this light, consider the July 6 statement of Vice-President Dombrovskis:

But to be clear, the Commission cannot negotiate a new programme without a mandate from the Eurogroup.

Its dubious legality aside, this very proposition—and this kind of language—is indicative of the inadequate democratic underpinnings of that institution.

In order not to run off on another tangent and to conclude this article, let me repeat that there is no consistent application of the norms of representative democracy from the national to the supranational level. At the heart of the European Union exists a sovereignty mismatch between the citizens and the executive. Whatever entity may qualify for consideration as the Union’s or the Euro Area’s government suffers from this fundamental flaw.

I have here used a “what if” scenario where the Eurogroup is the EMU government. I have done so only to relate a persistent, albeit abstract, issue to an arrangement that happens to be current on the news. The gist is that the EU, as it currently is, is not perfectly aligned with the principles of Democracy we Europeans have come to expect. That is so due to its constitutional drawbacks as pertains to sovereignty.

Is there a process to change this now?

No, not in any meaningful form.

Will change be enacted in the foreseeable future?

Yes, but it is not likely, nor is it clear that it will be implemented in a genuine way.

Should constitutional reform happen in order to bridge the mismatch, i.e. to create a sovereign European People that legitimises its executive?