The financial crisis and the measures taken by the European authorities to tackle the problems at least provisionally have led to a considerable shift of power to the executives. Some ‘economic dialogue’ with the European Parliament and the possibility for the national parliaments to invite the relevant Member of the European Commission to explain and discuss their views on the draft budgetary-plans or the recommendations to a Member State within the framework of the European Semester, as well as the creation of the ‘European Parliamentary Week’ and the work of the ‘Interparliamentary Conference under Article 13 of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (TSCG, or ‘Fiscal Compact’)’ are attempts to include the parliaments into the process, but the relevant powers are concentrated with the European Council, the ministers of the Euro-group as well as the Commission. There is no direct democratic control, and if we can talk about legitimacy, its sources are supposed to be the accountability of the national governments to their respective parliaments. As all the relevant discussions within the institutions are led in private, and given the practical limits of effective control of the ministers by their respective national parliaments, legitimacy of the decisions of the European Council and the Council is more theoretical than real. We have to acknowledge this fact, while we observe that the subjects and contents of the decisions taken progressively reach into salient issues like economic, fiscal, social and re-distributional policies.
This is a new situation. Instead of having found a remedy to what is called the democratic deficit of the European Union, we are facing new and serious challenges. Granted, all the decisions of the European institutions are taken in the interest of the citizens of the Union. But citizens would be less concerned if they and their direct representatives had a say and, at least, some knowledge of how what decisions for which reasons have been taken by whom, to hold the decision-makers accountable.
If the proposals made by the five Presidents in their Report of June 2015 ‘Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union’ for new powers and responsibilities of the European institutions based on enhanced democratic control can be understood as an important step towards improving the situation, the question may be asked whether the legitimacy of the European Union’s decision-making and, thus, of the European Union can benefit from the new information technologies in the digital age. I have explored some of the existing and possible further applications of the internet for bringing the citizens closer to the European authorities and to further strengthen their ownership of the Union. The results have been presented at a conference of ECLN in Saloniki this Spring. Today, it is time to go one step further and look at the question in the light of ‘multilevel constitutionalism’ more generally.
Surprisingly, so far none of the existing papers, programs or agendas of the European institutions on ICT or internet policies seem to address the question of democracy and legitimacy in the Union. These two words do not appear in the Commission’s Communications on ‘A Digital Agenda for Europe’ of August 2010 nor on ‘A Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe’ of May 2015. Even the Commission’s website called ‘Digital Agenda for Europe’ does not refer to texts or issues regarding democracy in the EU. Nor do the general strategies of the EU on growth or on the future of the EMU, from the EU-2020-Strategy and the Commission’s ‘blueprint for a deep and genuine economic and monetary union’, to the five Presidents Report already mentioned, develop ideas on possible uses of the internet for enhancing democracy and legitimacy of the Union.
The blueprint, in particular, does underline democratic legitimacy as a condition for establishing, in a longer term perspective, a move towards ‘a full banking union, a full fiscal union, a full economic union’: ‘All the different steps mentioned above imply a higher degree of transfers of sovereignty, hence responsibility at the European level. This process should be accompanied by steps towards political integration, to ensure strengthened democratic legitimacy, accountability and scrutiny’.
The five Presidents Report is less explicit about the amendments to the treaties needed, but clearly stresses the need for enhancing democratic legitimacy too. No reference, however, exists to how ICT could be used to this end. Are democracy and legitimacy, accountability and scrutiny not related to ICT or to the internet? Let me try to show that there are good reasons for bringing the two issues together, particularly in the light of multilevel constitutionalism, so developing e-democracy in the EU. To do so I will first explain the constitutional context in which e-democracy could play a major role (infra A.). This may open our eyes, second, for the opportunities offered by the internet for enhancing paths towards enhanced democratic ownership and control of Union’s policies by the citizens of the Union (infra B.).