Supranationalism | Legitimacy | Elections | Constitution | Federalism | Referendums


The European Parliament elections require each Member State to use proportional representation or STV. I still can’t believe it, even though I’ve now read the relevant provisions of 2002/772/EC.

I don’t think we should give in to the slack British usage of “proportional representation” to include preferential systems like STV. Sadly the Council Decision contains this usage as well.

Anyway, on your substantive point: are you saying that basically some of the MEPs from the UK, albeit they be elected, are in practice not subject to the threat of losing their seats on account of voters’ dislike of their legislative activity?

Doesn’t this undermine the democratic legitimacy of the laws they pass?


I think proportionality is grossly overemphasised in the British debate; there are people who have difficulty opening their minds to the proposition that it may not be the sole criterion for assessing electoral systems. In Australia, proportional representation as a term is used contrastively with “preferential”. See the appendix to this AEC publication. Hence my confusion.

When I wrote about legitimacy, I was referring to the legitimacy of the laws passed by the MEPs, not the MEPs themselves; you don’t really address that in your response.


The input legitimacy here is, as you say, some function of the roles of the Commission, Council and Parliament, but you can’t pretend that it’s somehow irreducible and immune to analysis. The Parliament’s contribution is perfectly capable of being discussed even if it is not the whole story.

My assessment is that the Commission has no democratic mandate whatsoever in respect of the generality of legislative proposals it initiates. I had a question asked in the Parliament about the democratic mandate for two specific measures, and all they condescended to say was that they had the legal authority to pursue the measures, which is to refuse to answer the question. The UK Government has the legal authority to enact a highly regressive income tax or legalise fox hunting, but quite the opposite of a democratic mandate to do so.

The Council and attendant institutions operate largely unscrutinised by national parliaments (practice varies widely), and sometimes in formal defiance of the scrutiny reserve, and sometimes even in secret. In general, EU members are parliamentary democracies whose executives are not directly electorally accountable, and whose conduct of external relations is among the least reviewable of their activities. I believe it unusual for parties (at least in the UK) to campaign in national elections on their proposed actions in Council.

So now back to the EU Parliament: what is the effect on the input legitimacy of EU legislation as a whole, given the near-guaranteed status of some members by “virtue” of closed lists? Obviously the UK stands as one of the world’s best examples of a democracy with unelected politicians (I appreciate that you would prefer it were unelected politicians restricted to … err … the upper echelons of the Civil Service). Yet we have the Parliament Acts, and strong norms of deference to the elected chamber. In other countries, however, even this excuse doesn’t obtain. You can point at national law and say it ought to be obeyed because everyone had a chance to influence it through their vote, but you can’t say that as strongly in the case of EU law. The legislative outcome may satisfy an EU-wide majority (the Byzantine legislative procedures must be credited for achieving that), but for the minority, you can’t demand their loyalty in the same way as you can in polities where democratic control is considerably tighter.


Thanks for coming back to this. You say don’t follow my point, but I’m more asking a question. Every time I asked it, you said “let’s ask a different question”. I’m quite happy to look into your questions too, but I find it odd that you won’t answer mine – I think what’s going on is that you’ve not gone back and read the whole discussion from the top.

The question is: what effect has the near-certain re-election of some MEPs upon the input legitimacy of EU legislation?

Do you deny that the one undermines the other?

We both seem to agree that the input legitimacy of EU legislation is a function of all the elements of the EU legislature: Parliament, Council and Commission. You seem to want to refuse to discuss this analytically (in the strict sense of breaking something down into its constituent parts, though obviously to some extent one has to consider the interaction between these three parts). You keep saying “well, what about the effect upon legitimacy of [something other than MEPs' incentives]“.


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