The EU Body Politic
On February 7, 1992, ministers of 12 European states signed a treaty ratifying the formation of the European Union (EU).
The document, which came to be known as the Maastricht Treaty, stated in its first article: "This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen."
It was thus part of the intention of the EU'S founders to create a democratic, autonomous political body that would be directly responsible to the European people. But how close does the EU'S population feel to the decisions made in its name? If voter turnout can provide any approximation, the 1999 elections for the European Parliament reveal a populace severely estranged from its representative body. In an all-time low turnout, fewer than 50 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots, marking the latest stage in a persistent downward trend since the first elections in 1979.
The people of Europe are justifiably alienated from the EU body politic. Little of the power-making lies with the representatives actually elected by the people, while those who wield true power have little connection or accountability to the people. The 1999 vote revealed a long-term political malaise that has steadily grown in the shade of these institutions. Unfortunately, this trend in public apathy risks perpetuating the already non-democratic nature of the EU.
The power structure of the three governing bodies of the EU--the European Commission, the Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament--is a principal cause of the public's disengagement. Of these, the 20-member European Commission holds the executive power....