Democratic deficit

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A democratic deficit (or democracy deficit) occurs when ostensibly democratic organizations or institutions (particularly governments) fall short of fulfilling the principles of democracy in their practices or operation where representative and linked parliamentary integrity becomes widely discussed.[1]

The phrase democratic deficit is cited as first being used by the Young European Federalists in their Manifesto in 1977,[2] which was drafted by Richard Corbett. The phrase was also used by David Marquand in 1979, referring to the then European Economic Community, the forerunner of the European Union.[3]

United Nations[edit]

Many authors[who?] have argued that the United Nations suffers from a democratic deficit, because it lacks a body of directly elected representatives. The UN Parliamentary Assembly has been proposed as a way of ameliorating this deficit.[4] However, even the creation of such an organ would not affect the great power veto in the UN Security Council, under which important UN decisions can be vetoed by China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom or the United States. Reform of the UN Security Council through amendments to the United Nations Charter could change this, but such reform would itself be subject to the great power veto.

European Union[edit]

The European Union (EU) is a unique organisation – not a federation, yet not just an international organisation. Whether there is a democratic deficit in the EU depends on how it is viewed. Compared to an ideally democratic nation state the EU is less democratic and thus has a democratic deficit. If the EU, however, is compared to an international organisation like the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank or the United Nations the EU has a democratic surplus.

In relation to the EU, the term democratic deficit originally referred to the fact that, in ratifying the EU treaties, national parliaments had transferred legislative powers in certain fields to the European Union, not to the European Parliament, but to ministers, who acted behind closed doors in the EU Council, with no parliamentary approval required. The European Parliament had only a consultative role. In this sense, the democratic deficit has now been largely plugged, in that almost all EU legislation, budgets, international agreements, the appointment of the Commission, and even the delegation of implementing powers to the Commission, now require European Parliament approval. Furthermore, ministers in the EU Council must now deliberate on legislation in public, the results of votes are published, and there is a right of access to documents.

Concerns about a democratic deficit in the EU have therefore re-focussed on the low popular interest in the EU, the relatively low turnout in elections to the European Parliament (compared to national parliaments, albeit not to the US House of Representatives), and (as elsewhere) the divide between politicians and the general population. Some scholars have also argued that the use of repeated referendums to ratify EU treaties (such as the Treaty of Nice and the Treaty of Lisbon in Ireland) is also associated with a democratic deficit.[5]

The Lisbon Treaty was intended to reduce the democratic deficit in the European Union. It increased the powers of the democratically elected European Parliament, introduced a period of prior scrutiny by national parliaments of all EU legislative proposals, introduced the Citizen's initiative and provided for the election of the President of the European Commission by the European Parliament. The Lisbon Treaty was itself ratified by the parliaments of every single Member State, but critics argue that, at least in those countries with a tradition of national referenda, it should have been ratified by referendum.

United Kingdom[edit]

Main article: West Lothian question

Devolution was introduced in Scotland and Wales following referenda in 1997, leading to the establishment of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. In 1998 the Northern Irish Assembly was formed. All three devolved areas are still subject to the jurisdiction of Westminster on matters not devolved to these assemblies such as foreign policy.

The Labour Party is in favour of devolution to Regions of England[citation needed], whereas the Conservative Party prefers "English Votes on English Laws".[6] Some political parties such as the English Democrats Party want a full English parliament.[7] The Liberal Democrats are currently reviewing their policies on this subject.[citation needed]

Scotland in relation to the United Kingdom[edit]

The perceived democratic deficit arises in Scotland when the UK political system returns a government that doesn't reflect the decisions of the electorate in Scotland. Prior to 1979, this situation arose after the 1959 and 1970 general elections when Labour formed the majority of Scotland's MPs during a Conservative UK administration. However, from 1979 until 1997 the difference between the MPs elected in Scotland and the government returned in Westminster was marked. From 1979 until 1997 general election, the Conservative Government appeared to have little political mandate in Scotland and can be viewed, along with the Sermon on the Mound, as the nation's rejection of Thatcherism. The deficit arose again after the 2010 general election. The Conservative party have led a coalition government despite only having 1 of the 59 MPs for Scotland. Scottish independence is partially motivated by this perceived deficit which, by May 2013, can be viewed as arising 62% of the time since May 1979 (21 years from the last 34).

Democratic Deficit in Scotland: MPs elected from 1945 until 1974[edit]

Conservative Labour Liberal Scottish National Party others UK National Result
10 October 1974
16 41 3 11 0 Labour
28 February 1974
21 40 3 7 0 Labour
*18 June 1970
19 48 3 1 0 Conservative
31 March 1966
21 46 5 0 0 Labour
15 October 1964
23 44 4 0 0 Labour
*8 October 1959
26 43 1 0 1 Conservative
26 May 1955
36 34 1 0 0 Conservative
25 October 1951
35 35 1 0 0 Conservative
23 February 1950
32 37 2 0 0 Labour
5 July 1945
30 34 0 0 7 Labour

Democratic Deficit since 1979[edit]

Conservative Labour Liberal Scottish National Party others UK National Result
*3 May 1979
22 44 3 2 0 Conservative
*9 June 1983
21 41 8 2 0 Conservative
*11 June 1987
10 50 9 3 0 Conservative
*9 April 1992
11 49 9 3 0 Conservative
1 May 1997
0 56 10 6 0 Labour
7 June 2001
1 41 10 5 0 Labour
5 May 2005
1 41 11 6 0 Labour
6 May 2010
1 41 11 6 0 Conservative led coalition
7 May 2015
1 1 1 56 0 Conservative


Main article: Non-citizens (Latvia)

OSCE mission monitoring the 2006 parliamentary elections mentioned that

In its previous report in 2002, OSCE/ODIHR mission has claimed that

As of 2015, the 262'622 non-citizens[10] of Latvia have no voting rights not only at parliamentary, but also at local and European elections (citizens of other EU member states can vote in these elections).


  1. ^ "A democratic deficit occurs when ostensibly democratic organizations or institutions in fact fall short of fulfilling what are believed to be the principles of democracy." Sanford Levinson, How the United States Constitution Contributes to the Democratic Deficit in America, 55 Drake L. Rev. 859, 860 (2007).
  2. ^
  3. ^ Marquand, David (1979). Parliament for Europe. Cape. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-224-01716-9. The resulting 'democratic deficit' would not be acceptable in a Community committed to democratic principles. 
    Chalmers, Damian; et al. (2006). European Union law: text and materials. Cambridge University Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-521-52741-5. 'Democratic deficit' is a term coined in 1979 by the British political scientist . . . David Marquand . 
    Meny, Yves (2003). "De La Democratie En Europe: Old Concepts and New Challenges". Journal of Common Market Studies 41: 1–13. doi:10.1111/1468-5965.t01-1-00408. Since David Marquand coined his famous phrase 'democratic deficit' to describe the functioning of the European Community, the debate has raged about the extent and content of this deficit. 
  4. ^ Commission of Latin American Parliament joins call for UN Parliamentary Assembly | Campaign for a UN Parliament
  5. ^ The EU's Democratic Deficit and Repeated Referendums in Ireland
  6. ^ BBC news article
  7. ^ The English Democrats
  8. ^ Press statement of the OSCE mission, 8 October 2006
  9. ^ REPUBLIC OF LATVIA SAEIMA ELECTIONS 5 October 2002 OSCE/ODIHR Final Report - p. 7 (9 in web numeration)
  10. ^ [1]

See also[edit]