Disproportionate Bodies and Proportional Outrage

Updated: May 28


Because Google Adsense deemed this website to have too little content for ads, I'll be posting my top 25 undergraduate papers. This was the term paper for Politics of the European Union. It was useful to do a deep dive on the inner political workings of the E.U. I'm still in shock that they decided that MEP's cannot propose laws.



Dalhousie University

POLI 3321

November 27th, 2018


The European Union is a remarkable case study in what could most accurately be described as a project of continental governance. Just like governance at the provincial and federal level in Canada, it has an executive branch, a legislative branch and a judicial branch. However this government expands more or less across the European continent. These bodies are, for the most part, modelled after federal governments in the western world. This also means they have unfortunately carried structural faults of certain federal governments in the western world as well as their own unique faults. These faults have consequences of outrage that can be surpassingly large. To anybody who is surprised at the level of outrage the European Union receives, all one must do is examine public opinion surrounding federal and provincial governments. There is, without a doubt, a greater amount of outrage directed at federal governments, as opposed to provincial governments. So, it stands to reason that a continental government would receive a greater amount of outrage than a federal government would.

Perhaps some don’t see the level of outrage levelled at the European Union to be larger than the outrage levelled at federal governments. That being said, the Brexit movement signified a huge moment in the history of the European Union project. The reality that a majority of United Kingdom referendum voters decided to throw away the entire project over grievances of the structures of the European Union, among other important issues such as immigration & inequality(1), shows the more significant consequences of grievances at the continental level rather than the federal level. Therefore the objections to the structures of the European Union are crucial to fix if this project is to survive. The two most logical places to raise objections are in the existence of the Council and the proposal monopoly of the Commission. To understand why these objections to the governing structures of the European Union may be logical, one must first understand the history of the European Union as well as its institutions.

The European Union as we know it today did not start as a project of continental governance, let alone a continental government with an executive and a judicial branch; this is something that the United Nations (arguably a project of global governance(2) lacks. The aftermath of the second world war played a pivotal role in the future of the European Union. Interdependence was certainly needed after a handful of European states had brutalized each other and their civilians. Today's European Union began with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) that was established in 1951 by the Treaty of Paris. It included six nation-states on the European Continent; Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The ECSE was initially thought of as a way of preventing further war between France and Germany(3); however, it would eventually be known as the international organization that started the process of integration - a process that eventually led to the European Union.

At the time, the ECSC was overseen by four institutions: a High Authority composed of independent appointees, an assembly of national parliamentarians, a special council, composed of federal ministers; as well as and finally a court of justice. These four institutions served as the blueprint for what would be today’s European Commission, European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, and the European Court of Justice.(4) In 2007, the Lisbon treaty merged the European Community, which had evolved from the ECSC the ECC, and the EURATOM of the 1950s; the PJCC of 1990s; and the CFSP of the 1990s into the one body formally known as the European Union.(5) The European Union was a coalescing of multiple past treaties into the one body with the one name we know today. Having a good perception of how its governmental bodies function can be driven by comparing them to governmental bodies in a country such as Canada.

The governing bodies of the European Union should be thought of as the executive (European Commission); the judicial (court of justice); and the legislative, containing the Senate (council of the European Union) and the House (European Parliament). Comparing these to the federal Canadian governing bodies reveals some fairly perplexing functionalities. The judicial branch might be where the most similarities and fewest possibly gripes exist. For a moment, imagine that the federal Canadian Senate is composed of Premiers of each of the provinces. This is what appears to be most comparable when it comes to the council of the European Union. At first glance, it seems strange. However, the idea is that the members of the Council of the European Union represent the interest of their nation states with their legislative decisions(6). The other legislative body that legislation must go through is the European Parliament; this is precisely what any political scientist would expect it to be, perhaps with more political parties than most parliaments have, with eight.

The executive branch is where the real differing from other governing bodies arises. The European Commission serves as the executive branch with 28 members. The European Council appoints these members, and the European Parliament confirms them. The European Council is comprised of the heads of state of the member states that comprise the European Union along with the president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission. The duty of those in the European Commission is to pass legislation, keeping the interests of the European Union in mind(7). On the other hand, those in the European Parliament and the council of the European Union pass bills with their individual states interests in mind. And there exists a respectable amount of evidence that those in the council have kept their states interests in mind when voting.(8)(9) Either way, this model of an executive branch is relatively different from a provincial or federal Canadian executive branch where, in the latter, the leader of the party with the most seats becomes the head of state and appoints a cabinet of secretaries with different responsibilities. Although there are many gripes to be had with the structures of this particular government, especially when it comes to the Council, before spelling them out one must be ready for the immediate counter-argument that will be given. In this case, it will be known as gridlock.

An essential part of government is a general level of gridlock. Above all else, we want to live in a society that is stable. In theory, legislation shouldn’t be able to make it through governments at a whim. There should be metrics put into place to ensure that the legislation is robust enough to withstand large amounts of scrutiny and multiple votes. The question that must be raised as far as gridlock is concerned, may be along the lines of - is the gridlock efficient? That may appear as a comical oxymoron; however, it brings up an interesting point of contention. Surely we all want governments to be gridlocked to ensure general stability, but are the metrics of creating that gridlock a waste of money? Could we not institute a system that is equally as stable that spends less taxpayer dollars and makes the system less complicated for the average voter to understand? Case in point, it would be respectable if the European Union structures of governance were assembled the way they were solely to ensure stability. However, the stability is not always granted through logical and efficient means. Thankfully, the non-proportional council of the European Union has a clause where a bill requires the approval of 65% of the European Union population in representation to pass.(10) To the contrary, the proportional parliament only needs a greater than 50% majority to pass a bill. This begs for an immediate question; why not scrap the council of the European Union in favor of needing a 65% majority in the European Parliament to pass a bill instead? Certain political fanatics who do not often venture outside of their established structure bubble may not be able to imagine governments functioning without the role of a disproportionate body such as Senates. Be that as it may, the idea of abolishing disproportionate structures of government may not be as extreme as some think.

There appears to be an increasing sentiment that disproportionate bodies such as senates are antiquated and for good reasons.(11) Disproportionate governing bodies don’t make much sense outside of a desire to create gridlock. But again, one does not need a disproportionate body to ensure stability through gridlock. They could add a higher required vote threshold to the proportional body and eliminate the disproportionate body to simplify things and cut costs. A significant argument that was brought up, fuelling the Brexit movement, was the disagreement with the membership fees states have to send to the European Union.(12) If the European Union wants to remain a fiscally responsible and efficient system of governance, the idea of adding a larger required vote threshold to the parliament in favour of getting rid of the disproportionate body should be presented as a desired evolution towards the future. This would also decrease the complexity to a body that has many institutions with similar names. Then again, the council of the European Union is not the only governing body that is deserving of criticism. The executive branch has a major flaw as well.

Some Brexit advocators used the argument that only the Commission can propose laws. Which is a revelation that is rather shocking to a Canadian, that only the executive branch gets to propose legislation.(13) Perhaps that lack of direct democracy is a fuel behind the what was an increasing concern over sovereignty which led to the rise in the UKIP party in the United Kingdom.(14) The European Union is fundamentally a federalism project pertaining to continental governance. That is a step above national governance, which is a step above provincial governance in Canada. Attempt to imagine if in Canada, we set up our provincial or federal government so only the executive could propose legislation. Undoubtedly the MP’s and MLA’s would be outraged at such a change. Unfortunately, those proposing the Brexit through that criticism appeared to rarely be asked; why not simply advocate for giving the European members of parliament the ability to propose laws? Rather than deciding to throw away the entire project of continental governance, which is a project that embraces the inevitable and ever increasing interconnected future. That refutation aside, it remains a robust criticism of one of the structures of the European Union.

Although the ones who used that perplexing structural decision as a reason to leave the European Union may have been thinking fairly irrational, fixing that critique shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do. The revelation of only the executives having the proposal power is a fairly obvious flaw that must be examined for the European Union to remain voter friendly. Especially when it appears that their agenda setting powers have only marginally diminished in recent times(15), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that executive branches who function such as the Commission can create mass outrage when there exists dissatisfaction with democracy in Europe.(16) Venturing more into the theoretical realm, it may also be rational to ask what the purpose of an executive branch for continental governance is anyway and is that purpose rational?

The same problems that exist of the executive branch of most federal governments appear to exist with the executive branch of the European Union as well. That main problem being the question mark around its true purpose. A purpose exists on paper that does not exist on paper for other executive branches and that purpose is to vote on legislation with the interests of the European Union in mind which is supposed to separate it from the other legislatively voting bodies. Although that purpose is anything but a strong one. The idea that legislatively voting officials are to represent different interests in different bodies comes off as overly complicated and non-objective. Does anyone doubt that the most rational way to approach political representation is to elect people who will listen to experts and vote with their constituents in mind? What does representing the interests of the European Union actually entail? Is it to defend the European Union even when it is objectively in the wrong? Historically the Commission has acted fairly technocratically(17) which is a good thing. However, if the legislative bodies adapt a technocratic tendency, the other question that must be asked is as follows - Does the European Union need an executive branch at all? Let alone a president?

The European Union is undoubtedly a very complex and sizable governing body that few people understand to a large degree. Why would framers or defenders of the European Union set up a complex system of continental governance where there is one person as a figurehead at the top who generally has no more power than any other member of the executive branch? Humans are flawed creatures, and most have at least a few perspectives that are generally unpopular. So why award someone with the title of head of state for an entire continent whose unpopular opinions are used as ammunition against the entire European project when that individual has no means of enacting his unpopular proposals by them-self?

All that being said, the European Union is a stable and perhaps even reasonably successful model of how to achieve continental governance. One might be accurate in framing it as a project of continental governance because it has the same three branches of government that Canadian governments have at the provincial and federal level, the difference being the European Union is a step up to a continental level. It is important to point out that the European Union did not begin as a project of continental governance, it started as a project of resource interdependence between a handful of European states after world war two. Over time it evolved into a governing body with all three typical branches.

The main differences between the system of governance of the European Union and that of Canada lie in the council of the European Union which functions as the Senate does in Canada. It is a disproportionate legislative body that has one member per member state of the European Union, and those members are generally the head of state of their respective countries. The existence of this body is problematic. General gridlock may be vital in government to ensure stability. However, that is no reason the European Union legislative branch should not only contain the proportionate European parliament with an increased vote threshold needed for bills to pass. Getting rid of the council of the European Union in favor of adding a 65% vote threshold required in the proportional European parliament would not create less stability however it would be more financially efficient and decrease the confusing complexity.

The other significant difference between the European Union and Canadian governance is the functioning of the executive branch. The executive branch of the European Union contains members who are appointed by a separate European council. The executive branch is also the only branch that can propose legislation, as both the legislative bodies cannot. That may not be a reason to ditch the entire project. However, fans of the Brexit movement were rational in thinking that is a huge problem. The existence of a president of the European Union is also a problem as they can be a punching bag for the project when they realistically have no more power than any other of the members of the executive. It may be very rational to question whether the European executive branch needs to exist period. Having people in positions of power to represent the interests of the European Union is far less logical than having people in power who vote based on the advice of experts with their constituents in mind. Yes the European Union remains an example of continental governance done relatively well. However, it has flaws, and those flaws provoke anger. It would be a shame for a project that has produced such achievements as the single market and remarkable science funding(18) to crumble because of outrage that is driven partially by the flaws of the structures of its government which can easily be fixable.




Bibliography


Bachmann, V., & Sidaway, J. (2016). Brexit geopolitics. Geoforum, 77, 47.


Ku, Julian, & Yoo, John C. (2013). Globalization and sovereignty. Berkeley Journal of International Law, 31(1), 210-235.


Berger, M. (2013). Motives for the foundation of the ECSC. The Poznan University of Economics Review, 13(3), 55-90.


"EUR-Lex Access to European Union Law." EUR-Lex - 52011DC0681 - EN - EUR-Lex. Accessed November 28, 2018. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=LEGISSUM:xy0022.


"EUR-Lex Access to European Union Law." EUR-Lex - 52011DC0681 - EN - EUR-Lex. Accessed November 28, 2018. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex:12007L/TXT.


Krase, Jackson. "The European Union: Supranational or Intergovernmental?" Medium. July 28, 2017. Accessed November 28, 2018. https://medium.com/@jskrase/the-european-union-supranational-or-intergovernmental-7980f7b5b4a1.


European Union. Accessed November 28, 2018. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-10-487_en.htm.


Mühlböck, M., & Tosun, J. (2018). Responsiveness to Different National Interests: Voting Behaviour on Genetically Modified Organisms in the Council of the European Union. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 56(2), 385-402.


Hagemann, S., Hobolt, Wratil, Essaiasson, Wlezien, Essaiasson, Peter, & Wlezien, Christopher. (2017). Government Responsiveness in the European Union: Evidence From Council Voting. Comparative Political Studies, 50(6), 850-876.


"Voting System." October 05, 2017. Accessed November 28, 2018. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/council-eu/voting-system/.


Bicknell, John. "Abolish the Senate. It's the Only Way to Rein in Modern Presidents." The Washington Post. August 30, 2016. Accessed November 28, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/08/30/abolish-the-senate-its-the-only-way-to-rein-in-modern-presidents/?utm_term=.e8eb759cd551.


Bennett, Asa. "The Facts behind the £350m per Week EU Membership Claim." The Telegraph. January 31, 2018. Accessed November 28, 2018. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/0/how-much-do-we-spend-on-the-eu-and-what-else-could-it-pay-for/.


Kreppel, A., & Oztas, B. (2017). Leading the Band or Just Playing the Tune? Reassessing the Agenda-Setting Powers of the European Commission. Comparative Political Studies, 50(8), 1118-1150.


Frank Schimmelfennig (2018) Brexit: differentiated disintegration in the European Union, Journal of European Public Policy, 25:8, 1154-1173


Nugent, N., & Rhinard, M. (2016). Is the European Commission Really in Decline? JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 54(5), 1199-1215.


Maciel, G., & De Sousa, G. (2018). Legal Corruption and Dissatisfaction with Democracy in the European Union. Social Indicators Research, 140(2), 653-674.


Haverland, M., De Ruiter, M., & Van De Walle, S. (2018). Agenda-setting by the European Commission. Seeking public opinion? Journal of European Public Policy, 25(3), 327-345.




1 - Bachmann, V., & Sidaway, J. (2016). Brexit geopolitics. Geoforum, 77, 47.

2 - Ku, Julian, & Yoo, John C. (2013). Globalization and sovereignty. Berkeley Journal of International Law, 31(1), 210-235.

3 - Berger, M. (2013). Motives for the foundation of the ECSC. The Poznan University of Economics Review, 13(3), 55-90.

4 - "EUR-Lex Access to European Union Law." EUR-Lex - 52011DC0681 - EN - EUR-Lex.

5 - "EUR-Lex Access to European Union Law." EUR-Lex - 52011DC0681 - EN - EUR-Lex.

6 - Krase, Jackson. "The European Union: Supranational or Intergovernmental?" Medium. July 28, 2017.

7 - European Union

8 - Mühlböck, M., & Tosun, J. (2018). Responsiveness to Different National Interests: Voting Behaviour on Genetically Modified Organisms in the Council of the European Union. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 56(2), 385-402.

9 - Hagemann, S., Hobolt, Wratil, Essaiasson, Wlezien, Essaiasson, Peter, & Wlezien, Christopher. (2017). Government Responsiveness in the European Union: Evidence From Council Voting. Comparative Political Studies, 50(6), 850-876.

10 - "Voting System." October 05, 2017.

11 - Bicknell, John. "Abolish the Senate. It's the Only Way to Rein in Modern Presidents." The Washington Post. August 30, 2016.

12 - Bennett, Asa. "The Facts behind the £350m per Week EU Membership Claim." The Telegraph. January 31, 2018.

13 - Kreppel, A., & Oztas, B. (2017). Leading the Band or Just Playing the Tune? Reassessing the Agenda-Setting Powers of the European Commission. Comparative Political Studies, 50(8), 1118-1150.

14 - Frank Schimmelfennig (2018) Brexit: differentiated disintegration in the European Union, Journal of European Public Policy, 25:8, 1154-1173

15 - Nugent, N., & Rhinard, M. (2016). Is the European Commission Really in Decline? JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 54(5), 1199-1215.

16 - Maciel, G., & De Sousa, G. (2018). Legal Corruption and Dissatisfaction with Democracy in the European Union. Social Indicators Research, 140(2), 653-674.

17 - Haverland, M., De Ruiter, M., & Van De Walle, S. (2018). Agenda-setting by the European Commission. Seeking public opinion? Journal of European Public Policy, 25(3), 327-345.

18 - Herman Goossens. (2017). Shout about the European Union’s success. Nature, 542(7641), 273.