In the current context it refers to the imbalance of power between national interests in decision-making within the Council of the European Union (Ministers) and across the EU institutions as a whole. Crucially European citizens have little say in what is done in their name once they vote for their MEPs. Mitchell (2005) clarifies this:
Europe's democratic deficit, whether it be perceived or real, is largely due to the EU's institutional architecture, which promotes a type of circulatory decision-making process, but permits little input from the European public sphere. Compounding this situation is the informal nature of negotiations that often take place among and within the key policy-making bodies of the EU, leading to a less than transparent, and sometimes unpredictable, policy-making process.
The institutions ultimately take their respective mandates from the Treaties which themselves are open to interpretation. It could be argued that the EU is not a well-defined cogent democratic entity - but a hybrid of functionalism, inter-governmentalism and mult-level governance (Steiner and Woods, 2003. p13). Indeed, quoting Dr Guiliano Amato, Aveblj (2005) points out that the EU's stakeholders have yet to determine what the European Union ought to be - and therefore cannot begin to address the wider question of how to get there.
Each member state is represented by a senior Minister with the President of the Council being appointed for a six-month term, thereby ensuring that in any fiscal year 2 different member states will have the opportunity to hold the Presidency. Although the representative Minister will have been elected to a seat by a majority in his/her national constituency and appointed to high office by members of his/her political party, critics argue that the manner in which Ministers are appointed means that there is no real European philosophy at work - the appointment is a consequence of a national appointment, rather than a separate goal in itself.. It therefore begs the question; to what extent can individual Ministers realistically be expected to put the greater good over and above national interests Aveblj (2005) claims there is a European Ombudsman to provide oversight making the Council more accountable. However there are a number of 'safe-guards' built-in to the flow of decision making. It is the Commission, not the Council who determine which areas of policy are to be prioritised. Since the Single European Act, Council can no longer ignore Parliament's opposition without a unanimous vote. Likewise a unanimous vote is required if Council wishes to amend the Commission's proposals.
It has been argued that the European Parliament should have greater oversight of the Council in order to redress this imbalance1. The Treaty of Amsterdam and the Nice Treaty have attempted to redress this by extending Parliament's powers of 'co-decision' with the Council. However, as Steiner and Woods (2003, p14) assert 'It is only where