European democracy is a new concept, which requires an own and distinct political philosophy. At the start of the process of European integration in the wake of WWII it was generally believed that the emerging polity should either become a federal state or establish itself as an organisation of states. In the prevailing paradigm other options were not available.
Seventy years onward the EU is neither a state nor an international organisation. The EU is not a state since the sovereignty in the Union remains with the member states, while it cannot be regarded as a free trade organisation because it also consists of citizens and has an autonomous legal order as well as a directly elected parliament and a single currency.
Although the EU cannot be there in theory, its existence in reality cannot be denied either. In order to break the deadlock, the traditional paradigm of states in the study of the EU should be replaced with the civilian perspective of democracy and fundamental rights. From this angle it seems obvious that, if two or more democratic states agree to share the exercise of sovereignty in a number of fields with a view to attain common goals, their organisation should be democratic too.
The theory of democratic integration (TDI), which is based upon this primary principle of transnational democracy, suggests that the EU is evolving from an organisation of democratic states to a European democracy. The 1952 ECSC started as an organisation to prevent war, while the 1957 EEC and Euratom were meant to bring peace and prosperity to the war-thorn continent. In 1973 the Communities were described by the European Council as a ‘Union of democratic states’. While the 1992 Maastricht Treaty introduced EU citizenship, the 2007 Lisbon Treaty construes the EU as a democracy without turning the Union into a state.
The nature of the EU as a European democracy has been confirmed during the 2019 EP-elections. However, the EU is still a young democracy and transitory problems remain, notably the 1976 rules concerning the election of the Members of the European Parliament. The first priority for the EP is therefore to adapt these rules to the democratic principles of the Lisbon Treaty. The aim should be to strengthen the democratic nature of the EU and to ensure that the Union may be described in 2023 as a Union of democratic states which also constitutes a democracy of its own.
Jaap Hoeksma: The Theory of Democratic Integration. Constructing the EU as a Union of States and Citizens. Wolf Legal Publishers, ISBN: 9789462404595.