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"The European Parliament: An Analysis from the Perspective of Chantal Mouffe’s Agonistic Pluralism" - by Simon Clemens


This is a very insightful and in IMO educating analysis of the European Parliament, including a number of valuable links to other pieces by (political) thinkers. A short excerpt:

The European Union is often called an undemocratic (and bureaucratic) monster, left-wing debates in particular are dominated by narratives like this. But how could a leftist approach to the EU look like? Against the background of these questions I propose an analysis of the European Parliament in terms of Chantal Mouffe’s theory of Agonistic Pluralism, enriched by other leftist debate contributions. With respect to the complexity of the European institutional framework, it is obvious that writing an article like this is more aimed at highlighting some insights rather than claiming completeness of the analysis.

Agonism or Antagonism

Mouffe’s conception is mainly shaped by the assumption that democracies are always marked by conflict. Every (political) decision for an action is at the same time a decision against its (unrealized) alternatives; it is an expression of power (more precisely: exclusion) (Chantal Mouffe: Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically). Taking into account the various social and political forces, a pluralistic democracy is characterised by the permanence of conflict (Chantal Mouffe: The democratic Paradox).


The European Parliament

Roughly speaking, there are two cleavages that shape the ideological conflicts of the European Parliament (EP). There is the classical socio-economical line of conflict between the right and the left and the struggle over the question of European Integration (often framed as euroscepticism vs. europhoria). But the EP is not a classical parliament. Thus, I shall now try to highlight some of its peculiarities and those aspects that are usually considered as problematic (or undemocratic): First, the European ‘government’ – that is, the Commission – is not formed on the basis of the prevailing majority in the EP, so that it is not necessary to form a government coalition (which at the same time means that there is no effective control of the ‘government’ by the EP). The EUR-Lex glossary on the democracy deficit states: “EU voters do not feel that they have an effective way to reject a ‘government’, they do not like, and to change, in some ways, the course of politics and policy.” Second, the European parliament has no right of legal initiative. Its role in the decision-making process is severely limited, writes Ulrike Guérot in the Guardian: “Most citizens feel excluded from EU decision-making. They have only indirect sway. They elect the European parliament, but that body holds little power.” Third, all MEPs have a common interest in extending the EP’s power. Finally, EP elections are not equal, since the weight of a vote depends on the national state to which one ‘belongs’; the vote is “nationally fragmented” (The European Balcony Project, an interview with Ulrike Guérot).

*Image taken from article. *
“European Parliament, Plenar hall. Picture: CherryX per Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported