Democratising the separation of powers in EU government: The case for presidentialism

AuthorJared Sonnicksen
Publication Date01 Nov 2017
Democratising the separation of powers in EU
government: The case for presidentialism
Jared Sonnicksen*
The EU, while not a state, can be conceived as a mixed or compound political system. Capturing its character of
separation of powers has implications for understanding what the EU polity is, but also should be, not least from a
democratic standpoint. Hence, the article addresses the EU as system of government in order to identify one
appropriate path of democratisation. It first revisits separation of powers and the typology of parliamentary
and presidential government to delineate criteria for categorising horizontal (i.e. between branches) divisionof
powers arrangements. To this end, it elaborates in particular the criteria proposed by Steffani which allow for a
more parsimonious differentiation between types of governments. Subsequently, the EU polity (e.g. its structure
and functioning of separation of powers and checks and balances) is assessed regarding its conformity to a gov-
ernment type. Finally, I discuss implications for identifying a more certain point of reference for an approach to
democratise EU government that is not only institutionally compatible, but also demos enabling.
Ambivalence on the nature of the European integration project and its institutional framework endures. Moreover,
notions of the incomparability of the EU as a political system remain widely common, and there are many reasons
to support this position.
On the other hand, recent political developments in the EU have given a renewed impetus
to research not only into the democratic legitimacy of the Union, but also on the character of this complex system.
Thus, what the EU is and should be, not least with regard to democratic legitimacy, continue to pose highly contested
and complexly interlinked questions.
The multitude of research and debate on improving participation, inclusion and representation of EU institutions
cover a wide spectrum of critiques and reform proposals. They range from conventional concepts, such as, foremost,
parliamentary democracy or elements of direct democracy, to more alternative approaches attuned to the sui generis
composition and functionality of the EU, like deliberative democracy or a stronger anchorage in the national
Technische Universität Darmstadt (
For example, I. Tömmel, The European Union. What it is and how it works (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
See, e.g., B. Crum, Saving the Euro at the Cost of Democracy?, (2013) 51 Journal of Common Market Studies, 614; S. Fabbrini,
Intergovernmentalism and its Limits: Assessing the European Union's Answer to the Euro Crisis, (2013) 46 Comparative Political Stud-
ies, 1003; S. Fabbrini The European Union and the Puzzle of Parliamentary Government, (2015) 37 Journal of European Integration,
571; J.E. Fossum, Democracy and Differentiation in Europe, (2015) 22 Journal of European Public Policy, 799; C. Offe, Europe
Entrapped. Does the EU have the Capacity to Overcome its Current Crisis?, (2013) 19 European Law Journal, 595; F. Scharpf, After
the Crash: A Perspective on Multilevel European Democracy, (2015) 21 European Law Journal, 384.
DOI: 10.1111/eulj.12264
Eur Law J. 2017;23:509522. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons 509

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