European democracy

Discovering European democracy: institutions, characteristics and challenges

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European democracy is at the heart of modern political dialogue; it represents the ideal of participatory and representative governance desired by the founding fathers of the European Union.

European democracy is a political system in which power is exercised by the people, who have the right to express their opinions and actively participate in the decision-making process.

Read on to learn about the concept of European democracy, its historical evolution, its main characteristics and the challenges it faces.

Table of contents

Short history of European democracy and fundamental principles

Democracy, as we know it today, has its origins in ancient Greece (Athens, 5th century BC). Modern European democracy, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon that emerged in the context of the first and second post-war period.

The European Union (EU), with its complex institutional and decision-making structure, is today one of the largest supranational organisations. With 27 member States and over 440 million citizens, it is based on certain fundamental principles, such as:

The EU is also founded on the principle of democratic consensus and led by representatives directly elected by the citizens.


One of the main characteristics of European democracy is multi-partyism, which guarantees broad and diverse political representation. The principle of the rule of law, on the other hand, ensures that all political decisions are subject to the law.

European democracy is characterised by a strong commitment to human rights. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, for example, enshrines a series of civil, political, economic and social rights that must be respected by all member States.

EU Institutions

The European Union has a complex and unique institutional system with several institutions; these exercise legislative, executive and judicial functions. Let’s look at the main ones.

European Parliament

The European Parliament, which represents the citizens of the Union and is elected every 5 years by direct universal suffrage, has the power to approve or reject the legislative proposals of the European Commission, to control the work of the Commission and the Council, to adopt the Union’s budget and to elect the President of the Commission.

European Commission

The European Commission is responsible for proposing European laws, implementing the Union’s policies and programmes, managing the budget and ensuring compliance with the law in the Union. The Commission consists of one president and 26 commissioners, appointed by the national governments and approved by the Parliament.

Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union represents the member States and participates in the adoption of European laws together with the Parliament. The Council is made up of the national ministers responsible for the various subjects (foreign affairs, economy, justice, etc.) and takes on different configurations depending on the subjects dealt with.

European Council

The European Council brings together the heads of State or government of the member States, the President of the Commission and the President of the Council. The European Council sets policy lines and strategic priorities for the Union, but has no legislative power.

European Court of Justice

The Court of Justice of the European Union ensures the uniform interpretation and application of the law throughout the Union. The Court may be called upon to rule on questions raised by the institutions, the member States or citizens.

Challenges of European democracy

Despite its successes and an original and innovative model, European democracy faces multiple challenges every day. Euroscepticism and disinformation are eroding citizens’ trust in European institutions. Moreover, the rise of populist movements in some countries threatens the principles of pluralism and the rule of law.

Challenging factors include:

In order to meet these important challenges, it’s necessary to strengthen civic education and to promote greater citizen participation in the political life of the EU. European democracy, on the other hand, and like any democracy, requires constant efforts to be maintained and strengthened.

Future prospects

European democracy is an ever-evolving project that requires constant commitment from the institutions and citizens. A number of actions are needed to strengthen European democracy, including:

European democracy is a common heritage to be valued and defended so that the peace, freedom and well-being of the peoples of Europe may endure.

European democracy is an ideal that reflects the fundamental principles of freedom, equality and respect for human rights. Despite current challenges, it remains a fundamental pillar of the European Union and a model for other regions of the world. With the commitment of its citizens and leaders, European democracy can continue to flourish in the future.

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