Democracy and Constitutionalism in the European Union

Written especially for the ECSA Review (13: 2), Spring 2000, pp. 2-7.
Visit the ECSA Review Fora page for other essays on EU topics.

Three leading EU scholars/ECSA members debate whether, and if so, by what standards, the European Union has democratic legitimacy.

FOR MUCH OF THE past decade, EU politicians and scholars have debated the nature of the so-called "democratic deficit" in the European Union. In the eyes of its critics, the EU policy process is dominated by unelected officials from the European Commission and member governments, negotiating in a process that is closed and distant from European electorates, and in which the directly elected European Parliament plays only a secondary role.

By the end of the 1990s, the notion of a democratic deficit was being increasingly applied to other international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). During the tempestuous meeting of the WTO last November, for example, representatives of civil society from around the globe converged on Seattle, decrying the organization's closed decision-making process and lack of democratic accountability, in terms strikingly similar to the EU debate. Indeed, in the aftermath of the Seattle meeting, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy has suggested that the WTO-and other international organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which have since come in for similar public criticism-could learn from the experience of the European Union, which has long grappled with issues of democratic accountability and openness.

The ability to draw lessons from the EU, however, presupposes some degree of consensus on the nature of the EU's democratic deficit and the steps that might be taken to reduce that deficit. The essays in this ECSA Review Forum suggest that such a consensus remains elusive, at the level of both diagnosis and prognosis. In the first essay, Philippe C. Schmitter argues that the problem of democratic legitimation, if not yet a crisis, poses a serious challenge to the European Union, to which EU leaders can and should respond through a series of democratic reforms. By contrast, both Giandomenico Majone and Andrew Moravcsik argue in their essays that the proper yardstick for the analysis of the EU and other international organizations is not a national model of democracy, but rather the principle of constitutionalism, of government limited by a separation of powers and the rule of law. By this standard, both Majone and Moravcsik argue, the EU fares better than its democratic critics might suggest, although Majone suggests that a major administrative reform on the model of the U.S. Administrative Procedure Act would increase both the transparency and the constitutional legitimacy of the EU policy process. More generally, given the increasing power and importance of the EU and other international organizations, both scholars and practitioners are likely to continue the debate over the proper democratic-or constitutional-standards according to which international organizations should be designed and normatively evaluated.

--Mark A. Pollack, Forum Editor

Philippe C. Schmitter

IT IS NEITHER FEASIBLE nor desirable to try to democratize the European Union tutto e sùbito-completely and immediately. Not only would the politicians not know how to do it, but there is also no compelling evidence that Europeans want it. Nothing could be more dangerous for the future of an eventual Euro-democracy than to have it thrust upon a citizenry that is not prepared to exercise it, and that continues to believe its interests and passions are best defended by national not supranational democracy.

However, for the reasons I discuss below, it may be timely to begin to experiment with improvements in the quality of embryonic Euro-democracy through modest reforms in the way citizenship, representation and decision-making are practiced within the institutions of the European Union. Even in the absence of a comprehensive, i.e., constitutional, vision of what the supra-national end-product will look like, specific and incremental steps could be taken to supplement (and not supplant) the mechanisms of accountability that presently exist within its member states.

Since, as seems obvious to me, the rules and practices of an eventual Euro-democracy will have to be quite different from those existing at the national level, it is all the more imperative that Europeans act cautiously when experimenting with political arrangements whose configuration will have to be unprecedented, and whose consequences could prove to be unexpected-perhaps, even unfortunate.

There are, in my opinion, two reasons why it may be timely to begin this experiment sooner rather than later:

(1) There is considerable evidence that rules and practices of democracy at the national level have become increasingly contested by citizens. This has not (yet) taken the form of rebellious or even "unconventional" behavior, but of what Gramsci once called "symptoms of morbidity" such as greater electoral abstention, decline in party identification, more frequent turnover in office and rejection of the party in power, lower prestige of politicians and higher unpopularity of chief executives, increased tax evasion and higher rates of litigation against authorities, skyrocketing accusations of official corruption and, most generally, a widespread impression that contemporary European democracies are simply not working well to protect their citizens. It would be overly dramatic to label this "a general crisis of legitimacy," but something isn't going well-and most national politicians know it.

(2) There is even more compelling evidence that individuals and groups within the European Union have become aware of how much its regulations and directives are affecting their daily lives, and that they consider these decisions to have been taken in a remote, secretive, unintelligible and unaccountable fashion. Whatever comfort it may have given them in the past that "unwarranted interference" by the Eurocrats in Brussels could have been vetoed by their respective sovereign national governments, this has been dissipated by the advent of qualified majority voting. Europeans feel themselves, rightly or wrongly, at the mercy of a process of integration that they do not understand and certainly do not control-however much they may enjoy its material benefits. Again, it would be overdramatizing the issue to call this "a crisis of legitimacy" but that "permissive consensus" of the past is much less reliable-and supranational officials know it.

These two trends are probably related causally-and together they create a potentially serious "double bind" for the future of democracy in Europe. If the shift of functions to and the increase in supra-national authority of the EU have been contributing to decline in the legitimacy of "domestic democracy" by calling into question whether national officials are still capable of responding to the demands of their citizenry, and if the institutions of the EU have yet to acquire a reputation for accountability to these very same citizens when aggregated at the supra-national level, then, democracy as such in this part of the world could be in jeopardy. Admittedly, the grip of this double bind is still loose, but it is tightening. The national "morbidity symptoms" show no sign of abating; the supra-national "permissive consensus" shows abundant signs of waning.

Between the two trends, there is still space for the introduction of democratic reforms, but who will be willing (and able) to take advantage of the rather unusual political opportunity space formed by monetary unification and eastern enlargement (not to mention, the increasingly skewed outcome of Euro-elections) is by no means clear. The potentiality exists for acting preemptively before the situation reaches a crisis stage and before the compulsion to do something becomes so strong that politicians may overreact, but will it be exploited?

My hunch is that the "Monnet Method" of exploiting the spill-overs between functionally related issue arenas to advance the level and scope of integrative institutions has exhausted its potentials-precisely because of increased citizen awareness and further politicization. Switching to an overtly political strategy of democratization might be sufficient to renew the momentum that has clearly been lost since the difficult ratification of the Maastricht treaty and the frustrated expectations of the Amsterdam Treaty. If only one could rekindle within the process of Euro-democratization that same logic of indirection and gradualism based on an underlying structure of functional interdependence and an emerging system of collective problem-solving, the process of European integration might be given the relancement that it has so frequently sought and so badly needs. Except that this time, the result may not be so foreseeable or controllable. Democratization, especially in such unprecedented circumstances and for such a large-scale polity, is bound to activate unexpected linkages, to involve less predicable publics and to generate less limited expectations.

We have good reason, thanks to democratic theory, for believing that specific forms of citizenship, representation and decision-making are closely interrelated in a self-reinforcing fashion within stable democratic regimes. But, thanks to the absence of much theorizing about democratization, we are a lot less well informed about how these elements came together historically and even less well informed about how they might combine under contemporary circumstances. The pseudo-sub-disciplines of "transitology" and "consolidology" have only just begun to draw attention to these dynamic relations within the neo-democracies of the post-1974 wave of democratization- and it is far from evident that their (tentative) conclusions would have any relevance for democratizing an interstate organization composed, not of relatively recent democracies, but of relatively ancient ones (O'Donnell and Schmitter 1986; Schmitter 1995). About all that we can assert with confidence is that there have been and still are many different sequences involved in the relation between citizenship, representation and decision-making-and that these sequences have produced rather substantial differences in both the rapidity with which democracy was consolidated and the type of democracy which subsequently emerged.

Another thing that we do know is to be wary of reifying the experiences of previous democratizers, especially the experience of a single sequence of nation building, state formation and regime consolidation. It is very tempting to assert that, because the EU does not have the necessary and sufficient elements that produced democracy in country "X" some time ago, then it cannot possibly be democratized now. For reasons that are obscure to me, this seems especially characteristic of German scholars who postulate a "universalistic" sequence whereby an ethnos must precede a demos, and the latter can only be created by an explicit constitutional act whereby this demos or people "submits itself to a political order of its own invention."1 Perhaps, it is because Germany was one of the few European states where a "a belief in communality" (Gemeinsamkeitsglauben) preceded the formation of its national state or because of the strength of legal-formalism in its juridical tradition (Verrechtligung). Elsewhere in Europe, the state was often established long before a "feeling of belonging to a (single) community" existed among its subjects and, indeed, played a significant role in bringing about such a feeling. Moreover, in one major case, there was no single-formal constitutional "act of will," just a lengthy accumulation of precedents (Great Britain). In others (France, Spain, Portugal), there have been so many constitutions and major constitutional revisions that it seems absurd to claim that any of them provided an exclusive foundation for political order. My second hunch is that the moment for a dramatic act of "self-constitutionalization" has long since passed in the EU and that the ethnos-demos-politeia sequence is going to have to be inverted -or, it will not lead to a stable democratic regime within contemporary Europe.

1. The quote is from Claus Offe (1999), but it seems reflective of a broader strand of German thinking that goes back to Jellinek, Weber, Habermas, and the contemporary Supreme Court judge, Dieter Grimm-all of whom are cited approvingly by Offe.

2. For a discussion of some twenty "modest" and "not-so-modest" reforms that might be introduced incrementally in order to democratize EU institutions, see Schmitter (forthcoming).

Philippe C. Schmitter is Professor of Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute, Florence.

Giandomenico Majone

ALTHOUGH CONTEMPORARY WESTERN DEMOCRACIES are all constitutional democracies, "constitutionalism" and "democracy" are historically and conceptually distinct. While the first term refers to limited government, to restrained and divided state power, the second implies a potentially unlimited exercise of that power. Indeed, in the pure majoritarian model of democracy, majorities should be able "to control all of government... legislative, executive and, if they have a mind, judicial ... and thus to control everything politics can touch" (Spitz 1984, quoted in Lijphart 1991: 485).

The distinction between constitutionalism and democracy is important not only to political philosophers; it is essential for understanding the nature of the democratic deficit in the European Community/European Union (EC/EU) and, more generally, the legitimacy problems of nonmajoritarian institutions such as constitutional courts, independent central banks, and international organisations like the WTO. As I have argued elsewhere, current arguments about the democratic deficit in the EC/EU may be classified into three main groups, according to the legitimacy standards they use: standards based on the analogy with national institutions; standards derived from the democratic legitimacy of the member states; and standards of social justice (Majone 1998).

Arguments in the first group tend to equate European institutions and national institutions, or to assume that the former will converge to the familiar model of parliamentary democracy. The analogy with national institutions leads, for example, to the claim that the European Parliament (EP) should have an independent power of legislative initiative because national parliaments are so empowered. According to the arguments in the second group, the legitimacy of the integration process proceeds from the democratic legitimacy of the member states. In this view, the veto power of each national government is the single most legitimating element of the integration process, while the shift to majority voting is the root cause of the legitimacy problem (Weiler 1991).

Finally, arguments relying on social standards are ostensibly about the democratic deficit, but in fact are driven by a different agenda: dissatisfaction with the slow pace of political integration, or concerns about the future of the national welfare state. According to these critics the EC/EU lacks legitimacy primarily because of its failure to provide social justice. By the social standards prevailing in the member states, the EC/EU is a "welfare laggard" and thus cannot count on the social acceptance enjoyed by the national welfare states.

There is no room here to go into a detailed critique of these arguments. It suffices to point out that if the expression "democratic deficit" is taken literally-an absence or incomplete development of institutions which we take for granted in a parliamentary democracy-then a deficit of democracy is indeed a distinctive feature of a process within which economic and political integration not only have different speeds but follow different principles-supranationalism in one case, intergovernmentalism in the other. Such a historically unique approach can succeed only if the economic and political tracks are kept as separate as possible-a key insight of functionalist theories of regional integration. Thus, a deficit of democracy will remain endemic at the European level as long as the majority of citizens of the member states continue to view the nation state as the real arena of democratic politics and oppose the idea of a super-state, while supporting far-reaching economic integration. Such a deficit is the price we pay in order to preserve national sovereignty largely intact in such key areas as taxation, income redistribution, and foreign and security policy.

However, the expression " democratic deficit" is also used to indicate a set of problems-control of discretion, accountability, transparency, fairness-that arise whenever important powers are delegated to institutions which, by design, are not directly responsible to the voters or to their elected representatives. One important reason why democratic governments delegate powers to nonmajoritarian institutions is the need to achieve credible policy commitments. Because a legislature or a majority coalition cannot bind a subsequent legislature or another coalition, public policies are always vulnerable to reneging and hence lack credibility. Delegation to politically independent bodies is an effective solution to the commitment problem. Thus delegation of regulatory powers to some agency distinct from the government itself is best understood as a means whereby governments can commit themselves to regulatory policies that would not be credible in the absence of such delegation. Whether the commitment is achieved most effectively by delegation to international or supranational rather than to national agencies is an open question in any particular case (Gatsios and Seabright 1989).

The key normative problem of such delegation is how to control the exercise of essentially legislative powers by agencies that do not enjoy formal democratic legitimation. The century-old experience of the American regulatory state suggests that procedural controls are well adapted to discipline agency discretion without excessively intruding upon the delegated authority implicit in an enabling statute. Under the 1946 U.S. Administrative Procedure Act (APA) agency adjudication was made to look like court adjudication, including the adversarial process and requirement of a written record as the basis of agency decisions. APA requirements for rule making were much less demanding. However, with the growth of environmental and risk regulation, rule making (e.g., standard setting) became important and federal judges began to develop stricter standards. Starting from the general requirements contained in the APA, they succeeded in formulating new principles to improve the transparency and substantive rationality of rule making. As a consequence, today agency rules have to be accompanied by records and findings even more detailed and elaborate than had been originally envisaged for formal adjudication. It should be noted that the progressive judicialization of regulatory proceedings makes the arguments in favour of an independent regulatory branch more plausible by making the agencies more and more court-like (Shapiro 1988).

The enactment of a European APA would significantly improve the legitimacy of Community policy making. The proliferation of committees, working groups, and agencies shows how urgent is the need for a single set of rules explaining the procedures to be followed in each case. The overlap of the activities of such bodies and the divergences between rules governing their functioning create a real lack of transparency. In such a situation, where it is difficult for the citizens of the Union to identify the body which is responsible for decisions that apply to them, both procedural and substantive legitimacy are reduced to a vanishing point (Majone 1996).

A European APA would not only contribute to the legitimacy of EC policy making, but also serve as model for the member states and for international organisations such as WTO. The need for greater transparency and accountability is in fact even more urgent at national and international level than at the European level. For example, English public law still lacks a general obligation on public administrators to give reasons for their decisions, whereas the framers of the European treaties were well aware of the significance of reason-giving requirements for the legitimacy of non-majoritarian institutions. According to Martin Shapiro, Article 190 of the Treaty of Rome-which obliges the Council and the Commission to state the reasons of all their legal acts-is one of the world's central devices for judicial enforcement of bureaucratic transparency (Shapiro 1992).

The requirement that administrators give reasons for their decisions activates a number of other mechanisms for enforcing transparency and controlling agency discretion: public participation and debate, notice-and-comment, information exchange, peer review, complaint procedures, responsibility, judicial review. It is the lack or insufficient development of such constitutional mechanisms, rather than the absence of direct accountability to the voters or their elected representatives, that undermines regulatory legitimacy at all levels of governance.

Giandomenico Majone is Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics and Visiting Distinguished Professor at the European Union Center, University of Pittsburgh.

Andrew Moravcsik

LIKE NEARLY ALL OTHER international institutions, the European Union (EU) has been deliberately constructed in order to constrain the actions of its member states.1 EU member governments have pooled and delegated considerable legislative, adjudicative, and enforcement powers. They have acquiesced in, even encouraged, subsequent constraints on sovereignty. Today many analysts of the EU are concerned that the resulting supranational institutions are not-or not to a sufficient degree-democratically legitimate. The EU, we hear time and time again, suffers from a "democratic deficit."

What does it mean to say the EU lacks democratic legitimacy? Traditionally the EU has been justified largely by its outputs-economic and, according to some, geopolitical benefits for its member states and their citizens. In the past ten years, the conventional view argues, these accomplishments have increasingly been called into question as a sufficient justification for European governance. Perhaps this rising doubt results from the EU's failure to address major political problems such as unemployment, immigration, and instability in the Balkans; perhaps from the EU's move into new areas where citizens take more notice of its actions; perhaps from the entry of new countries with traditions of more participatory politics; perhaps from salient events, such as national referenda and management scandals in Brussels. Whatever the causes, increasing public discussion has focused the attention of many commentators on the need to justify the EU through more democratic institutions-to provide "input legitimacy" rather than "output legitimacy."

From this perspective, the EU appears presumptively illegitimate. It could be otherwise, so the argument runs, only if citizens had a greater formal role in selecting its policies-or, at the very least, in selecting those who select its policies. The more direct the representation and the more numerous the citizens involved, the more democratically legitimate the institution. To be sure, such critics are ideologically varied, and differ in their assessment of the ultimate consequences. Eurofederalists believe that much must be done to increase democratic accountability, lest the EU stagnate or even collapse. Social democrats seek a generous European social policy to balance trade liberalization and monetary discipline. Euroskeptics-most notably those on the extreme right of the British, French, Italian and Austrian political spectrums, but also some in parties of the left-fear the creation of a "superstate" in Brussels, and cite recent scandals and the Commission's efforts to promote certain sorts of regulation as evidence that EU officials wield their bureaucratic discretion in an arbitrary manner. All agree that European decision-makers are distant, technocratic, and ultimately unaccountable.

The lack of consensus as to the concrete implications of the "democratic deficit" should immediately alert us as to the lack of precision in many such criticisms. And indeed, when we examine the arguments more precisely, they still fail to convince-for at least four reasons.

First, the EU is an exceptionally weak and dependent state structure. Euroskeptical fears of a corrupt and arbitrary superstate run by all-powerful Brussels-based technocracy are strikingly at odds with a simple factual description of the organization. The EU has none of the attributes of conventional strong state. It has essentially no police powers and no army. It has an exceptionally small tax base, about 2-3% of national government budgets, with little immediate prospect of expansion. Fiscal spending is only minimally discretionary, since its parameters are tightly controlled by national governments through repeated unanimous vote. Accordingly, spending remains tied largely to enduring priorities, notably agricultural policy and structural funding.

Supranational officials can achieve little on their own. To be sure, the Commission's power of proposal grants it a critical role as a legislative agenda setter, but any decision must still be vetted by a supermajority of weighted votes in the Council and by a majority in the European Parliament. Passing legislation in the EU is thus, mathematically speaking, more difficult than passing a constitutional amendment in the US system. Once legislation is in place, moreover, EU officials enjoy relatively little formal autonomy in its implementation-a generalization with few exceptions. For one thing, the EU bureaucracy is too small. Leaving clerical, logistical and translation services aside, European officials number only around 5000-no more than the size of the local administration of a small European city. This total is unlikely to increase in the near future; indeed, the next round of EU reforms may well reduce the size of the Commission significantly.

One obvious implication is that Commission officials have little to do with the actual implementation of most EU policies, which takes place instead at the national level. Supranational officials devote most of their time to setting broad guidelines (under the watchful eye of comitologie), monitoring state behavior, and developing new proposals. (Even in the judicial arena, the EU's area of greatest comparative advantage, the European Court of Justice does little more than advise national courts via Article 177.)

Supranational officials are also subject to intense scrutiny. The most notorious of recent scandals-in which a French politician not known for her scrupulous behavior, but never called to account in France, was forced to resign as Commissioner when subjected to the transnational transparency and higher standards of propriety in Brussels-is the exception that proves the rule.

Overall, a few areas excepted, national officials and judges continue to dominate everyday policy-making.

Second, all EU institutions are under direct or indirect democratic control. The notion that the EU can function without democratic support is quite misleading. Most obvious is the European Parliament, composed of directly elected representatives. The EP is increasingly usurping the role of the Commission as the primary interlocutor to the Council of Ministers in the EU legislative process. While the Commission still initiates legislation, it is now the EP that, in the final instance, controls the agenda-that is, the EP can make proposals to the Council that are more difficult to amend than to accept.

The Council of Ministers is itself is also democratically accountable. The permanent representative of each country receives instructions from a national executive elected directly or through parliamentary vote. Even Commissioners and ECJ judges, though clearly more insulated, are named by directly elected national governments.

To be sure, the scope of the EU, as well as its distance from individual voters, serves to insulate national officials and executives, as well as supranational officials, from a measure of immediate accountability. It thereby "strengthens the state," in the sense of increasing the domestic influence of national executives, ministers, and perhaps even ministerial officials. The question is whether this sort of delegation, within a more broadly democratic context, is normatively justifiable-an issue to which I now turn.

Third, limitations on democratic accountability are often normatively justified. To see why political decision-making should not always be majoritarian, it is useful to begin with the observation that many institutions in modern liberal democratic societies are insulated from the direct political influence of individuals and groups in civil society. Indeed, the essence of constitutional design lies in the designation of different processes of representation-some tighter, some looser-for different functions. Though all functions of government are ultimately under control by voters or their immediate representatives, there is no expectation (in theory or in practice of democratic governance) that all such functions be immanently under such control. Constitutional architects regularly design strong non-participatory, non-majoritarian institutions, such as courts, independent technical agencies, diplomatic and military establishments, central banks, independent national executives, and complex arrangements for the separation of powers.

Such limitations on majoritarian decision-making may be normatively justifiable, broadly speaking, if they increase the efficiency and technical competence of decision-making, guarantee political, cultural or socioeconomic rights against majority decisions, or offset imperfections in representative institutions. Is this the case in Europe?

There is good reason to believe so, because the most powerful and autonomous EU institutions-its constitutional court, central bank, technical administration, external trade negotiators, and competition authorities-all arise in areas where persistent imperfections in representative institutions create long-term threats to weak political groups. While we need not go so far as has Giandomenico Majone, who sees non-majoritarian institutions as legitimate where pure "efficiency" considerations dominate, we can safely say that these are all areas in which insulated national executives and supranational officials act in the interest of a diffuse majorities of consumers, citizens, and victims of uncompetitive behavior and environmental degradation to overturn policies set to the advantage of powerful, particularistic interest groups. On this reading, non-majoritarian decision-making is justified in democratic theory not simply because it may be efficient, but because, ironically, it may better represent the long-term interests of the median voter than does a more participatory system-in distributive conflicts as well as matters of efficiency.

One strong piece of evidence for this interpretation is the striking parallel between the use of non-majoritarian institutions at the EU level and their use within the member states themselves. The most autonomous EU institutions are found precisely in those areas-constitutional adjudication, trade diplomacy, technical administration, central banking, and prosecution-where non-majoritarian decision-making is most legitimate in the domestic polities of the member states. There is, after all, a large literature on the "decline of parliaments" in European domestic polities, most of which has nothing to do with European integration. By contrast, the EU is hardly present in those areas about which voters care most, such as policies on taxation, social protection and pensions, education, and defense and foreign affairs-areas in which EU policies do little more than police secondary markets. This suggests that the non-majoritarian character of EU decision-making is the result not so much of the particularities of transnational governance but of general functional imperatives unique to the issue-areas where the EU is active. In this regard, the EU performs much the same political function for European governments as a strong executive and "fast-track" legislation has for postwar America-a function that could be argued to have a democratic result (i.e., one favorable to the median citizen) precisely because it is non-majoritarian.

Some critics of the EU, like critics of the strong U.S. executive, nonetheless insist that supermajoritarian decision-making, the strong judiciary and Commission, and the strengthening of national executives (along with the Treaty of Rome mandate for trade liberalization and the subsequent rise in economic interdependence) have introduced an illegitimate neo-liberal bias into EU policy. The EU liberalizes trade and tightens monetary discipline but discourages labor organization and social spending. Fritz Scharpf and others argue that tight controls on EU decision-making create "joint-decision traps" that favor particularistic interest groups-notably industrial and agricultural exporters-at the expense of workers, consumers, and other broader groups in society.

This is a curious claim because-this is my fourth and final point-there is little evidence of an overall policy bias in European governance. If we consider national and EU policies together, it is hard to conclude that Europeans enjoy insufficient social protection. Scharpf's critique implies that there exists majority support, both within and across EU member states, for different policies-for example, lower agricultural subsidies and higher social spending, which would prevail absent a joint decision trap. There is little evidence for this. In the case of agricultural spending, as Elmar Rieger has shown, the claim is demonstrably false. Most countries outside the EU, Sweden and Switzerland for example, long maintained higher agricultural subsidies than governments within Europe. In the case of social policy, as Paul Pierson and Stefan Leibfried conclude, most European governments realize the need to control government spending-often for reasons having little to do with interdependence. If any majority emerged in the EU, they conclude, it would most likely support lower rather than higher social expenditures. There is, in sum, every reason to believe that the current structure of the EU serves primarily to strengthen, rather than obstruct, underlying tendencies in member state policy.

Overall, the EU is certainly no "superstate," and it is far from obvious that it is democratically illegitimate-whether judged by the standards of democratic theory or existing domestic practices. The key to this conclusion is to avoid treating the EU as an ideal national democracy but instead to conceive it as a limited, multi-level constitutional polity. This is not, of course, to deflect all criticism, for it may well turn out that there are imperfections in the democratic pedigree of EU governance. Yet we can identify and redress true democratic imperfections only once we take full account of the factors I have outlined above: the extreme constraints on EU policy, the complex multi-level synergies between domestic and EU institutions, and the true nature of modern constitutional government.

1. This essay develops arguments in Moravcsik (1998) and Moravcsik (1994), and work in progress.

Andrew Moravcsik is Professor of Government and Director Designate, European Union Center, Harvard University.

Forum References

Gatsios, Konstantine and Paul Seabright (1989) "Regulation in the European Community," Oxford Review of Economic Policy 5: 37-60.
Lijphart, Arend (1991) "Majority Rule in Theory and in Practice: The Tenacity of a Flawed Paradigm," International Social Science Journal 29: 483-494.
Majone, Giandomenico (1998) "Europe's 'Democratic Deficit': The Question of Standards," European Law Journal 4: 5-28.
_____ (1996) Regulating Europe London: Routledge.
Moravcsik, Andrew (1998) "Europe's Integration at Century's End," in Andrew Moravcsik (ed.), Centralization or Fragmentation? Europe Facing the Challenges of Deepening, Diversity, and Democracy New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press.
_____ (1994) "Why the European Community Strengthens the State: Domestic Politics and International Institutions" Center for European Studies Working PaperSeries 52 Cambridge: Center for European Studies.
O'Donnell, Guillermo and Philippe C. Schmitter (1986) Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Offe, Claus (1999) "The Democratic Welfare State: A European Regime Under the Strain of European Integration" Berlin: Humboldt University, unpublished essay.
Schmitter, Philippe C. (forthcoming) How to Democratize the European Union … and Why Bother? Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
_____ (1995) "Transitology: The Science or the Art of Democratization?" in Joseph Tulchin (ed.), The Consolidation of Democracy in Latin America, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 11-14.
Shapiro, Martin (1992) "The Giving-Reasons Requirement," The University of Chicago Legal Forum, 180-220.
_____ (1988) Who Guards the Guardians? Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
Spitz, Elaine (1984) Majority Rule Chatham, NJ: Chatham Publishers.
Weiler, Joseph (1991) "The Transformation of Europe," Yale Law Journal 100: 2403-2473.

ECSA members receive the ECSA Review, a quarterly periodical, as a benefit of membership.
Click here to find out how to join.

Back to EUSA Home Page
Back to EUSA Review Essays

European Union Studies Association ™
415 Bellefield Hall * University of Pittsburgh * Pittsburgh PA 15260 USA