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Europe and the people: Examining the EU’s democratic legitimacy

Hug, Adam, (2016), “Europe and the people: Examining the EU’s democratic legitimacy”, The Foreign Policy Centre, Ιούνιος

The European Union finds itself at a critical juncture. The long-term political impacts of the 2008 economic crisis and the rising pressures of globalisation have helped to drive public distrust in traditional sources of influence and authority. As a supranational institution trying to bring together the disparate wills of 28 member state publics and their governments, the EU feels this strain more than any other international institution due to its size and scope. Irrespective of the outcome of the UK membership referendum, the EU needs to improve the way it consults its citizens and stakeholders about what it does, while strengthening and expanding the national pillars of its democratic input. The EU needs to improve both its ‘input’ and ‘output’ legitimacy by making its processes more transparent and creating more opportunities for national and public involvement, while being able to more clearly show that its end products are making a positive difference in the lives of citizens. Further attempts to artificially create a European ‘demos’, by handing more powers to the European level or grafting additional democratic mechanisms onto EU institutions are likely to fail to respond to a public mood that is seen to demand greater national and local control. Despite its existing democratic structures, often overlooked by critics, there is no public consensus about whether the EU as it is currently constituted is fully democratically legitimate or if it ever could become so given the challenges it faces. However this publication suggests a number of incremental steps that over time could help to improve the EU’s accountability and democratic legitimacy as it wrestles with deep and wide ranging economic, political and strategic challenges.

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