DEMOCRATIC LEGITIMACY BEYOND THE NATION-STATE

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1 DEMOCRATIC LEGITIMACY BEYOND THE NATION-STATE Kåre Toft-Jensen CPR: XXXXXX - XXXX Political Science Midterm exam, Re-take 2014 International Business and Politics Copenhagen Business School Tutorial Class: XD 10 th January 2014 Word-count: XXXX STU-count: XXXXX Table of Contents 1.0 Introduction Key Concepts Democratic Legitimacy and the European Union Democratic legitimacy beyond the Nation-state Conclusion List of References 10

2 1.0 Introduction Due to the globalisation, political and economic affairs are more complex than ever before. The political dimension of globalization, has led to a continuing relocation of decision-making authority from national government to international organizations (Heywood 2013: 143). Nationstates have agreed to give up sovereignty and authority, because they realize that not all challenges can be handled at a domestic level any longer. Challenges such as, global climate change, economic crises, and the growing threat from terrorism force the nation-states do some part of their decision-making at a supranational level and create a process of global governance (Heywood 2013: 74-75). As a result, international organizations have received more power in order to deal with the new challenges more efficiently. One example is the European Union. An increasingly number of decisions is made by the EU institutions; particularly with regards to monetary policy and agriculture and fisheries policy (Heywood 2013: 75). This transfer of authority and power from the member states to the European Union has raised questions about legitimacy. Is the International organization, such as the European Union democratic legitimate? From where do they receive their legitimacy and is it after all desirable to have democratic legitimacy at supranational organizations? This assignment revolves around democratic legitimacy at a supranational level, with a focus on the European Union. The research question for the assignment is: Can the European Union, as a governing institution, be characterized as democratic legitimate according to David Beetham s theory of legitimacy and Robert Dahl s democratic principles of information accessibility and effective participation and is it desirable to strive after democratic legitimacy at a supranational level? The assignment concludes that, the European Union is not a democratic legitimate governing institution. Furthermore, the assignment argues that it is not unconditionally desirable for international organization to strive for democratic legitimacy. To reach the conclusion I will firstly define three key concepts; democratic legitimacy, EU as a governing institution and supranational governance. Secondly, I will investigate if the European Union can be characterized as democratic legitimate, the argument will be supported by empirical evidence. Finally, I will study UN and WTO in relation to the concept of democratic legitimacy and assess if it is desirable to have democratic legitimacy at a supranational level. 1 P a g e

3 2.0 Key Concepts 2.1 Democratic Legitimacy Since ancient Greece the concept of legitimacy has been a fundamental debate in political theory. Why do citizens accept the authority of a government and what gives the government the right to exercise power over the citizens? (Heywood 2013: 81) The English social theorist David Beetham has investigated which criteria that required before an authority can be seen as legitimate. His theory is on the theoretical basis of Weber s idea about ideal types of authorities. However, Beetham denies Marx Weber s idea of legitimacy is nothing more than the belief in it (Beetham 1991: 11). According to Beetham three conditions needs to be fulfilled before an authority can be characterized as legitimate (Beetham 1991: 15-16; Heywood 2013: 83) 1. Power must be exercised according to established rules, whether these are embodied in formal legal codes or in informal conventions. 2. These rules must be justified in terms of shared beliefs of the government and the governed. 3. Legitimacy must be demonstrated by an expression of consent on the part of the governed. Beetham emphasises that a lack or deficit of one of these conditions will cause a reduced legitimacy. In addition, an authority needs to fulfil all the conditions before it can be characterized as a fully legitimate for power to be fully legitimate, then, three conditions are required (Beetham 1991: 15). Beetham s theory of legitimacy has a shared paradigm with Robert Dahl s theory of an ideal democracy, particularly Dahl s democratic principles of information accessibility and effective participation (Dahl, 1989). Dahl s criterion of information accessibility is close linked with Beetham s first condition of legitimacy. Without access to information about the decision-making process, the citizens are not able to ensure that the power is exercised according to both the informal and the formal rules. Effective participation is linked to Beetham s third condition of legitimacy. Effective political participation and voting by the citizens gives the government the consent to govern. (Heywood 2013: 83). 2 P a g e

4 The democratic legitimacy in this assignment is thus referring to three conditions and is a linkage between Robert Dahl s democratic principles of effective participation and information accessibility and Beetham s definition of legitimacy. First, power from the authorities must be exercised according to both informal and formal rules, where the information about decisionmaking process is accessible to the citizens. Secondly, there must be a shared belief between the government and the citizens. Thirdly, the authority must receive consent from the citizens in shape of voting and political participation to be characterized as democratic legitimate. Heywood is acknowledging the relationship between democracy and legitimacy. He is arguing that democratic legitimacy is the most broadly accepted form of legitimacy. (Heywood 2013: 86). On that background, I choose to combine the two complex terms, even though it might seem undermining for the complexity associated with the concepts of legitimacy and democracy. 2.4 Supranational governance Supranational governance refers to the fact that due to the political globalization some governing authority has shifted from nation-states to international organization and thereby created a process of global governance. The nation-states have accepted to transfer some authority to the international organizations, because global challenges and economic competition has produced a pressure on national governments to create more efficient policies, in order to overcome the global challenges and increase competitiveness s. (Heywood 2013: 73). Supranational governance can be been describe as a collection of governance-related activities, rules and mechanisms, formal and informal, existing at a variety of levels in the world today (Heywood 2013: 433) Examples of supranational governance are found in the international organizations such as, the European Union, UN and WTO, where there is dealt with governancerelated activities at a transnational level. The European Union will mostly be cover in regards to democratic legitimacy, but the assignment will also cover the concept of legitimacy in relation to UN and WTO. 3 P a g e

5 2.2 The European Union as a governing institution The European Union started in 1951 as organization of six members, with the purpose of governing coal and steel production. The organization has developed since and the EU now has 28 members and is a governing institution with extensive executive, legislative and judicial powers (Hix 2008: 574). By being a part of the European Union, the member-states have reduced their ability to operate as self-governing states and thereby given some of their sovereignty away to the EU. This opens up for the possibility of pooled sovereignty, which gives the member-states access to a larger form of sovereignty and facilitate the member-states to do decision-making at a supranational level. (Heywood 2013: 75) The pooled sovereignty and the fact that politicians can operate at a supranational level, enables the national governments to deal with global challenges more efficient. As a governing institution, the European Union is complex and separated into seven different institutions. Each of the institution is a part of the decision-making process. However some of the institutions are more powerful than others. Fundamentally the European Commission is the executive power, which is responsible for implementation and proposes of laws. The EU council of Ministers and the European Parliament share the legislative power and the judiciary power is managed by the European Court of Justice. (Heywood 2013: 393) This assignment investigates democratic legitimacy between international organization and the citizens. An investigating of the European Union s legitimacy in regards to the member-states is not chosen to be a part of the assignment. In addition is legitimacy at a nation-state perspective not the focus of this assignment. 3.0 Democratic Legitimacy and the European Union Having clarified the concepts of the democratic legitimacy, EU as a governing institution and supranational governance, I am now going to see if the European Union can be characterized as a democratic legitimate institution. It is done by taking each condition of democratic legitimacy elaborated previously and analyse if the European Union fulfil these. The European Union is actively creating emotionally symbols such as an anthem, a flag and speaks about the common European heritage to appear as a legitimate authority (Steffek 2003: 4 P a g e

6 271), but according to the first conditions of democratic legitimacy, elaborated in the key concept, the European Union cannot be characterized as fully democratic legitimate. The European Commission has established more than 1200 expert-groups to help with the decisionmaking process. A report made by Alter-EU in 2008, found that the members of the expertgroups, proceedings and the agenda of the meetings are kept secret (Vassalos 2008). This secrecy compromises the criterion of information accessibility. In addition, the low of media coverage of EU and the European Parliament elections is also an example on the lack of information accessibility. In 2009 a media study was analysing three newspapers and two television evening news in each EU country three weeks before the European Parliament election. In total news were analysed and the study concluded, among other things, that the news about EU were generally underrepresented (EES 2009). With regards to the principle of power exercised according to informal rules and formal, the European Union is also lacking democratic legitimacy. Brussels is about to pass Washington as the city with the largest number of Lobbyist, the number of lobbyist in Brussels is at the moment around (Lipton and Hakim 2013). The high number lobbyists are influencing the law initiative process in such a way, that it is not in accordance with the European Commission s initiate legislation role established by law (Vassalos 2008). The second condition of democratic legitimacy requires that there must be a shared belief between the government and the citizens. This can be secure by referendums and elections. Every fifth year there is EP-election and referendums also happen occasionally, it was the case with the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 where France, Ireland and Denmark had referendums and with the proposal of a European Constitution in 2005, which failed because of referendum defeat in Holland and France. On that background, it can be argued that there is a shared belief between the European Union as a governing institution and the European Union. However, referendums are rare and with the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009, only Ireland chose to call for a referendum. In addition referendums have showed that there is not always a shared belief between the politicians and the citizens. This was seen when the Danish citizens in 2000 voted against the EMU and said no to euro as their currency. A majority of the Danish politicians were in favour, but it was rejected by the Danish citizens. With regards to 5 P a g e

7 elections, the European Parliament is the only body where the members are directly elected and the principle of representation is secured. The European citizens do not have direct influence on the members of the European Commission and European Council of Ministers. Even though the Lisbon Treaty has increased the power of European Parliament, it is still a relative weak political body. The fact that the European citizens only have direct representation through the European Parliament, which is a relative weak political body and the fact that referendums are rare, and in some cases shows dissimilar beliefs between the politicians and the citizens, is compromising the second condition of democratic legitimacy. Thus, can the European Union not be characterized as fully democratic legitimate according to the second condition of democratic legitimacy. However, the fact that European Parliament Elections and referendums exists establish some sort of democratic legitimacy. The third condition is that the authority must receive consent from the citizens to govern. One way of the citizens to give consent is through the act of voting (Heywood 2013: 86). The last European Parliament election was in The average voter turnout for Europe was 43 %. The national voter turnout for Germany was 43.3 %, the United Kingdom had a national voter turnout of 34.7 % while Sweden s national voter turnout was at 45.5 %. Compared with the countries general elections, the voter turnout for the European Parliament is very low. Sweden s general election voter turnout in 2011 was at 84.4%, whiles Germany s and UK s voter turnout for last general election was at 71 % and 65 % (European Election Database 2013). The trend is similar in other European countries and illustrates the European Union s scarcity of consent from the European Citizens. The lower voter turnout at the EU election is thereby undermining the third condition of democratic legitimacy. The investigation has showed that the European Union is not democratic legitimate, according to Beetham s definition of legitimacy and Dahl s democratic principles of effective participation and information accessibility. The European Union has a lack of democratic legitimacy in regards to all three conditions. The first condition was compromised by the secrecy of expert-groups, low media coverage of EU and lobbyists role in the law initiative process. The second condition was not fulfilled, mainly due to the fact that the European Parliament is the only EU institution where direct representation existed. The third condition was compromised by the low voter turnout at European Parliament elections. 6 P a g e

8 4.0 Democratic legitimacy beyond the nation-state is it desirable? Having determined that the European Union have a of lack democratic legitimacy, the assignment is now going to access if UN and WTO. Afterwards the assignment will access if it is desirable to have democratic legitimacy at a supranational level. The idea of an international trade organization started in the late 1940s, with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT. Its purpose was to liberalize the international trade and reduce trade barriers. In 1995 GATT was replaced by WTO, an organization drawing on the ideas of neoliberalism (Steffek 2003: 268; Heywood 2013: 436). In WTO that developing countries are often excluded from meetings and important negations in WTO are often in informal a setting (Steffek 2003: 270). This violates the condition of information accessibility. Having clarified that, WTO cannot be characterized as a democratic legitimate organization. UN was established in 1945 after the world had suffering from two ruinous wars, with the aim to uphold peace and security, increase global standards of life and secure human rights and international laws. Today the organization has 193 members (Heywood 2013: ). UN receives its legitimate authority consent through the General Assembly, which consist of each member of the UN. But the General Assembly is a weak political body of UN, without any actual power. The power in UN is placed in the Security Council and particular among at the five permanent members, China, UK, France, Russia and USA. The fact that 188 countries are without any actual power in organization, violates the condition of consent from the citizens, because it is only ensure through the general assembly. UN cannot on that background be characterized as democratic legitimate according to the second condition. The fact that European Union, UN and WTO are not democratic legitimate, according to the conditions elaborated in the key concept, strongly indicates that todays world does not have democratic legitimacy at a supranational level. Dahl puts it this way International decisionmaking will never be democratic (Dahl, 1999: 22). However, it might not be desirable to have a democratic legitimacy at a supranational level. With regards to check and balances, which secure that power is exercised according to formal rules and public consent through representation, the US political system has a higher democratic 7 P a g e

9 legitimacy than the European Union. The political system in US has representative officials in both champers of the legislative branch and in the executive branch. This gives the legislative branch and executive branch the option to work against each other and thereby create a government gridlock and as a result, paralysing the decision-making process (Heywood 2013: 266). The inefficiency of the US government due to gridlock, was seen in the fall of 2013, where the US experienced a government shutdown, because the republicans and democrats was not able to reach an agreement in congress (Lawrey 2013). From efficiency point of it is not clearly desirable to have high democratic legitimacy. Even though UN was not characterized as democratic legitimate, gridlock often happen in the Security Council. One of the latest examples is Syrian civil war where the world is passively watching genocide made by Bashar Al-Assad s regime, because the permanent members of the Security Council are paralysing the decision-making by their veto privilege (Held & Hale 2013). If more countries were in position of power and the ability to paralyse the decision-making process, there is a risk that UN would collapse due to its inefficiency. With the Treaty of Nice in 2011, qualified majority voting was implemented in the European Council of Ministers. A report made in 2013 by Simon Hix and Christophe Crombez, found that after qualified majority voting was introduced in the Council, the legislative activities grew significant and the gridlock intervals were lowered (Hix & Crombez 2013). However qualified majority voting will in some cases, reduce the Council s degree of consent and reduce the shared belief between the citizens and thereby the democratic legitimacy. With the three examples in mind, this assignment argues that it is not unconditionally desirable for organizations at a supranational level to strive for a high degree of democratic legitimacy, because it can reduce the decision-making effectiveness, increase governmental inefficiency and create gridlock as seen in political system in US. 8 P a g e

10 5.0 Conclusion The assignment has investigated if the European Union, as a governing institution, can be characterized as a democratic legitimate governing institution, according to Beetham s theory of legitimacy and Robert Dahl s democratic principles of effective participation and information accessibility. The assignment found that the European Union is not democratic legitimate. The first condition, which required that power must be exercised according to both informal and formal rules, where information about the decision-making process is accessible for the citizens, is violated by the secrecy of expert groups, low media coverage of the European Union and the lobbyist role in the law initiative process. The second condition, which required shared belief between the government and the citizens, is not fulfilled because the European Parliament is the only body of the European Union where representation exits. The third condition which required that the authority must receive consent from the citizens in shape of voting and political participation is undermined by the low voter turnout at the European Parliament elections. Furthermore, the assignment is arguing that neither UN nor WTO can be characterized as democratic legitimate. This strongly indicates that democratic legitimacy does not exist at a supranational level. Finally, the paper argues that it is not unconditionally desirable for international organizations at a supranational level to strive for democratic legitimacy, because it might undermine their capacity to do decision-making effectively and can create gridlock as seen in the political system in US, in the Security Council of UN and in the European Council of Ministers before qualified majority voting was introduced. 9 P a g e

11 6.0 List of References Beetham, David (1991): The Legitimation of Power, Macmillan Education. Beetham, David and Lord, Christopher (1998): Legitimacy and the European Union, Addison Wesley Longman Ltd. Dahl, Robert (1989): Democracy and its Critics, Yale University Press. Dahl, Robert (1999): Can International Organizations be Democratic? A Sceptic s View, in Democracy s Edges, Cambridge University Press. URL: (First accessed 5 January) EES (2009): European Parliament Election Study 2009, Media Study Data, Advance Release, 31 March URL: (First accessed 4 January 2014) European Election Database (2013): Parliamentary elections and EP elections, URL: (First accessed 4 January 2014 Heywood, Andrew (2013): Politics, Palgrave Macmillan (4th Ed.) Held, D. & Hale, T. (2013): The Syrian Crisis and Gridlock of Global Security Governance, Social Europe Journal, published 28 June URL: (First accessed 5 January 2014) Hix, Simon (2008): The EU as a new political system, in the book Comparative politics, Oxford University Press (1 st ed.) edited by Daniele Caramani: Hix, Simon & Crombez, Christophe (2013): Legislative Activity and Gridlock in the European Union, published 5 May 2013, London School of Economics and Political Science. Lipton, Eric and Hakim, Danny (2013): Lobbying Bonanza as Firms Try to Influence European Union, New York Times, published 18 October Lowrey, Annie (2013): Gridlock Has Cost U.S. Billions, and the Meter Is Still Running, the New York Times, Published 16 October Steffek, Jens (2003): The Legitimation of International Governance: A Discourse Approach, European Journal of International Relations, published by Sage, 1 st June 2003, Vassalos, Yiorgos (2008): Secrecy and corporate dominance a study on the composition and transparency of the European Commission, Alter-EU, URL: (First accessed 4 January 2014) 10 P a g e

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