Research Handbooks in European Law series
Edited by Adam Lazowski and Steven Blockmans
Chapter 6: The democratic foundations of the Union: representative democracy, complementarity and the legal challenge of Article 11 TEU
Democracy is, to a certain extent, a counter-intuitive principle in the context of European integration. From the outset, European integration has been an elite-driven process, and only since 1992 has the public debate on the democratic legitimacy of the Union gained clear prominence. However, legitimacy, including democratic legitimacy, has been a longstanding concern, also for the Communities that preceded the Union. The authority of the institutions carrying forth the project of European integration – anchored to a large extent in the limitation of the sovereignty of Member States and shaping the legal sphere of their nationals – ought to be underpinned by specific sources of legitimacy. Analogies with sources of legitimacy of public authority within the state were of limited use. True, the democratic structures that have developed within the state remained an unavoidable and influential reference. But such analogies also led to the inevitable verification of a ‘gap […] between the democratic foundations of the Member States and the reality of [the Union]’ that ‘allow[ed] all contestation’. If we are to claim some form of democratic legitimacy underpinning the powers the EU institutions exercise under the Treaties, what are and what can be its sources? This question has been at the core of the debate on the democratic credentials of the Union. At the Treaty level, the principle of democracy was enshrined by the Treaty of Maastricht.
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