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Civil Society and Legitimate European Governance

Edited by Stijn Smismans

This book explores the concept of ‘civil society’, which over recent years has been revived and introduced into the institutional debate within the EU. Significantly, EU institutions themselves have made reference to civil society and, on an academic plane, it has been argued that the debate on the legitimacy of European governance should value the role of civil society organisations.
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Chapter 10: European Trade-Union Strategies: Between Technocratic Efficiency and Democratic Legitimacy

Roland Erne


Roland Erne INTRODUCTION The democratic nature of the EU, or the lack of it, has never been so important (Schmitter 2000; Erne et al. 1995). It is generally acknowledged that the existing governance structures and mechanism of the EU ‘are not able to provide democratic legitimation for the EU polity as a whole’ (Héritier 1999: 208; European Commission 2003a: 38). Indeed, a democratic polis needs as well as constitutional bodies, a tight network of intermediate institutions and social organisations such as the unions, other civil society associations and the media (Lepsius 1993). These offer more possibilities for citizens’ participation in the political system and thus an increase in its legitimacy. Hence, the making and performance of European civil society organisations is linked to the constitution of a democratic EU polity. This chapter analyses one potential agent of Euro-democratisation, namely organised labour. Although unions have often played an important role in national democratisation processes, this does not necessarily promise a similar role for them at the EU level. Authoritarian regimes typically prohibit free trade-union activity and consequently impel unions to take part in democratisation movements, but the current institutional setting of the EU provides alternative options for organised labour, namely Eurodemocratisation, Euro-technocracy and (re-)nationalisation. I will assess the tensions between these options in a comparison of the different strategies of trade unions in two transnational company merger cases.1 While the unions and European Works Councils2 involved seem to have adopted a Euro-democratic strategy in the ABB-Alstom merger case, they...

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