Must the EU choose between effectiveness and legitimacy?

Commentators on European affairs, including myself, have often argued that the EU can and must attend to its democratic deficit at the same time that it seeks a technical solution to the Eurozone crisis. But a recent essay by Princeton political theorist Jan-Werner Mueller finds it “hard to see how proposals for European democracy could avoid being either just cosmetic or contradictory.” As he sees it, if the EU’s goal is to escape the grip of financial markets by convincing them that Eurozone rules are robust, then it must insulate them from political competition and choice, which means refusing calls for greater democratic accountability at the European level.

So what is to be done? One option, of course, is to forget about democracy and pursue a technical fix to the Eurozone’s problems. But voters in Europe are less and less inclined with each passing day to support such a technocratic move. So going down this path could well necessitate a greater crisis for European democracy at the national level. A second option is to change course radically and seek to calm the markets through a Keynesian demand-stimulus programme. This is similar to what Francois Hollande proposed last spring, but even he has no clear answer where Europe will find the cash to finance such measures, which is why his initiatives since becoming president have been so hopelessly modest.

So how can we possibly reconcile moving toward more robust economic rules for Europe without compromising democratic accountability? A recent article by political scientists Michael Goodhart (Pittsburgh) and Stacy Bondanella Taninchev (Gonzaga) offers the intriguing but not unproblemmatic suggestion  that we need to adapt democratic accountability to the new, non-territorial reality of global (or European) governance. Instead of responsiveness to a given set of agents within a given territory, it should be understood as consistency with norms that ensure limits on the exercise of power and respect for individual rights. This would surely make things easier for the Eurocrats. Whether it would satisfy European voters is another question.


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