The Legitimacy Deficits of the European Union

28 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2010

Date Written: 2006


The legitimacy of the European Union has become a popular academic and political issue, stimulating debate about alleged symptoms, diagnosis and prescriptions. This review presents some of the central approaches and research issues, as well as an account of legitimacy that accommodates several but not all contributions.The ‘normative turn in EU studies’ has tended to address how the European level institutions should be governed. This subject gained political salience largely in response to the contentious Maastricht Treaty ratification process, sketched in Section I. Popular and legal conflicts strengthened the claims of politicians and scholars that the European Union suffered from a ‘legitimacy deficit’ that has yet to be resolved. Section II dissolves this apparent consensus by exploring experts’ different choices of symptoms, diagnosis and prescriptions regarding this deficit. Section III provides a taxonomy of concepts of legitimacy, institutional mechanisms of legitimation and objects of legitimacy. Section IV perhaps over-ambitiously seeks to combine several of these disjointed insights into a somewhat unified perspective. It incorporates empirical concepts of legitimacy as compliance in an account of citizens’ political obligation to obey normatively legitimate political orders. On this account, a normative duty to obey political commands requires firstly, that the commands, rulers and regime are normatively legitimate, and secondly, that citizens also have reason to trust in the future compliance of other citizens and authorities with such commands and regimes. To merit obedience, institutions must thus address the assurance problems faced by ‘conditional compliers’ under complex structures of interdependence. I suggest that this perspective helps address some – though not all – of the central tensions between empirical and normative concepts of legitimacy, and the conflicts between problem solving efficiency and democratic accountability.

Keywords: European Union, EU, legitimacy deficit, normative political theory, the Constitutional Treaty

Suggested Citation

Follesdal, Andreas, The Legitimacy Deficits of the European Union (2006). Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 441-468, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Andreas Follesdal (Contact Author)

Pluricourts ( email )

P.O. Box 6706
St. Olavs plass 5
0130 Oslo

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