The Democracy in the European Union: The Need for Theory

Center for Offentlig Organisasjon Og Styring Report No. 2, 1997

16 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2010

Date Written: 1997


The characteristics and constraints of sovereign states have shaped the parameters for democratic answers to the question who shall rule. We hold that just domestic government must be accountable to the governed. That is: the power to make laws and secure compliance should ultimately reside with citizens generally, securing coincidence of the affected and the electorate. This general and equal distribution of political rights gives expression to the equal worth of all citizens, and is considered the best institutional arrangement in light of the effects both on popular will formation and for collective decision-making.Theories of democracy have not only endorsed universal suffrage, but also justified more specific details. The commonplaces include constitutionally specified procedures and constraints, including the division of legislative, executive and judicial powers; transparency; accountability of elected representatives to the electorate; and majority rule. The European Union is a new subject for theories of legitimacy, and poses fundamental challenges to the established concepts and principles of democratic theory (Føllesdal 1998). The mere existence of the EU proves that the sovereign state cannot remain the sole focus of normative reflection. Indeed, the very conception of sovereignty is at stake in current disputes about the proper scope and legal powers to be transferred to central European institutions, without divesting traditional member states of all powers. The legitimacy of such trans-national institutions born by political integration has so far received some, but scant attention (cf. Bellamy et al 1995, Føllesdal and Koslowski 1998 and references therein). The task of normative political theory is to offer concepts, arguments and criteria that further these debate, addressing problems of principle.

Keywords: European Union, EU, democracy, sovereignity, legitimacy, normative political theory

Suggested Citation

Follesdal, Andreas, The Democracy in the European Union: The Need for Theory (1997). Center for Offentlig Organisasjon Og Styring Report No. 2, 1997. Available at SSRN:

Andreas Follesdal (Contact Author)

Pluricourts ( email )

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

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