EU Legitimacy in a Realist Key
17 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2015 Last revised: 1 Sep 2015
Date Written: September 1, 2015
This paper provides a conceptual analysis of the EU’s legitimation status through the lens of a realist account of legitimacy. We propose a modification of Bernard Williams’ theory of liberal legitimacy, and use it to make sense of the widely perceived legitimation crisis of the EU. In Williams’ well-known formula, “Basic Legitimation Demand Modernity = Liberalism”. Drawing on that model, we put forward three main claims. (i) The right side of the equation is insufficiently sensitive to the importance of popular sovereignty in Western constitutional traditions; (ii) The left side of the equation is best thought of as a ‘legitimation story’: an account of what plausibly sustains belief in legitimacy. This is, however, not a purely descriptive notion: attending to the meaning of politics in the relevant context rules out both violent domination and ideologically distorted legitimation stories, thus providing a non-moralised normative component for the position. (iii) While most EU member states ostensibly support the Union, the legitimation story offered by the member states to its citizens draws upon a tradition of popular sovereignty that sit badly with the supranational pooling and delegation of sovereign powers that characterises the EU rule. That, we maintain, explains the current legitimation crisis of the EU. Further, we argue that the realist framework requires a solution to the legitimation problem before any advances can be made on the front of social justice.
Keywords: Realism, Legitimacy, Bernard Williams, European Union, Popular Sovereignty, Democratic Deficit
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation