International Integration and Democracy: No Love at First Sight

Posted: 13 Sep 2001

See all articles by Eric Stein

Eric Stein

University of Michigan Law School


With an eye on the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), NAFTA and the European Union (EU), I propose to show the intuitively predictable correlation between, on one hand, the level of integration of each and, on the other hand, the nature and intensity of the discourse about the democracy-legitimacy deficit surrounding them. I offer a grid of the normative-institutional as well as social-empirical factors that may help to estimate the respective levels of integration, and I suggest operative definitions of the principal concepts employed. A tension prevails between the currently expanding acceptance of the idea of democracy and the growth of diverse international organizations and regimes. These institutions are seen as unsupervised by national parliaments and undemocratic in their structure and functioning. Having noted briefly the essential characteristics of the four organizations which relate to the discourse, I ask whether?if indeed there is "a democratic deficit"?the modern representative democracy could serve as a model for amelioration? Is a "participatory," civic republican version an option? Or are idiosyncratic solutions called for, tailored to the level of integration and specific goals of the particular institutions? In this context, I take note not only of the evolution and many variants of the state-based practice of democracy and constitutionalism, but also of the changing face of state "sovereignty" and of the international system, all three in the process of interaction with each other.

I explore ideas for the reduction of the democracy-legitimacy deficit by measures to be taken both in the national legal orders and at the level of the four institutions. In the case of WTO and EU, these suggestions have become linked to proposals for more or less radical structural reforms, which broaden significantly the scope and tenor of the discourse. I end with some generalizations about both possible "palliative" measures and "grand and desperate cures" for international institutions at large.

Suggested Citation

Stein, Eric, International Integration and Democracy: No Love at First Sight. Available at SSRN:

Eric Stein (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
734-764-0541 (Phone)
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