The Democratic Disconnect, the Power-Legitimacy Nexus, and the Future of EU Governance
Forthcoming in EU Law in Populist Times: Crises and Prospects (Francesca Bignami, ed., Cambridge University Press)
19 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2018 Last revised: 14 Dec 2018
Date Written: October 30, 2018
This chapter reflects on the ongoing democratic legitimacy challenges in the EU and what they might mean for the future of European governance. As I have maintained elsewhere, these challenges are best understood not as a 'democratic deficit' at the supranational level — the conventional view — but as a 'democratic disconnect' between the supranational and the national levels. The idea of a disconnect better captures the dynamics at the heart of European governance, in which functional demands have compelled the delegation of regulatory power to supranational institutions even as the experience of democratic self-government has remained stubbornly national. The sense of disconnection feeds into what we can call the 'power-legitimacy nexus', in which the nature of the EU’s legitimacy (largely technocratic and administrative rather than robustly democratic and constitutional in its own right) also determines the scope of power that supranational institutions are able then to successfully exercise. The effects of this phenomenon have been particularly apparent over the past decade of crisis. Despite the expansion of the EU's rulemaking, enforcement, and adjudicative powers, integration remains dependent upon forms of resource mobilization, both fiscal and human, that are still located almost completely at the national level. Whether in terms of taxing and spending, or policing and defense, resource mobilization powers remain fundamentally national because that is where the robust democratic and constitutional legitimacy needed to exercise them in fact resides. Forms of governance that are more technocratic and administrative in character, such as the EU, simply cannot exercise such powers on their own, at least not in a macroeconomically and geopolitically salient sense, precisely as the power-legitimacy nexus would predict. Many recent calls for reform stress the evident functional advantages of 'Europeanizing' resource mobilization powers. But unless there is a rare confluence of functional, political and cultural pressures precipitating what historical-institutionalists call a critical juncture — something certainly not out of the question — the EU will likely try to continue muddling through with incremental changes that remain constrained by the democratic disconnect and the power-legitimacy nexus.
Keywords: administrative governance, democratic disconnect, democratic legitimacy, European Union, Eurozone crisis, fiscal capacity, populism, power-legitimacy nexus, resource mobilization
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