Democratic Legitimacy, Desirability and Deficit in EU Governance

Tom Theuns, Maurits De Jongh


In light of multiple and existential crises, longstanding concerns about the European Union’s (EU) quest for democratic legitimacy are ever more acute. Many think such concerns can be best addressed if European institutions would become better problem-solvers and more effective crisis-managers. Stronger performance by European institutions would supposedly reinforce the EU’s democratic credentials. In this article, we reject such ‘output’ oriented accounts as specious for any assessment of the EU’s democratic legitimacy. Drawing on Michael Oakeshott’s political theory, the article argues that stronger performance addresses the desirability of governing activities in the EU rather than its democratic legitimacy. Moreover, we argue that the distinction between ‘input’ and ‘throughput’ conditions of democratic legitimacy is problematic since these conditions are inextricably linked. Finally, we show that many proposals to reduce the democratic deficit in the EU merely shift the site of the alleged deficit.


legitimacy; systems theory; democratic deficit; EU; Michael Oakeshott; input legitimacy; output legitimacy

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