Democracy and Legitimacy in a 'state in process'

Essay, 2009

10 Pages, Grade: 1,0

Heiner Denk (Author)


Democracy and Legitimcay in a „state in process“


„The Lisbon treaty will strengthen democracy in the European Union and the European Parliament,[1]“ states the current election manifesto of the CDU for the upcoming European Parliament elections. This sentence implies a problem with democracy in the European Union and suggests that the European Parliament might be a key to solving it. Very similar opinions are expressed in the other major German parties[2][3][4][5]. Even the Left Party – often considered as a protest party with wildly different programmatic ideas[6] - sees a „legitimation crisis[7]“ in the EU and calls for a „strong European Parliament[8]“, whereas the party opposes the Lisbon treaty as „neoliberal[9]“ and advocates a new Europan constitution[10]. Nevertheless: It has become a broad consensus between the main political partys in Germany that there is a democratic deficit in the European Union that needs to be eliminated.

This essay will analyze and scrutinize this consensus. Is it legitimate to talk about a “democratic deficit” in the European Union? From what perspectives and broader ideas about the European project does the consensus of the main political partys derive? And eventually: Is it true that the perceived democratic deficit in the European Union can be resolved by a strong European Parliament, in other words: Should the future democratic focus of the EU lay on this institution?

Is there a democratic deficit in the European Union?

The term “democratic deficit” linked with the EU first came up in the late 1980s. The British MEP Bill Dunn claims to have coined this phrase[11]. The phrase can be backed up empirically. The newest Eurobarometer highlights that 59% of the German population believe that there voice matters in Germany, whereas only 44% believe that their voice counts in Europe[12]. This indicates that Germans believe that democracy does not work as well in Europa as it does in their own country. Today one can divide the critics of democracy in the European Union into three main groups[13]. There are the ones seeing a structural democratic deficit that can barely be tackled, the ones seeing an institutional one that couuld be solved intergouvernementally and the ones seeing an institutional one that could be solved by focussing on European institutions. This essay will first discuss theses perspectives and explore from what angle German partys look at the perceived democratic deficit.

The democratic deficit in the EU – a structural problem?

The ones arguing that there is a structural democratic deficit in the EU (like Czech president Václav Klaus) point out that Europe as a whole misses a homogenous demos which is a basic condition for a democratic state. There is no single language which also leads to the fact that there is no agora, no European media[14] or European partys where political debates could take place – all undoubtedly relevant for a working democracy and democratic legitimation of decision-making. The geographic vastness of Europe makes actual democracy also impossible[15]. This point of view rarely sees a chance that the EU could become democratic in a sense comparable to parliamentary democracys like Germany. To these critics the democratic deficit in the European Union is fundamental.

While the German media and many Eurosceptics all around Europe assent to this argumentation, one will not find it in the election programs of the main German partys. This is partly because this argumentation is not completely valid with regards to content but it might have a few other reasons, too.

Whereas it is definititely important to underscore that there are some unique structural democratic challenges in the EU, the structural criticism disregards several points. As the political scientist Winfired Kluth states correctly Europe is not completely heterogenous, but there is a „socio-cultural homogenity[16] ”. The nations of Europe are a lot more similar than the structural view is willing to admit. Starting from the Roman Empire over the Medieval Ages to the Enlightement, Europeans do share many collective memories. And globalisation will only make Europeans more alike. The statement that there is no „European media“cannot be held either. The Economist, the Herald Tribune, Time or the Financial Times are truly European magazines creating a European public. One might argue that these are rather elitist, but then there are still political debates that have their starting point in the European Parliament and become a discussion in the different media of the different countrys – one shall only think about the naked-scanner-debate which has been aroused citizens all over Europe alike[17][18]. When Klaus points out that the vastness of Europe makes real democracy impossible, one should only think of the United States of America to invalidate this argument. Also English as a lingua franca becomes prevalent for any social class. In fact Europe is getting ever closer and the structural criticism – although it still should be considered - does not seem to actually build up an unsurmountable obstacle to a European democracy (anymore).


[1] CDU-Europawalprogramm 2009, S. 14. URL: (Stand: 30.3.2009)

[2] FDP-Europawahlprogramm 2009, S. 3 : „Wir halten deshalb an den Zielen des Vertrages von Lissabon fest, denn er enthält (...) eine erhebliche Stärkung des Europäischen Parlaments (...). URL: (Stand: 30.3.2009)

[3] Grünen-Europawahlprogramm 2009, S.6: „Und die Reformen würden endlich das Europäische Parlament als Vertretung des Europäischen Volkes (...) stärken. URL: (Stand: 30.3.2009)

[4] SPD-Europamanifesto, S. 3: „Wir wollen, dass der Vertrag von Lissabon bald in Kraft tritt. Durch ihn wird die EU demokratischer“. URL: (Stand: 30.3.2009)

[5] Pressestelle CSU: „Der Lissabon-Vertrag ist ein wichtiger Beitrag zum Abbau des Demokratiedefizits in Europa.“ URL: (Stand: 30.3.2009)

[6] Walter, Franz (2006), in „Linkspopulismus: Vergreisung als Chance“, URL:,1518,418695,00.html (Stand: 30.3.2009)

[7] Europawahlprogramm der Linken 2009, S. 3. URL: (Stand: 30.3.2009)

[8] Europawahlprogramm der Linken 2009, S. 4. URL: (Stand: 30.3.2009)

[9] Europawahlprogramm der Linken 2009, S. 5: „Die neoliberale Lissabon-Strategie“. URL: (Stand: 30.3.2009)

[10] Europawahlprogramm der Linken 2009, S. 6: „Die europäischen Verträge (...) mit einer demokratischen Verfassung für Europa ersetzen“. URL: (Stand: 30.3.2009)

[11] Dunn, Bill. The Democratic Deficit (1986)

[12] Eurobarometer 70. URL: (Stand: 31.03.2009)

[13] The ones argueing about output-legitimacy and the realists argueing that international regimes cannot and need not to be democratic will be omitted in this essay since this text will only focus on the mainstream discourse and argumentation in German politics.

[14] Joffe, Josef. Europa- Von wegen Alte Welt! In Die Zeit, Nr.13 (22.03.2007)

[15] Klaus, Václav. Rede vorm Europäischen Parlament am 19.02.2009. URL: (Stand: 31.03.2009)

[16] S. 109, Kluth, Winfried. Die demokratische Legitimation der Europäischen Union aus gemeineuropäischer Verfassungsperspektive (1995)

[17] Artikel zu Nacktscannern auf (Stand: 30.03.2009)

[18] Article to „strip airport body scanner“ at,23599,24535509-23109,00.html (Stand: 31.03.2009)

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Democracy and Legitimacy in a 'state in process'
University of Münster  (Institut für Politikwissenschaft)
Government and Politics of the European Union
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democracy, legitimacy
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Heiner Denk (Author), 2009, Democracy and Legitimacy in a 'state in process', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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