Why we need to renew democracy in Europe

A brief excursus on the democratic deficit of the European Union

Essay, 2010
15 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of content:


1. Theoretical Background
1.1 The Concept of Democracy
1.2 The Changing Nation-State
1.3 The New Governance

2. Democracy and the European Union
2.1 The Multi-level System of the EU
2.2 Applying Democracy to the EU
2.3 The Democratic Deficit in the European Union
2.4 A Question of Standard Setting?
2.5 Potential Remedies

3. Conclusion



Certainly, at least in Europe and the United States, democracy is taken for granted. Not only is our political system democratic, our entire society is democratically organized. Our current understanding of democracy came about as a result of the emergence of the European nation-state. The functioning of modern democracy is consistent with the political system of the state. In the twentieth century the transforming processes of globalization, including the empowering of global institutions as well as technological revolution, influenced the role and functioning of the modern nation state. A new complexity and greater number of actors appeared on the world stage and the term ‘government’ was increasingly regarded as inappropriate in capturing political reality. The differentiated governance approach is more likely to be capable of dealing with complexity. But what are the effects on democracy?

This term paper argues that change from ‘government’ to ‘governance’ forces a change in the concept of democracy as well. To prove this assumption the European Union is closely examined. Its political system is an example of a complex, multi-level governance, in which national governments are losing influence in favor of subnational and supranational actors. Additionally, it is outlined how the demand for democracy goes hand in hand with the political and institutional reality of the European Union, thereby providing an analysis of the democratic deficit of the European Union. The division of opinions and the controversy associated with democratic deficit is demonstrated.

The relationship between the concept of democracy and nation-state is examined and current changes regarding the nation-state are demonstrated. This is the theoretical basis used in examining the democratic deficit of the European Union and in answering the question, whether the standards might simply be set wrongly. Due to the restricted length of the term paper, only a short overview of potential remedies is given. In concluding, the main points are summarized and a critical outlook is presented.

1. Theoretical Background

1.1 The Concept of Democracy

The ancient Greek term demokratia was originally not a basis for legitimacy but rather just one particular form of government. In the fifth century BC it was applied to small-scale city-states such as Athens. The word ‘democracy’ was initially applied to institutions that enabled the citizens to govern themselves. Within the last 2000 years the concept of democracy has changed tremendously. Nowadays it is the source and embodiment of political power itself (Dunn 2005, 13f).

The promise that democracy makes to a city-state will never be fulfilled in a nation-state. In a modern democracy citizens are unable to govern themselves. When we speak about democracy today we rather talk about a government that is legitimized by its people (Dunn 2005, 17). The modern understanding of democracy results from the idea of freedom and self-determination of people (Schmidt 2006, 82). To avoid tyranny and despotism, power needs to be legitimized by those who are affected (Böckenförde 1991, 292). Thus, a democratic state enables its individuals to participate in political life and acts in order to benefit them (Schmidt 2006, 17/Böckenförde 1991, 299).

The concept of democracy, in its modern sense, originates in the nineteenth century. Democracy was then dedicated to the political reality of a nation-state. As a result, the representative institutions of northern Europe and Britain were created. Legality of power is deduced from the legitimacy of those institutions and its rules (Kirchhof 2004, 359). The term democracy described the “system of representative government in which the representatives are chosen by free competitive elections and most male citizens are entitled to vote” (Birch 2007, 110). Nowadays we find a similar but further improved definition. Basically the majority of scientists described the concept of democracy in procedural and institutional terms, including ‘a parliamentary government’, ‘competitive free elections’ and ‘a wide franchise’ (Birch 2007, 116). Dahl defines the ideal criteria for democracy as being ‘equality in voting’, ‘effective participation’, ‘enlightened understanding’, ‘final agenda-control’ and ‘inclusion’ (Dahl 1982, 6). The participation in formation of political objectiveness in nationstates only takes place at the parliamentary elections (Kirchhof 2004, 361). However, the ideal criteria for democracy are so demanding that no political system had ever met them (Dahl 1982, 12ff).

Although procedural processes are essential to democracy it is more than a form of government. “Democracy is a culture, a faith, and an ethos that develops through interpretation, practice, wars and revolution” (March/Olsen1995, 2). Moreover, to us it became a political value emphasizing equality in social relationships (Birch 2007, 110). In addition to political representation and participation, liberty, freedom and rights are essential values of democracy. European ideas about democracy are basically characterized by the French ideas, which were first articulated by Jean-Jacque Rousseau. Even though he did not believe in representative democracy, Rousseau’s ideas had a profound influence on the philosophies of Kant, Hegel and the English idealists. The positive concept of liberty originates in the ideas of Rousseau (Birch 2007, 167f). The concept of rights is now invoked in political discourse. This includes positive and negative individual rights, human rights as well as the rights of minority and cultural groups (Birch 2007, 177). Democracy nowadays is to be seen as a distinct political order and a form of human coexistence. It provides an institutional context for governance (March/Olsen 1995, 2).

1.2 The Changing Nation-State

The current institutional context for democracy is provided by the nation- state. To understand the concept and significance of the nation-state, it is important to understand its historical construction and changeability. The beginning of the modern nation-state originates from the end of the Middle Ages and the collapsing of the feudal system (Felder 2001, 71). The same revolutionaries of the nineteenth century who called for democracy, independence and freedom founded the nation-state (Guéhenno 2000, 1). For over two hundred years nation-states remained the main actors in world politics. But the state is not a static entity. The liberal, secular state is based on presuppositions which it itself cannot guarantee (Böckenförde, 1976). Since its foundation, the concept of nation-state has changed. For example, the relationship between state and society is dynamic. Existing problems in societal order force the state to examine changes in its responsibilities. An historical example is the invention of the welfare state by Bismarck in the nineteenth century. On the other hand, radical situations of change enforce institutional reinventions (Felder 2001, 72ff). In the twentieth century, due to technological development, a multitude of forms of communication appeared which connected nation-states, people and social movements (Held 2007, 121). Moreover, geographical and time dimensions no longer appear as obstacles (Benner et. al 2002, 4f). New players such as International Organizations, NGO’s, social movements and companies emerged. Rosenau refers to this ‘organizational explosion’ as being one of the four current major developments in the world. As a result of this process, additional actors appeared on the world stage, infiltrating the authority of nation-state. A more pluralistic pattern of rule is now shaping world politics (Rosenau 1999, 1005).

1.3 The New Governance

The theoretical and practical conclusions drawn from the ‘crisis’ of the nation-state were connected to a new integrative governance approach in the political discourse (Bevir 2010, 29). Although the term ‘governance’ has recently increased in importance, governance is not a new invention. Rather, it is the “activity of coordinating communication in order to achieve common goals” that had already begun with Adam and Eve (Willke 2007, 10). However, the term ‘governance’ replaced the concept of government as it “implies a tidier and more ordered hierarchy of authority and more concentrated focus of politics than we find in many contemporary societies” (Wallace 2005, 1). The context of communication, information and technology totally changed the premises of government (March/Olsen 1995, 4).


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Why we need to renew democracy in Europe
A brief excursus on the democratic deficit of the European Union
Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
536 KB
EU, democracy, legitimacy
Quote paper
Michaela Böhme (Author), 2010, Why we need to renew democracy in Europe, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/210359


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Why we need to renew democracy in Europe

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free