Research & Studies

The European Civil Society Discourse

Democratic deficit

The EU’s soft spot is that its institutions are not thoroughly transparent and lack the democratic social legitimacy. The democratic deficit during the 90’s was constantly growing. The consensus that was symptomatic of the integration-orientated elite has been  drained after the war. This consensus played a noteworthy role in the regular and effective co-operation of the Western-European governments and societies. Nevertheless, this is no longer cogent in the process of the post Cold War Eastern enlargement.

Commenting the situation after Nice, Director of the European Policy Centre John Palmer mentions a growing turmoil and doubt in connection with „the fundamental aims of the European integration”.1 Palmer comes to the conclusion that the Future of Europe debate – owing to the uncertainties around the fundamental aims – cannot mobilize a critical social mass. This standpoint is also underpinned by the public opinion polls (Eurobarometer), the fairly social echoless of the Convention and the aloof tendencies of the Western-European political arena. One should not be surprised. After the failure of Maastricht that tried to create the polity from above, the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties attempted to implement long-term reforms in order to reach a „a civic engagement to the broader political community or the creation of a normative order that is maintained by the independent source of the input-orientated legitimacy”2. These forced attempts from above to create a common identity or the public apprehension of public good have been regularly flopped. As Chryssochoou neatly indites „Amsterdam failed to incorporate any substantive civic rights in a formal ‘constitutional’ document addressed to the citizen directly, thus reflecting the insistence of sovereignty conscious states on codifying existing trends in both jurisprudence and legislation”3. In other words: the unkind national interests shadow the broader vision. Amsterdam and Nice – adjusted into the European Communities and to the Union’s development history -were under the necessity of creating and/or addressing the political community – in spite of it, policies were produced and developed.

Chryssochoou’s critique of European elites – in accordance with the tenet of numerous European social scientists –, that primarily enhances the self-echo, sharply conceives the gist of the problem: „ The significance of tying the self-image of the elites to the dialectic between citizenship and demos-formation is that no common civic identity may come into being unless all major actors engaged in European governance see themselves as part of a polity-building exercise that has to evolve from lower level ‘upwards’. Likewise, a transnational political space must be built up up in the everyday networks of civic engagement, instead of being constructed from the top down”.4

Read more on the Institute for Social and European Studies website.