Political theorists and scientists alike have viewed European integration as a laboratory for exploring how far the nation state, and the forms of dome- stic and international politics to which it gave rise, has been aVected by the various processes associated with globalization. Debate has focused on whether the European Union (EU) has transformed the old politics of nation-states to produce a new kind of polity, or merely adapted the old politics to new circumstances. 

As a result, theorists have had to confront the underlying empirical assumptions of much normative political theory in particular, the degree to which our contemporary understanding of democratic politics presupposes the nation state. If it does, and the EU represents a significant move beyond national politics, then we may need a parallel conceptual trans- formation of our views of constitutionalism, citizenship, representation, and accountability. Alternatively, that might be a good reason for resisting inte- gration. All depends on how far the theorist believes ideals are tied to particu- lar realities or can, given the political will, be made real in time.


Almost every type of theorizing has been placed in the service of almost every conceivable political interpretation of the EU (for overviews see Føllesdal and Koslowski 1997; Weale and Nentwich 1998; Friese and Wagner 2002; Bellamy and Castiglione 2003). Consequently, particular views of the EU cannot be easily associated with a given approach to political theory. Nevertheless, a key diVerence has been provided by the notion of political community. 

On the one hand, those who stress the intrinsic value of communities in shaping political identity in significant ways have emphasized the importance of either national or European values and culture as a source of unity, and been concerned to ensure the EU balances integra- tion with a respect for the continuing diversity of its component parts (Weiler 2001; Bellamy and Castiglione 1998; Bellamy and Warleigh 2001b). On the other hand, those who hold a more instrumental view of communities have been more inclined to evaluate the EU in terms of its eYciency in securing certain goods, such as enhanced productivity, increased security, or the better protection of human rights (Majone 1998; Moravscik 2002; Morgan 2004).

Awide range of theoretical approaches can be fitted within each of these two camps. The intrinsic approach may adopt a more hermeneutical point of view, whereas the instrumental seeks for explanations on the model of the natural sciences, but each can be pursued in either an analytical or a more continental philosophical style. Each can also prioritize—both ethically and methodologic- ally—either an individualist perspective, be it single persons or some collective agent such as a state, or a holistic view based on the functioning of the social and political system, the role of discourse, or some other whole.

For example, intergovernmental and neo-functionalist accounts of the EU both oVer instru- mental accounts of European integration, but the former focuses on the ra- tional actions of individual agents—be they politicians or states, while the latter concentrates on the systemic features of an increasingly interconnected global economy. Likewise, even those who believe in the intrinsic importance of the community can do so because of its role in promoting individual autonomy as a context of choice. Finally, there are left- and right-wing versions of both notions of community. Appeals to the instrinsic value of community are made by both conservatives and social democrats, for instance, just as certain libertarians and rational choice Marxists have both adopted instrumental accounts.

If the notion of political community shapes the normative ideals theorists oVer of the EU, their understanding of how this ideal might be translated into political reality is conditioned by their stance on the global processes of which the EU forms a part. Some theorists see globalization as transforming the character of democratic politics towards a postnational and potentially global form of democratic politics, with the EU merely the most developed regional example of this shift (Held 1995, 111–13). 

Others regard the EU as a mere means whereby nation states have adapted to global pressures while retaining their actual, and for many a normatively inescapable, centrality. Meanwhile, a Euroskeptical group dispute the implacable nature of globalization, and seek to resist it (Malcolm 1991). Thus, a liberal who takes an instrumental view of community and espouses a moral cosmopolitanism will only be moved to regard the EU as a necessary stage in the building of a political cosmopolitanism if they take a transforma- tive view of the eVect of global processes. Otherwise, they will be likely to regard inter-state arrangements as the best, or at least the only practicable, means for making their moral ideals a political reality.

The two dimensions of reactions to globalization and accounts of political community (illustrated in Fig. 13.1) provide the conceptual space within which we can locate diVerent normative views of the EU. As a result, we can find transformative, adaptive, and resistant versions of both views of political community (and their numerous variations).

Thus, communitarian minded liberal nationalists, who see the nation state as a necessary context for welfare and democracy, have tended to be located in the bottom left-hand corner on the interface between the intrinsic view of community and the resistant–adaptive response to globalization (Miller 1998). For rather diVerent reasons, so have ethnic nationalists (Smith 1992) and nationalist conservatives (Powell 1973; Malcolm 1991). However, utilit- arians, who view the nation state as still being the functionally most eYcient unit for most policies, would be located in the top left-hand corner (Goodin 1987–8, 685; Hirst and Thompson 1996). So, for quite diVerent reasons, might a free-marketeer be committed to a European-wide free market, but wishing to prevent the EU acquiring too much state-like power that might lead to economic intervention (Rabkin 1998; Vibert 2001). Both social democratic and libertarian theorists at the intersection between an instrumental ap- proach and an adaptive response are relatively open to the EU so long as it can promote welfare and economic effciency as they respectively understand it.

Indeed, they tend to welcome its overcoming the very aVective and intrinsic relationships others so value, claiming either that it produces an openness to global redistribution or makes any such policies less likely (Hayek 1948). Yet, some radical libertarians might still desire to do away with the state altogether and so situate themselves in the top right-hand corner. However, they would regard the EU as too close to the state form and so insuYciently transforma- tive. Liberal or social democratic cosmopolitans arguing on either utilitarian or rights-based grounds would agree. For them, a cosmopolitan system that stops at the EU level on any basis other than convenience risks falling into the bottom right-hand, intrinsic–transformative, corner. EU immigration policy has prompted such fears (Soysal 1994; Kostakopoulou 2001).


As this rapid overview indicates, it is often hard to disentangle exactly what does the work in many normative arguments about the EU—ontology, methodology, empirical assumptions, or ideological preferences. Theorists who diVer on almost everything else can still converge on policy recom- mendations and vice versa. To explore why, we shall examine two key debates in which theorists have played an important part: that on the EU’s Charter of Rights and the proposed Constitutional treaty, and the related discussion of citizenship and the EU’s democratic deficit.


The Convention on the Future of Europe was the culmination of a decade long concern with the EU’s legitimacy (Beetham and Lord 1998; BanchoV and Smith 1999). The Treaty of Maastricht, and the diYculties experienced in ratifying it in subsequent referenda in France and especially Denmark, raised fundamental questions about the ultimate goals and methods of European integration. Meanwhile, the corruption scandals surrounding the Santer Commission added concerns over the propriety of the institutional mechanisms employed to govern it.

The introduction of the euro and enlargement to encompass ten new states, including eight from the former Soviet bloc, added to these worries. Several theorists saw the drafting of a Charter of Rights and Constitution as a way of addressing the EU’s perceived normative weaknesses by placing it on clear, principled foundations (Habermas 2001; Eriksen and Fossum 2004). However, others have regarded them as potentially deepening these worries (Weiler and Wind 2003; Dobson and Follesdal 2004; Barry 2004).

These contrasting judgments about the appropriateness and possible con- tent of an EU Charter and Constitution reflected the two dimensions ex- plored above: namely, diVering views of political community, on the one hand, and of the degree to which the EU secured or undermined the favored model, on the other. Moreover, these positions figured not only in academic debates but also in the two conventions established to draft these documents. With regard to the Charter, the two major issues were the relationship between any EU Charter and those of the member states, and the range of rights the Charter should cover. 

Those social democrats and conservatives who took an intrinsic view of community but adopted a resistant view of globalization wanted the Charter to apply only to EU institutions and to cover a fairly restricted range of rights—principally the political and eco- nomic rights deriving from the EU’s current activities. They feared the Charter could threaten the distinctive national ways of life of the various member states. In Walzerian fashion (Walzer 1994), they contended that rights might have a ‘‘thin’’ universal form, but their ‘‘thick’’ content reflected national rather than European or global norms—protecting, for example, particular languages and religions, a certain approach to free speech, or a specific view of labor practices and welfare.

Even within the common frame- work of the European Convention on Human Rights, which all member states have signed, there is considerable diversity across Europe on these issues. Some constitutions, such as the Irish, enshrine a given religion and particular duties that are said to follow from it; others, such as the Belgian, give great weight to protecting particular languages; still others, such as the Italian, highlight the rights of workers and so on. By contrast, conservatives in the intrinsic community camp who adopted a transformative view wanted to ground these EU rights in a supposed European culture and especially Christianity—a move that oVended anti-clericals and secularists in the Convention, while appearing to exclude Europe’s one million Muslims and the prospective membership of Turkey, along with Jews and other non-Christian religions.

Meanwhile, social democrats of a more instrumental turn, yet who also took a transformative stance on globalization, saw the Charter as a means of shifting the EU from economics and the bargaining between nations to a post-nationalist concern with rights, with these documents acting as the focus for a distinctive European constitutional identity (Habermas 2001; Eriksen,  Fossum,  and  Mene´ndez  2002;  Fossum  2003).  However,  they  were opposed by libertarians, who wished any Charter to entrench the free market values that the EU has hitherto seen as its prime focus (Vibert 2001).

In the end, a combination of vagueness and log-rolling allowed the Charter to accommodate elements of  all  these  positions  (Bellamy  and  Scho¨nlau 2004b). Certain theorists see the Charter’s capacity to encompass such diverse views as indicative of its success (Fossum 2003). Arguably, though, these disagreements undermine the very project of a rights charter (Bellamy 2001). However open the Charter may be in theory, in practice it will have to be given a specific interpretation on particular issues. Some commentators fear that, as a consequence, the Charter will lead the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to overrule rather than negotiate with national constitu- tional courts, curtailing a dialogue over rights that has promoted a genuine European rights culture based on mutual respect for the diverse sources and meanings they have been given across the continent (Weiler 2000, 2001). 

This position, that in certain respects can be aligned to a republican perspective (Bellamy 2001), cuts across both views of political community and takes a more adaptive stance. Its proponents doubt the likelihood of national com- munities being displaced by similar allegiances to Europe or the necessity for the EU to take on many of the tasks of the member states. In the sphere of rights no less than in economics, both the intrinsic and the instrumental virtues of a European community are realized through the interaction be- tween states within the EU framework rather by that framework supplanting the role of states.

Debates about the Constitution followed a very similar pattern (Magnette 2004; Bellamy and Scho¨nlau 2004a). Some saw the Constitution as a way of clearly demarcating and limiting the competences of the EU; others as providing a legal and principled basis for its further expansion; still others as a mere reorganization of the existing treaties and an attempt to streamline decision-making to cope with the expansion of the Union from fifteen to twenty-five member states. 

Meanwhile, all had an interest in finding a way of defining which issues ought to be dealt with at what level—the subnational, national, or European. Since Maastricht, these considerations have been guided by the linked doctrines of subsidiarity and proportionality, whereby the  EU  should  only  act  when  it  can  achieve  a  policy  more  eYciently  than some inferior level of government and only to the extent necessary to realize the aims of an EU Treaty (or now the Constitution). The diYculty has been that the interpretation of these principles will depend on the view of political community and the place on the resistant–transformative spectrum of the interpreter—the principles themselves are unable to adjudicate between rival interpretations (Føllesdal 1998).

The attempt to draw up a comprehensive (and hence limited) list of EU competences necessarily ended in failure. Instead, the Constitution contains vague formulae and a new monitoring mechanism that allows national parliaments to challenge the constitutional- ity of attempts to extend the EU’s competences, although the final decision rests with the ECJ—which, as a federal body, is likely to side with an EU orientated position. Whether the Constitution proves too rigid or too flex- ible, an improvement or a retrograde step, will no doubt also depend on the views of the commentator concerned. As with the debate on the Charter, those of an adaptive viewpoint tend to view it as premature and as potentially eroding what was an evolving common law constitution negotiated between the ECJ and national courts (Weiler 2003).

Perhaps the most significant theoretical advocate of both the Charter and the Constitution has been Ju¨rgen Habermas. In a series of influential articles, he has argued that an EU Constitution could become the focus for ‘‘a constitu- tional patriotism’’(e.g. Habermas 1992, 2001). His claim appears to be that democratic deliberation between the peoples of Europe presupposes certain common constitutional norms of mutual recognition. 

Liberal cosmopolitans, however, will be inclined to ask why such norms should have a specific European focus rather than being global in application. Habermas appears to incline to the view that certain cultural commonalties exist, diVerentiating continental Europeans at least from the United States on such issues as welfare and the abolition of capital punishment. Especially in the wake of the second Iraq war, Europe has been seen by several theorists as an alternative power bloc to the United States, committed to a social rather than an aggressively free market model (Habermas and Derrida 2003). However, many social demo- cratic civic nationalists contend that the EU has been a force of economic liberalization rather than of social protection (Miller 1998), while cosmopol- itans point out that appeals to European values are potentially regressive and exclusive (Young 2003). 

These debates have revealed the theoretical as well as practical diYculties of reconciling ‘‘unity and diversity’’ as the Constitution aspires to. Some Habermasians have claimed that a process of democratic deliberation oVers a route forward (Erikson and Fossum 2000, chs. 1–3, 6, and 12). However, the two Conventions employed to draw up the EU’s new constitutional documents were elite aVairs with only the most indirect of democratic mandates. Indeed, the rejection of the Constitution in the 2005 French and Dutch referenda suggests popular enthusiasm was largely absent. Meanwhile, for reasons explored below, many theorists doubt that a pan- European democratic dialogue could meaningfully take place.


A prime critique of the EU since the 1970s has been that it suVers from a democratic deficit. Theorists standardly focus on two dimensions of the problem—the socio-psychological and the institutional. The first concerns the ‘‘demos’’ issue, the second the eVectiveness of the existing arrangements in promoting the responsiveness and accountability of rulers to the ruled.

Those who emphasize the intrinsic elements of political community con- tend that democracy assumes a fairly culturally and linguistically cohesive people (Miller 1998; Grimm 1997; Kymlicka 1999). A viable demos must share a collective destiny and a relatively common discourse of politics. Both elements promote the acceptance of democratic rule. The former involves not just the practical need for a collective decision, but also the feeling that it is right for this particular collectivity to take it. The latter suggests a broad agreement on the parameters of acceptability of any given decision and the capacity for all to be reasonably involved in it. History, to some degree ethnicity, and above all a common language are all seen as supporting such communal bonds. 

Although large, multicultural, and multilingual political units exist, such as Canada, they note that such states have become increas- ingly decentralized, with territorially concentrated linguistic and cultural sub-units gaining ever more autonomy from the center (Kymlicka 1999). Within this context, the diversity coming from recent waves of immigration is distinguished from that stemming from indigenous peoples or past colon- ization. Whereas immigrants who choose to come to a new country can be expected to make some eVort to integrate into the host culture—even if, over time, they are also likely to change it—no such expectation can reasonably be made of historic nations.

On these grounds, the EU is said to fail the ‘‘demos’’ test. It consists of well- established historic nations, with no common language and hence no com- mon newspapers or other media that might serve to create a shared European public sphere. Although at a very general level all member states may adhere to certain liberal democratic values, their understanding of these principles diVers in significant ways. As we saw, they have very diVerent constitutional provisions in many key areas. Globalization may have produced certain problems, such as cross-border pollution, that can only be tackled by intense international cooperation, but that is qualitatively diVerent from establishing regional or global decision-making bodies with a direct mandate from a European people. 

Absent a European demos of the requisite kind, which most members of this camp regard as a very distant prospect at best, they see the creation of better democratic institutions at the EU level as deepening rather than diminishing its democratic deficit. European citizenship will always lack an aVective level that ties people to each other and the EU via a shared political identity. There are democratic limits to European integration, therefore, that suggest it should remain a predominantly intergovernmental organization in which a national rather than the European parliament can exert control over what the executive might agree to. In particular, welfare and redistributive issues have to remain the preserve of the member states.

Those who take a more instrumental view of political decision-making are potentially less cautious. They believe it is suYcient that citizens have a common interest in securing some benefit or protecting themselves against some harm (Niada-Rumelin 1997; Pogge 1997; Weale 2005). To the extent these benefits have to be obtained at a level above the nation state, then citizens have good democratic reasons to set up supranational political institutions that give them the opportunity to control the forces aVecting their lives. 

The EU is preferable to a series of issue-specific agreements by allowing spill-over between issues to be addressed. The socio-psychological element will come post facto once citizens begin to interact regularly with each other. Indeed, to some degree, globalization has already created a global political community in this fuller sense. English now operates in much of the world, and certainly in Europe, as a common second language. The introduction of the euro has become a tangible symbol of EU citizens’ shared fate and identity for those in the euro zone. The media oVers twenty-four- hour coverage of world events and alerts people to natural and humanly created disasters in far corners of the globe and, as events such as Live Aid demonstrate, can elicit global solidarity with the plight of their victims. 

On issues such as the environment and the oppression of woman there are now well-organized transnational pressure groups that bring global action to bear on local problems. Perhaps most significantly, all these groups increasingly express their demands in a common discourse of human rights. Through bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights, these norms now constrain the sovereignty of states and even provide grounds for intervention by other states in domestic aVairs. Far from threatening the pursuit of social justice, cosmopolitan institutions—of which the EU forms but a compon- ent—oVer ways for institutionalizing international redistributive schemes that could raise standards. Even minority languages and cultures might be better protected through a global language rights policy than through a system of nation states that allow the rich and powerful to dominate the poor and the weak (Van Parijs 1997; and in Rawls and Van Parjis 2003). 

The challenge of immigration has led some to advocate decoupling citizenship and nationality altogether, giving rights of free movement to all. Voting and taxation would depend on residence alone (Soysal 1994; Kostakopoulou 2001). Yet, within this camp too there are significant diVerences over how far or deep this transformation of political community has gone or could go. Some suggest the EU is only an adaptation of national politics to globalization. The policies concerned are regulatory rather than distributive and the main requirement is for independent monitoring mechanisms that can ensure all comply with the relevant agreements and neither the policies nor their mode of implementation infringe certain basic rights (Majone 1998; Moravscik 2002). 

Because democratic majorities can threaten rights or the public inter- est, delegated agencies often handle such regulatory tasks within national democracies. No democratic deficit exists, because in these areas democracy need not, and even should not, be authorial. People need only have the possibility of contesting or ‘‘editing’’ agreements for bias or maladministra- tion (Pettit 2006). This purpose is served by the ECJ upholding the rule of law and the possibility of appealing to it and the European Ombudsman. Yet, some instrumentalists follow those in the intrinsic camp who believe inter- national agencies can never be fully democratized and so contend their scope should be limited. They maintain that, beyond a certain size, a citizen’s vote becomes worth so little, and the center so distant, that a global or even a European democracy could never work eVectively (Dahl 1999).

Once again, debate within and between the two camps turns to some degree on one’s reading of the empirical evidence. Unfortunately, the avail- able facts do not clearly support one side or the other. Eurobarometer polls consistently show that citizens identify themselves as national first and European second, while turnout in elections to the European Parliament (EP) is lower than in national (if not necessarily local) ones and getting lower (although this is a common trend for all elections). However, the polls also reveal that most citizens regard the EU as beneficial, while many view the EP and the Commission more favorably than their national parliaments and governments. 

Although people vote for national parties in European elec- tions, these are aligned on a similar left–right spectrum in all member states and have no diYculty re-forming as European party blocs within the EP. Ultimately, it is hard to resist the conclusion that we have neither a European demos nor merely national demoi, but rather a series of relations that place people betwixt and between various subnational, national, international, transnational, and supranational allegiances, with diVering degrees of instru- mental and intrinsic motivations operating at all these levels. As a result, EU nationals enjoy multiple citizenships. However, these cannot be viewed as either discreet or hierarchically organized, with lower levels being encom- passed by the higher like a Russian doll. EU competences are not clear-cut, but mutually interact. Some regard this situation as unstable; others see the interaction as beneficial—producing mutually respectful modifications in national or subnational allegiances, while checking the pretensions of any supranational authority (Weiler 1999, ch. 10; Bellamy 2001).

Attitudes to the demos problem will clearly influence one’s approach to the institutional question. Claus OVe (2003, 439–40) has argued that the persist- ence of territorial, class, and religious conflicts within Europe has, following the disastrous attempts of the totalitarian regimes of right and left to remove their sources, led to Europeans placing a high premium on handling diversity through compromise, cooperation, and constraint in ways that acknowledge its legitimacy and inescapability. The proportional, consensus democratic arrangements, corporatist bargaining, and social market economy that pre- dominate in Western Europe largely reflect this tendency. Some social demo- cratic commentators see the EU as the natural extension of this system within a globalizing context (Habermas 1999).

The chief problem is the current institutional set up. Ironically, they see the EU as unable to counter American economic and military hegemony because it possesses a radical version of the United States system that divides power both horizontally and vertically, sharing decision-making between a member state appointed Commission, the largely secret meetings of the various Council of Ministers, and an EP elected on domestic rather than European issues. These arrangements allow too many veto points, favoring a negative integration of liberalizing measures and lowest common denominator standards over a more positive integration involving a redistribution of costs and benefits (OVe 2000; Morgan 2005).

Such measures cannot be achieved through voluntary coord- ination and regulative governance. They require the central authority of a democratic government able to impose common policies deriving from fair but collectively binding decision procedures. They seek to strengthen decision-making within the EU through such devices as enhanced qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers, an increased role— including the ability to initiate legislation, currently the prerogative of the Commission—for the EP, and a stronger, more activist ECJ. They locate the chief source of the democratic deficit in the absence of clear lines of respon- sibility and accountability. Once these are established by more centralized decision-making, a European demo will naturally form along with a sufficiently strong sense of European solidarity to allow an EUwelfare and security regime to develop.

Obviously, libertarians often approve the very features of current arrange- ments these theorists criticize (Barry 2004). However, so do some social democratic theorists who take a more adaptive stance and believe multiple demoi can only achieve adequate representation and control within a poly- centric polity. Developing republican ideas (MacCormick 1997; Bellamy and Castiglione 2000; Bellamy 2003), they see this division of power as a means of curtailing certain attributes of national sovereignty that permit various types of domination and exclusion by hegemonic groups without recreating them at the supranational level. States remain largely autonomous, but they must now attend to at least some eVects of their activities on other states and are encouraged to cooperate with them to overcome common bads and create common goods. A system of mutual checks and balances allows unity to be combined with respect for diversity. Although imperfect, the challenge for the future lies not in creating a European demos but in enhancing the interaction between the various subnational, national, and transnational demoi and rendering their representatives more accountable on European matters (Schmitter 2000).


The EU has forced political theorists to address a new setting. How far that requires a parallel rethinking of basic assumptions and principles remains unclear. At present, the new bottles of supranational institutions are filled with the old wine of nation-state politics. However, the process of intense inter-state and inter-citizen cooperation is producing some novel blends. The EU can be plausibly characterized as an intergovernmental organization of an advanced kind, a nascent federation of states, and a new form of post-national, post-state entity. Its true novelty may lie in mixing elements of all of these, or it may be destined to collapse into one or other of them. Normative theorists have offered plausible arguments for each of these scenarios, but which one ultimately prevails will be a matter of real rather than ideal politics.

Previous Post Next Post