Reassessing Legitimacy in the European Union


Andrew Moravcsik Center for European Studies Harvard University 27 Kirkland Street Cambridge MA 02138, USA Tel: 00 1 617 495 4303 Fax: 00 1617 495


Concern about the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’ is misplaced. Judged against existing advanced industrial democracies, rather than an ideal plebiscitary or parliamentary democracy, the EU is legitimate. Its institutions are tightly constrained by constitutional checks and balances: narrow mandates, fiscal limits, super–majoritarian and concurrent voting requirements and separation of powers. The EU’s appearance of exceptional insulation reflects the subset of functions it performs — central banking, constitutional adjudication, civil prosecution, economic diplomacy and technical administration. These are matters of low electoral salience commonly delegated in national systems, for normatively justifiable reasons. On balance, the EU redresses rather than creates biases in political representation, deliberation and output.


  1. I gratefully acknowledge comments and suggestions from Phillip Budden, Oliver Gerstenberg, Simon Hix, Bonnie Meguid, Anne–Marie Slaughter, Helen Wallace, Joseph Weiler, an anonymous reviewer, and participants in the 40th Anniversary Conference of JCMS, as well as the able research assistance of Mark Copelovitch and logistical support from the Department of Politics, Princeton University