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Still in Deficit: Rights, Regulation, and Democracy in the EU



Abstract:  Critics of the EU's democratic deficit standardly attribute the problem to either sociocultural reasons, principally the lack of a demos and public sphere, or institutional factors, notably the lack of electoral accountability because of the limited ability of the European Parliament to legislate and control the executive powers of the Commission and the Council of Ministers. Recently two groups of theorists have argued neither deficit need prove problematic. The first group adopts a rights-based view of democracy and claims that a European consensus on rights, as represented by the Charter of Fundamental European Rights, can offer the basis of citizen allegiance to EU wide democracy, thereby overcoming the demos deficit. The second group adopts a public-interest view of democracy and argues that so long as delegated authorities enact policies that are ‘for’ the people, then the absence of institutional forms that facilitate democracy ‘by’ the people are likewise unnecessary—indeed, in certain areas they may be positively harmful. This article argues that both views are normatively and empirically flawed. This is because there is no consensus on rights or the public interest apart from the majority view of a demos secured through parliamentary institutions. To the extent that these remain absent at the EU level, a democratic deficit continues to exist.

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