Many scholars, commentators and politicians assert that international organizations suffer from a severe ‘democratic deficit’. This article proposes a basic framework for evaluating this applied ethical critique of global governance. It rests on two criteria. The first, philosophical coherence, dictates consistent adherence to one or more conception of democratic legitimacy (libertarian, pluralist, social democratic or deliberative). The second, pragmatic appropriateness, requires that any philosophical standard be calibrated to reasonable expectations in the ‘second-best’ world constrained by transaction costs, commitment problems, and justice claims. The latter judgement is in large part empirical, for which existing constitutional practices in advanced industrial democracies provide the most reasonable baseline. By these two criteria – regardless of which specific conception of democracy is adopted as a starting point – the European Union appears to be democratically legitimate. This establishes a point of democratic legitimacy on the continuum of international institutions that could be analysed using this framework.