Democracy in Europe

Authored by: Vivien A. Schmidt

Routledge Handbook of European Politics

Print publication date:  January  2015
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415626750
eBook ISBN: 9781315755830
Adobe ISBN: 9781317628361


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The democratic legitimacy of the European Union has been a matter of contention ever since the 1990s, when the question of the European Union’s democratic deficit first arose. Answering that question has engendered countless studies, with some scholars considering the EU’s democratic legitimacy in terms of its institutional form and practice as a system of governance, while others have focused on its interactive construction in the ‘European public sphere’. Regardless of their approach, scholars have tended to frame their principal arguments about EU legitimacy using concepts borrowed from systems theory. This discussion has primarily centred on the trade-offs between the output effectiveness of EU policy results for the people and the input participation by the people in EU policy-making. By conceptualizing the democratic dilemma in this way, most scholars have failed to examine what goes on in the ‘black box’ of governance between input and output, which we here call ‘throughput’. This view of the EU’s internal governance processes encompasses their efficacy, accountability, transparency and openness to consultation with the people. However, throughput does not entail the same trade-offs as output and input, whereby good output generally compensates for little input and a lot of input can make up for failed output. Instead, the impact of throughput is generally felt only when it is problematic, due to its negative effect on input and output. This is especially important for the EU, where throughput has been central to attempts to increase legitimacy.

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