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What are the challenges facing the EU in its attempts to establish democratic institutional structures ?

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  1. Introduction
  2. Theorizing and achieving a model of democracy specific to the EU
    1. The current picture: The blatant inadequacy of both supranational and intergovernmental models
    2. The EU as a multi-level polity: conceptual and practical obstacles
  3. From an elitist and functionnally fragmentated polity to an inclusive political community
    1. The current picture: democratic legitimacy prevented by the 'cognitive deficit' and the unbalanced representation of societal interests
    2. The challenge: Towards an enhanced citizen's involvment and a 'European social contract'?
  4. Conclusion
  5. Bibliography

?It is time to recognise that the Union has moved from a diplomatic to a democratic process, with policies that reach deep into national societies and daily life? . This statement by the European Commission subsumes ten years of political and academic on-going debate on the ?democratic deficit? of the EU. The main trigger of this issue was the launch of political integration by Treaty of Maastricht. As a result, the democratisation of the Union has been at the centre of all Treaty changes in the nineteen nineties, which accounted for the urgent need felt by both political leaders and EU bureaucrats for enhancing the legitimacy of the EU. The failure of the Constitution's ratification process shows how crucial it remains to identify the challenges facing the EU in its attempts to establish democratic institutional structures, if the former are to be addressed. This paper will argue that these challenges are related to the undertaken shift from an elitist structure based on Nation-States to a multi-level polity including all citizens. Since these two ideas are ideal-types situated at both ends of a spectrum, the position the EU holds or should hold varies along normative lines. Institutional structures will be understood here in the (broad) constructivist sense, ie as all institutionalised processes that characterise the EU as a polity, including ? next to institutions themselves ? constitutionalised values, mecanisms for participation, decision-making processes, etc. Democracy will be defined as a mode of governance characterised by a set of procedures but also by substantive values , both aiming at guaranteeing the election by citizens of representatives on a pluralist basis, the respect of the rule of law, as well as the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals and minorities. Dealing with challenges requires th consider three relevant topics: the current situation, the objectives pursued by the EU and the ? both conceptual and practical ? obstacles on the way. Thus, I will first examine the obstacles towards a multi-level system of governance specific to the EU. Then, I will go on the impediments to the shift from an elitist and functionally fragmented decision-making structure to a more inclusive political community.

[...] From an elitist and functionnally fragmentated polity to an inclusive political community The current picture: democratic legitimacy prevented by the ?cognitive deficit?[18] and the unbalanced representation of societal interests The starting point of the democratic deficit of the EU is doubtlessly the fact that its institutional structures remain unintelligible to grass- roots social groups. That is the main factor for the EU to lack a ?sense of civic belonging and access for the critical individual to channels of influence?[19]. A minimum degree of identification with institutions and policy makers is the prerequisite for participation. [...]


[...] Catherine Hoskyns, op. cit., p. 190-191. Philippe. C. Schmitter, How to democratize the European Union and why bother?, Rowman &Litlefield, Oxford p Jürgen, Habermas, Die postnationale Konstellation, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt p Jürgen, Habermas, op. cit. p. 154-155. Amaryllis Verhoeven, The European Union in Search of a Democratic and Constitution Therory, Kluwer Law International p Amaryllis Verhoeven, op. cit. p. Adrienne Héritier, op. cit. p [...]


[...] Thus, the known traditional models seem obsolete when applied to the existing European institutional structures, and a democratic EU will be able to flourish only in the frame of a new model of polity. The EU as a multi-level polity: conceptual and practical obstacles Given the complexity of the institutional architecture underpinning in the EU, it has been increasingly described as a multi-level system, where democracy needs to be provided at all levels of governance through an harmonious vertical integration. [...]

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