Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law
Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law

Symposium: Responses to Joschka Fischer


Another View of the Democratic Deficit: No Taxation without Representation

Agustín José Menéndez *

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This paper is a part of contributions to the Jean Monnet Working Paper
No.7/00, Symposium: Responses to Joschka Fischer

For a while, it seemed that European integration was on the peaceful track of routine. The agreement reached at the Amsterdam summit in 1996 was sufficient to postpone big thinking.1 It is true that a certain sense of constitutional crisis was in the air during the last months of Jacques Santer's presidency of the Commission, but no major theoretical debate surrounded its demise or the election of Mr Prodi as a new, reformed head of the college of commissioners.2 However, the last two months have brought big ideas back to the European public. A wave of speeches and statements by key politicians has fostered a wide debate on where Europe should be heading in the coming years. The three boldest ones may have been Joschka Fisher's at Humboldt University,3 Jacques Chirac's before the German Parliament4 and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi's on the occasion of receiving an honorary degree from Lipsia University.5

This might mark a new stage in the debate, but, to a certain extent, it was bound to happen once we take into account the following two processes. On the one hand, the Union is committed to enlarge its membership. A number of candidate members have started negotiations, and some more are on the waiting list. This has encouraged fundamental thinking on the institutional structure of the Union. It is widely agreed that it is simply not possible to adapt the existing one to a constituency of twenty-five or thirty members. On the other hand, the number of issues dealt with at European level is on the increase, despite subsidiarity. This is partly the direct result of the new pillars added at Maastricht, but it is also a consequence of the superior problem-solving capacities of a supra-national institution. The problem here is that the Europeanisation of policies tends to take place in a blurred way, exponentially increasing the degree of complexity of the institutional structure.

It is in such a context that we can make full sense of the three aforementioned discourses. The finalité of the Union comes quite naturally when one has to consider fundamental reform. The three interventions can be seen as an attempt to provide the political vision that should underlie the detailed plans of reform. References to a European constitution, to enhanced co-operation and federalism might look too vague, but should really be considered as fundamental principles already settled at the beginning of the debate. At any rate, it does not seem too risky to assume that Pandora's box lies open and will not easily close again, if only because of the timing of the ad-hoc convention conveyed to draft a Charter of Fundamental Rights for the Union. The convention has already produced a final text6 and will release its final report in September. Despite the need for such an exercise,7 it is quite clear that the standing and status of rights is a major constitutional issue. It does not take much imagination to see this as a potential first step towards a constitutional moment for the Union.8

In this note, the focus is on Fischer's speech. His arguments are the most challenging. Not only does he have a certaine idée de l'Europe, but he also has a quite detailed blueprint of how representation and decision-making processes should be changed. His is a committed federal proposal, and one might even say that it has a Habermasian flavour.9 My intention is to provide some normative arguments for what seems to me to be the implicit premise of Fischer's speech. Namely, that there is no necessary tension between European integration and democracy (which does not mean that there is necessarily harmony). I basically do two things. First, I try to analyse what the democratic deficit is really about. Instead of invoking it rhetorically, we should analyse it with the help of a sound conception of democracy. If we do so, we see that not only Europe, but also nation-states and unregulated markets have to deal with serious democratic deficits. Second, I try to show that the processes of European integration verify this abstract normative argument. I consider in some detail one specific policy area, namely personal taxation. It seems to me that there is enough evidence to conclude that Member States have paid a high price to keep their formal sovereignty on this matter. They seem to have lost most of their factual sovereignty. This should be enough to conclude that Fischer's basic insight is right. We can have more of Europe, more of nation-states and more of democracy, provided we use our institutional imagination.

* Agustín José Menéndez is senior researcher at ARENA, the program of Advanced Research on the Europeanisation of the Nation State of the Norwegian Research Council. Many thanks to Svein S. Andersen, Edoardo Chiti, Andreas Føllesdal, Erik Erikssen, Hans Petter Graver, Johan P. Olsen, Elena Rodríguez and Helene Sjursen for remarks which made this paper a better one, although not devoid of errors of which I am responsible. Special thanks to Christian Joerges, for rendering it possible.

1 A very helpful outline is contained in Renaud Dehousse, European Institutional Architecture after Amsterdam: Parliamentary System or Regulatory Structure? (Dehousse 1998). It is also available at 11.html.

2 See, Chiti (1999).

3 From Confederacy to Federation. Thoughts on the finality of European Integration. Speech by Joschka Fischer at the Humboldt University in Berlin, 12 May 2000 (in this Volume).

4 Our Europe. Speech by M. Jacques Chirac, President of the Republic of France, to the Bundestag. English version, available at

5 Discorso del Presidente della Repubblica Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in occasione del conferimento della laurea Honoris Causa dell' Università di Lipsia. July 6th, 2000. Available at (only in Italian).

6 Final draft (28.07.200): see,

7 See, Weiler (2000).

8 Applying Ackerman's apt terminology: see, We the People (Ackerman 1998) and `The Rise of World Constitutionalism' (Ackerman 1997).

9 Which is not surprising given his reading diet. This is hinted at in an interview to EL PAÍS, 7 July 2000.


© Agustín José Menéndez 2000


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