Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law

Mountain or Molehill?
A Critical Appraisal of the Commission White Paper on Governance


European Governance and Civic Participation:
Can the European Union be politicised? 

Paul Magnette **

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This paper is a part of contributions to the Jean Monnet Working Paper
No.6/01, Symposium: Mountain or Molehill? A Critical Appraisal of the Commission White Paper on Governance

Participation is one of the keywords of the white paper on European governance. It is defined as one of the five major principles of "good governance", and appears in the arguments of the white paper and its preparatory documents as one of its most important principles. Participation is supposed to enhance both the efficiency and the legitimacy of European governance: it is said to respond to "the expectations of the Union's citizens" (p. 35), it should "connect Europe with its citizens" (p. 3), help follow "a less top-down approach" (p. 4) and make the policy-making "more inclusive and accountable" (p. 8). All this, in turn, should enhance "the quality, relevance and effectiveness of EU policies", "create more confidence in the end-result and in the institutions which deliver policies" (p. 10) and generate "a sense of belonging to Europe" (p. 11). In other words, efficiency and legitimacy do not simply derive from the output dispensed by the system, they also depend "on involvement and participation" (p. 11).

This is an interesting shift in the discourse of the Commission, whose members have long argued that the Union would be legitimate if it produced good policies, and that, "at the end of the day, what interests them (the citizens) is not who solves these problems, but the fact that they are being solved" (Romano Prodi, 21 July 1999).

In spite of these ambitious objectives, the concrete reforms suggested by the white paper focus on a limited conception of participation: it will probably remain the monopoly of already organised groups, while ordinary citizens will not be encouraged to become more active (I). True, such an élitist conception of citizenship constitutes an important contribution to the democratisation of the European Union: actions undertaken by mobilised minorities can benefit the whole citizenry, and strengthen both administrative and political accountability (II). But the general level of participation should not be forgotten, and, in this respect, too, "there is much that can be done to change the way the Union works under the existing treaties" (p. 8) (III).

* This paper is a revised and developed version of an opinion prepared for the Jean Monnet Group and submitted to the Commission team on Governance. I would like to thank the participants to the ECPR rotating Summer School on Governance and Legitimacy in the EU (Université libre de Bruxelles, August 2001) for their questions and comments.

** Université libre de Bruxelles


© Paul Magnette 2001


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