Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


Legitimate governance?

The White Paper is rather modest. It is about instruments and methods. There is no clear vision or agenda of what to do with the basic problems of trust and legitimacy. What is the EU's mission beyond that of creating a free market? Without an understanding of the entity and its peculiar characteristics, there can be no adequate diagnosis.

The White Paper is about how to strengthen the efficiency of planning and policy-setting within the institutions and to increase knowledge about the EU under the existing Treaties in the advent of the next intergovernmental conference. It is not to propose Treaty-amending measures. "However, in preparing for further institutional change, the Union must start the process of reform now." (WP p.8) But the post-Nice debate on constitutional reform is not really the concern of the White Paper. Rather, it is about enhancing the visibility and knowledge of the present system so as to meet the criticism of its being technocratic, remote and removed from the people. Even though the White Paper recognises some of the problems facing the Union, it finds, strangely enough, the EU basically legitimate. There is no need for fundamental reform because:

"The union is built on the rule of law; it can draw on the Charter of Fundamental rights, and it has a double democratic mandate through a Parliament representing EU citizens and a Council representing the elected governments of the Member States." (p.7, italics added)

The authors of the White Paper also find the Community method correct even though it admits only the Commission to make legislative and policy proposals. They also maintain that the "Union uses the powers given by its citizens" (p.8) although, in fact, the Union, for the most part, works on powers delegated by the governments of the Member States.

The definition of the situation is deficient and the problems recognised as requiring action are confined to the more or less pragmatic ones. This is clearly seen in the diagnosis of the causes of the mistrust and the low turnout in EP elections. The White Paper locates the problems in the Commission's inability to act where it is most needed and in not getting credit for its actions. Furthermore, there is the complaint that the Member States do not "communicate well about the Union". (p. 7) Then, there is the ignorance of the people - "many people do not know the difference between the institutions" (ibid). By focusing on apathy and ignorance, one not only puts the blame on the people, but also reduces the problem to one of information - it is about lack of knowledge. This represents a rather superficial understanding of the causes of the distrust, and one which, nevertheless, remains at odds with the post-Nice-debate.




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