Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


The democratic division of labour

In this debate, a more profound understanding of the popular mistrust of the EU has increasingly come about. The real problem is not one of ignorance or apathy but one of democratic legitimacy, i.e., accountability and representation. Basically the legitimation problems stem from citizens not being involved in the making of the laws that they have to abide by. To rally popular support, more profound remedial actions are called upon, ranging from institutional reforms to more geopolitical and social concerns. In a recent Eurobarameter poll, five themes emerged when asked about involvement in the "dialogue on Europe": the fight against unemployment (53%), citizens' rights (52%); food safety (50%); health (49%), and the environment (48%).3

The White Paper also reflects a rather limited conception of democracy. The authors put their trust in extended participation and active involvement of civil society - and "with better involvement comes greater responsibility." (p. 15) Another means proposed, thus, is partnership arrangements, which entail a commitment to additional consultations with civil society actors. The problem, here, is, on the one hand, the democratic danger of co-optation. When the associations have a vested interest in certain results, they are not in a free position to take a stance in the opinion formation process. They are not free to counteract policies. Further, civil society associations are restructured for political or administrative purposes, as they, themselves, must "follow the principles of good governance." (ibid.) What is more: "Participation is not about institutionalising protest. It is about more effective policy-shaping, based on early consultation and past experience" (ibid.). Hence, there is the problem of domestication of civil society organizations. Civil society is not seen as an arena for voluntary action and for open and free public debate. The democratic division of labour between state and civil society is endangered when voluntary associations (NGOs) are used as merely instruments to implement policies more smoothly.

On the other hand, extended participation may merely yield a means to rationalise governance in domains heavily exposed to efficiency standards and may also favour strong parties and lead to evasion of liability (Luhmann 1981). Extended participation cannot replace the legal protection and rights-based empowerment of the individual. When the subjects are not equipped with the rights and powers needed to sanction the rulers, they are not made into citizens with equal rights. Citizenship entails not only being ruled but also ruling in turn.

In sum, the White Paper does not seriously address the deep mistrust, its causes consequences. Instead, it represents a pragmatic way of addressing the problems - good governance is merely a question of delivering the goods and of enhancing the knowledge of the (ignorant) people of the Union. This smells of top-down, expert-driven strategies for increasing governance capability. Furthermore, there are limitations to the governance path as such.

3 Cited from Tomorrow's Europe, July 2001 - No.1.




This site is part of the Academy of European Law online, a joint partnership of the Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law, the Academy of European Law and the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute.
Questions or comments about this site?