Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


A political union

The EU is a complex and multi-faceted entity which is unprecedented, but whose identity, legitimacy and democratic quality are contested. There are disagreements among scholars about its nature and there is disagreement among lay people about its value and justification. The technocratic vision has, for a long time now, dominated both the public and scholarly debate on the EC/EU: it is an élite game in the hands of economic interests and bureaucrats. It is the executive power, the experts and the functional interests that dominate the EU. It exists mostly for handling problems which are beyond the reach of nation states. Its legitimacy hinges on the ability to solve problems in a smooth way, hence the free market measures and the ability to manage solely negative integration. However, due to recent events, the single currency, the ECB, enlargement, a common foreign and security policy - the increasingly deeper and wider integration - this perspective has become ever more confining. There is no broad consensus on the goals - the so-called permissive consensus came to an end in 1991 - and the EU is not solely about regulation and pragmatic concerns.

The EU is more than a mere appendix to the Member States. Through measures aimed at redistribution, through regulation of social, environmental and health policies, and through police and judicial co-operation, the EU affects the daily lives of Englishmen, Germans, Belgians and Danes and, increasingly, central and Eastern Europeans as well. The EU is a political union. It is not merely a confederation of states secured by agreement, a fact which is not merely a self-conscious assertion listed in the Treaties. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) claims kompetenz-kompetenz and the `direct effect' principle of EC law, premised on the notion of EC law as `higher' European law (namely, measures within the First Pillar) profoundly affects the Member States. National law must give way to Community law. National courts of last instance have a duty to refer cases to the European Court of Justice, and all national courts are bound by its judgments (cf., Weiler 1999). The unity and sovereignty of the Member States are not left intact in the EU. Nor are their identities. The principles, organisational and institutional structures, and action programmes, associated with present-day EU, an entity that established the EMU and is currently involved in preparing for enlargement to the East, require direct legitimation.6 Hence, the governance mode of legitimation is insufficient. It does not suffice to account for the present-day EU in democratic terms.

6 On this, see Beetham and Lord 1998; Eriksen and Fossum 2000a.




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?