The EU has emerged beyond that of international regime or international organisation and is contributing to the reorganisation of political power in Europe and to the transformation of governance structures. The nature of the process of integration combined with the breadth and scope of competencies of the European Union make it clear that any strategy for increasing the legitimacy of its institutions must consider direct sources of legitimacy. The EU can no longer be based on indirect legitimation through the national political processes. This makes it necessary to review the Community method as well as the Pillar structure.
We can identify a legitimacy gap in the EU, i.e., a gap between the standards of legitimate governance espoused by EU institutions and their actual performance. The governance approach, which is based on a rather thin concept of democratic legitimacy, does not close this gap. It espouses networking and partnership models of integration which may help in rationalising policy-making and implementation, but not in providing for the legitimacy which is lacking. In its Treaties, and in its institutional make up, proclamations and rhetoric, the EU has committed itself to the principles of the modern liberal state - the democratic Rechtstaat. The core point is to secure the entitlements for everyone to exercise their freedom. There is a need for clarifying such standards and also of identifying supportive institutional structures. The White Paper, unfortunately, does not contribute very much to establish the required procedure through supportive institutional structures and to ease the constitutionalisation process through accentuating the need for democratic reform. On the contrary, it can be read as supporting the claim that governance is enough.
In essence, the White Paper pays lip-service to the legitimacy problems of the Union. It is a disappointment. It was given a high profile by the Prodi Commission and was seen as a vehicle for regaining authority and credibility in light of criticism and the fact that the former commission was dissolved after being accused of fraud and mismanagement. It is disappointment because it didn't live up to the high expectations set by leading officials and by the many observers and participants in the process. It reflects a rather technocratic attitude on how to solve the problems. The governance path is problematic because it basically comes down to steering. It is concerned with efficient problem-solving and there is no onus on equal access and popular control. Without spelling out the proper standards of democracy - i.e., accountability and congruence criteria - there can be no adequate way to handle the problems. That this is lacking is all the more surprising given the lessons from the Charter process and from the ongoing post-Nice debate about the future of Europe.