Is the EU legitimate?

The debate about the democratic deficit of the European Union and its lack of legitimacy is a pressing and ever-present political problem, which has been worsened by the current crisis affecting the Eurozone. As Firat Cengiz argues on EUROPP, it is a fact that citizens have a fundamental distrust in the European economic and political system. To understand this problem it is possible to draw a distinction between input and output legitimacy: the former regards the participatory aspect of democracy; whereas the latter refers to the capacity of the political system to deliver decisions and policies that benefit the citizens. Now, because of the crisis and the consequent increasing welfare gap and inequality between different European countries and different classes of citizens, the lack of input legitimacy cannot make up for the lack of output. Moreover, the balance between input and output is particularly difficult in the EU because of its reliance on depoliticized experts, who are in charge of substantial decision-making. To solve the problem of legitimacy, Cenzig calls for more participation of citizen in policymaking, in particular with respect to those policies that have a significant impact on their welfare. David Held and Kyle McNally, on openDemocracy, offer a similar diagnosis of the problem of EU legitimacy: the European project was created by European elites inspired by noble ideals, and it has always rested on a shallow pool of popular legitimacy. The fact that EU decision-making is bureaucratic, slow, difficult to accept, and that there are no means for accountability is of no help for strengthening its legitimacy. Facing the difficult situation of today, the EU is at risk. At the moment, the EU can only be a way to solve common problems, but in the long run it needs to rediscover its thicker ideas and values, if the projects of political and social integration are to be reached.

The Polish affair

A major issue within this week’s intellectual debate has been that concerning Poland. Indeed, on Tuesday 19 January, at the European Parliament was held a debate on the state of democracy and the rule of law in Poland. Stefan Szwed, on Eurozine, argues that the Polish political circumstances are worrisome and that the EU is right at showing its concerns. But, Poland’s fate is only in the hands of Poles, who need to mobilize participation and defend their democratic credentials. The Editorial Board of The Guardian not only shares the same concerns about Poland, but also notes that the situation is particularly important given that the fundamental democratic norms under attack have always been a condition for EU membership. Indeed, there is another country, which has been under scrutiny for its democratic inadequacies, and that has often been associated with Poland lately: Hungary. However, Poland and Hungary are not the same, as Cas Mudde argues on Eurozine. Contrary to Orban, the right-wing populist party Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland does not have a constitutional majority; in Poland there is a strong opposition, constituted by the liberal party, whose former leader is Donald Tusk, the current EU president; PiS is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists and not of the more radical European People’s Party; finally, Poland is too big to be ignored for both the EU and the US. But, the problem is not only within the EU. As Neal Ascherson writes on The Guardian, the danger may also be with respect to eastern policy, and in particular to the relation between Poland and Russia.

The road to Brexit

This week’s debate about Brexit has been dominated by concerns with David Cameron’s and the Labour party’s strategies. Dionyssis G. Dimitrakopoulos, on openDemocracy, argues that the decision to renegotiate the UK’s terms of membership of the EU refers not so much to UK’s interests, but to Cameron’s difficulties with his own party. He approaches the problem of what he calls “welfare tourism” (the treatment of EU citizens in the context of the UK’s welfare benefit system), not as a case of evidence-based policy making. Rather, Cameron embraces a populist attitude in order to respond to UKIP’s emotive and divisive rhetoric. This strategy does not take into account, nor fosters EU’s long-term prospects. On the other side, the situation of Labour is difficult to grasp. As Paul Goodman writes on Conservative Home, Labour’s outers are scarcely to be seen, despite the fact that Corbyn has a marked Eurosceptic voting record and has vocalized his hostility towards the EU. But if it is true that it is Labour voters who could swing the referendum, then the puzzle of Labour’s Eurosceptics needs to be solved. Finally, Madsen Pirie on the Adam Smith Institute puts together and discusses ten bad arguments for staying in the EU (and ten more), that are of great interest for anyone interested in the reasons of those supporting Brexit.


This Ideas Monitor is by Giulia Bistagnino and Carlo Burelli


Photo Credits CC: Piotr Drabik

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