Consensus, Majority Decisions, Power and Autonomy. Fragments Related to the European Union

This paper offers some normative considerations over how to organise legitimate and good government in the European Union, taking into account individual political rights as well as national equilibria.

ARENA Working Paper 10/1998 (html)

Knut Midgaard

The present paper is inspired by an interest in the characteristics of, and the conditions for, legitimate and good government, more specifically the problems related to the idea of multi-level democracy, in particular in Europe. The elements of consideration follow a basic line of thought:Legitimate government is based on respect and concern for the “dignity and worth of the human person” (UN Charter). It should therefore serve the well-being of everybody (the common good), respecting the claim of everybody for autonomy. The latter principle also implies subsidiarity. However, issues which according to the subsidiarity principle should be decided at a given decision-making level, e.g. the union level of the EU, may be dealt with in different ways. Democratic decision-making should not be identified with majority rule only. Genuine consensus, based on common premises, is the ideal outcome from the point of view of autonomy. Where, in international or supra-national co-operation, decisions by qualified majority is permitted (or even made the rule), the question arises what compromise should be made between the principle one state, one vote and the principle one person, one vote. This choice has far-reaching consequences. If all coalition patterns form with equal probability, small countries will, even in the case of a considerable over-representation, be on the losing side more often than large countries; from a normative point of view it is important to note that individuals in small countries will in this case suffer heteronomy more often than individuals in large countries. On the other hand, as has been suggested in the EU debate: under not unreasonable assumptions about preference constellations in an enlarged EU, large countries may risk to be more often on the losing side than small ones. Similar considerations can be made with regard to affluent countries versus less affluent ones.

Tags: normative political theory, legitimacy, democracy, fundamental/human rights
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM