ARENA Working Papers
WP 99/23



Globalisation and Democracy*

Erik Oddvar Eriksen

Review article

Re-imagining Political Community edited by Daniele Archibugi, David Held and Martin K�hler. The Polity Press, 1998, ISBN 0-7456-1981-9, 352 p.

Legitimacy and the European Union by David Beetham and Christopher Lord. Longman 1998, ISBN 0-582-30489-X, 144p.

The world order is rapidly changing due to global structures of production, trade and communication, it is often contended. Increasingly, the world is becoming one through the revolution in telecommunication, in transportation and in the formation of global financial markets. These three revolutions have made capital and information available everywhere and made possible world wide mass-media and culture production. Especially in the economic area this process is catching on, as world financial and banking centres fuse into one integrated network. The world financial markets constitute a fully global economy, while trade to a large degree remains regionalized. Globalization poses problems for national democracy because collective decisions are made in contexts beyond governmental control, and because it narrows down the options available for democratic elected boards. Economic globalization creates problems for established institutions and for the prevailing world system. However, a new political order may be underway.

In the book under current review: Re-imagining Political Community, edited by Daniele Archibugi, David Held and Martin K�hler, processes of globalisation are connected to the end of the Cold War and the assertion of democracy as the sole legitimate system of governance. It contains a collection of important works on how to come to grips with the problems posed by economic globalisation, but also on how to take account of the developments rendering the Westphalian model obsolete. The task is to reformulate democratic theory in order grasp the erosion of state autonomy and to conceptualize a new political order. Thus the political dimension of globalisation is in focus and this offers interesting perspectives on both the challenges and the possibilities facing the world at the turn of the century.

The book is divided into three parts: The transformation of the Interstate system - Citizenship, Sovereignty and Transnational democracy - The Prospects for Cosmopolitian democracy. David Held, in particular, for years now has been pursuing the idea of cosmopolitan democracy, which entails a system of governance arising from and adapting to the diverse conditions and interconnections between different peoples and nations. In Chapter 1, he outlines the concept of globalisation – a spatial phenomenon denoting a continuum between the local and the global - involving the widening and deepening of social relations across space and time and the interdependence and vulnerabilities of day-to-day activities. In short, the compression of time and space. Globalisation processes are multi-dimensional encompassing diverse domains of cooperation such as trade and finance, multinational corporations, cultural trends, environmental changes as well as emerging forms of political governance. The former developments serve to undermine democracy, while the latter induce a more positive reading of the situation; new deliberative and decision-making bodies emerge beyond national territory. These new forms contain not only NGOs and social movements, but also include the institutionalisation of regional powers such as the EU, and, at the world level the UN. Cross-cutting and transnational movements indicate that the world now is “a world of overlapping communities of fate”, and testify to the thesis of new forms of global governance.

James Rosenau who is a leading figure in the literature on governance, undertakes in Chapter 2 a survey of control mechanisms beyond governments. There is a remarkable expansion of collective power to handle new forms of risks and vulnerabilities. Different steering mechanisms are brought about by several channels of influence, and these exist on different levels, some sponsored by state and some not. Such mechanisms range from NGOs and social movements, to Internet, cities and micro regions. No one possesses absolute power within these structures, therefore they may be functional equivalents to democracy due to the logic of checks and balances. Pluralism and disaggregation is seen as conducive to democracy in a multi-centered world of diverse non-governmental actors. However, until these systems of governance can document real impact and until their ability to respond to societal needs and influence decision making at large the old problem of (group) pluralism prevails. It amounts, in my opinion, merely to governance without democracy, because there is little chance of equal access and public accountability.

David Beetham in a short and informative chapter writes on the potentials of the human rights regime for cosmopolitan democracy. It is a puzzle, that is also pursued in Chapter 4 by James Crawford and Susan Marks, that international law started out as “droit des gens” but ended up in the nineteenth century as a law of peoples. These are two enlightening papers on the problems and possibilities of entrenching human rights in conventions and binding agreements. A human rights regime is developing which, however, is at odds with the prevailing notions of democracy. There is a tension between the principle of people sovereignty, which is based on exclusion, and the universalistic principle of human rights that is not easily overcome. However, as I will return to, the EU in this regard is a noteworthy invention, even though Beetham may be right in maintaining that the nation state for the foreseeable future is the protector of individual rights.

Mary Kaldor in a very topical chapter on violence in the 1990s, addresses the so-called “new civil wars” - based on identity and new territorial cleavages - which are difficult to prevent by the established system of security. These wars also reflect the general tension between democracy and human rights, and as there is recognized right to ones own culture, there is an urgent need for new kinds of peace keeping mechanisms. A cultural transformation – a civil political culture, which it took centuries to accomplish in Europe - is needed to curb these kinds of wars, Kaldor contends. The task is to institutionalise violence regulating power transnationally and to check barbarism by “active cosmopolitan citizenry”. (p.109)

The second part of the book starts out with a chapter on Citizenship and Sovereignty in the Post-Westphalian European State, in which Andrew Linklager discusses the theoretical implications of cosmopolitan democracy. Conventional conceptual lenses both conceal what is going on and provide biased assessment standards, hence “the tyranny of concepts” (H.Bull). By employing recent developments in critical theory (Habermas), Linklater is able to question normative ideas of sovereignty and citizenship and to employ the concept of democracy to polities wider than the nation state. Likewise Ulrich Preuss in Chapter 7, from a much similar position manages to see citizenship in the European Union as a step towards loosening the ties between the associates of a polity from pre-political cultural bonds in order for trust and collective action to come about. Both these chapters shed light on what a bold idea the EU is (or might be) as it disconnects citizenship from nationality. The authors see the development of Europe now in line with the ideals of Enlightenment and Kant's idea of perpetual peace. However, Preuss makes us aware that nation states after the French revolution have not at all existed in isolation, as is the impression conveyed by conventional perspectives – once again a reminder of the “tyranny of concepts”.

Richard Bellamy and Dario Castiglione (Chapter 8) cool off the enthusiasm regarding the EU by pointing to the problem of belonging and the lack of community feeling. Under such circumstances increasing the power of the European Parliament makes the democratic deficit larger. Democracy is not only a set of rules for reaching binding decisions but is made and remade in cultural traditions and in the citizens' minds. It is embedded in a way of life. They advocate for the EU as a mixed polity building on “multiple communitarian attachments” and dubb their position “cosmopolitan communitariansm”. In the consecutive contribution Janna Thompson questions the communitarian perspective and warns about building politics on virtues: Even though democracy presupposes the existence of a community-based identity for citizens to abide majority decisions, it is not necessarily dependent on pre-existent forms – it may be fostered. The communitarians, thus, have problems with rendering change understandable and with conceiving of a rational justification of norms: or as Thompson asks provokingly: “why should (we) be obliged to adopt this virtue”? (p.184)

Daniele Archibugi ends this part of the anthology by outlining the principles of cosmopolitan democracy, i.e., an ambitious endeavour into a world order based on rule of law and democracy. She finds that domestic democracy (inside nations), interstate and global dimensions all have to be included in a multilevel structure making up cosmopolitan democracy. She argues that the traditional confederal model is too weak as it does not allow direct intervention to promote intrastate democracy, whilst the federal is too strong and rigid a model among world' states, as it coercively imposes democratic orders on lower levels. Cosmopolitan democracy represents a midway between these two positions as it encompasses states with different constitutions within an overarching democratic world order. This, then, impels the writer to sum up and develop the necessary reforms of the United Nations, if democracy at world level is to come about.

In the last section the prospects for cosmopolitan democracy are examined in different policy-fields. First, Martin K�hler analyses the emergence of a global civil society and the widening of the public sphere which, however, are required not only for normative but also for social and technical reasons. The depolititization of the economic and technological spheres of action has led to decoupling between the citizens as equals among equals in the public sphere – citoyen – and citizens as bourgeois – as private person in the economic or private sphere of action. Economic and technological globalisation makes the citizens remain private. Citoyen and bourgeois are no longer members of the same community. K�hler, however, points to the way civil society organizations presages a shift in political conflict resolution by increasingly bringing these two roles together in international conferences, human rights covenants, international criminal law and regional settings such as the EU, and global settings like the UN. This means recognition of the individual as a bearer of rights and may be “... the first step towards a framework of direct accountability...” (p.242)

K�hler has left out the role of the media when addressing the public sphere, which is brought to the fore in Chapter 12 by Gwyn Prins and Elizabeth Sellwood. Their point of departure is the well known dilemma of a public sphere that may be sensitive to problems of public concern and a decision making structure unable `to act'. They analyse the successful action of Greenpeace to stop Shell sinking the Brent Spar – a very large floating oil storage and loading buoy - in the ocean bed in 1991. Environmental groups succeeded in mobilizing vigorous protests and consumers in many countries because of rhetorical skills, the use of media and new communication systems. They also managed to change the attitude of Shell itself because of constructive dialogue on a scientific basis. The campaign succeeded in drumming up support and change opinion. However, the role of media and of an autonomous public sphere in opinion formation is not developed in this chapter.

In the next contribution Pierre Hassner asks if refugees represent a special case for cosmopolitan citizenship. The increasing number of refuges – or stateless persons – alerts us to the shortcomings of the world order made up of nation states which are divided internally and open to the outside world. Refugees exist because of conflict within divided countries and because of ties between groups and other countries. It is only by establishing political orders transnationally and by going beyond the monopoly and sovereignty of the state that the refugee problem, along with other similar problems, can be solved. Refugees are, in Hannah Arends', words deprived of `the rights to have rights', and it is “precisely because they are citizens of nowhere that they are potential citizens of the world” (p.274). Hassner subscribes to Kant's project for Perpetual Peace based on a republican notion of states, of universal hospitality and of cosmopolitan spirit.

Derk Bienen, Volker Rittberger, Wolfgang Wagner (Chapter 14) and Richard Falk (Chapter 15) evaluate the United Nations, the former from communitarian and cosmopolitan points of view. They analyse reform proposals and pose the question of who should be the effective members. From a communitarian perspective there is some credibility to the present form with governments as the sole members, because “states' rights” are “derived from the needs of individuals”. The authors of Chapter 14, then, find the communitarian principle of international democracy - as it is institutionalised in the General Assembly - compatible with cosmopolitan democracy. Nevertheless they opt for supplementing thiis with territorial representation – one person, one vote - either as a second assembly or by reforming the General Assembly. However, as Falk reminds us, democracy was not a condition for membership in the UN. It was primarily founded to prevent the recurrence of war. The UN has increasingly taken up human rights and democratic questions and as host of a series conferences supporting women rights, environment, development, participation etc. it has been innovative and rather controversial. The UN helps facilitate transitions to constitutional democracy at the state level. The world order is changing and comprehensive democratization is needed for the post-westphalian order to achieve functional stability and normative legitimacy. But the UN itself needs to be emancipated from constraining geopolitical and global market forces.

This is altogether a very welcome anthology, focused on the most pressing political questions of our time and written in a lucid and clear style. However, not all the chapters are of the same high quality and not all themes equally well treated. As for empirical grounds not yet surveyed I miss the public sphere and more on the role of media. Civil society is addressed but the public sphere as deliberating fora lifted over associations of the civil society and pitted against the decision making agencies is not properly addressed, neither empirically nor theoretically. It is of utmost interest for cosmopolitan democracy that a global public sphere evolves and this requires sensitive and independent media-institutions. This also connects to the theoretical deficit in the conceptualization of cosmopolitan democracy in this book, that concerns the manner in which the tension between human rights and democracy is addressed. This tension does not solely arise because of the Westphalian model of state sovereignty, and something a cosmopolitan order automatically might solve. The tension is of principle as is revealed in communitarian and liberal theories of democracy, which are the dominant perspectives in this anthology. While human rights are universal and appeal to humanity as such for validation, democracy refers to a particular community of consociates who come together and decide what are in their equal interest. Whilst liberals may be able to give rights a solid ground, they can not explain their genesis and how justice is brought about in popular assemblies. On the other hand communitarians are at pains to give rights a secure foundation beyond the will-formation of a particular society. Both entities need to be brought about simultaneously, and it is by squaring this circle that cosmopolitan democracy can be given a firm theoretical basis.

However, the institutionalisation of rights and decision-making agencies on different levels are required by the cosmopolitan model. Intermediate institutions in a global democratic world order – regional bodies between UN and the nation state – are thus needed. The EU is, then, of utmost interest for cosmopolitans and is several times referred to as the most promising example of post-national governance.

Democracy in the EU

The EU is demanding both in analytical and descriptive terms. It is a complex and multifaceted entity that is unprecedented but whose identity, legitimacy and democratic quality are contested. There are disagreements among scholars about its nature and there is dissension among lay people of 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 elite game in the hands of economic interests and bureaucrats. It is the technical expertise and the functional interests that dominate the EU and 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 happenings, The Amsterdam treaty, enlargement, security politics - the increasingly deeper and wider integration - this perspective has become ever more confining. There is no broad consensus on the goals and the EU is not only about regulation and pragmatic concerns. In my view the EU is best conceived of as a political response to economic globalisation.

It is therefore high time that a book on “Legitimacy and the European Union” appears. In this book David Beetham and Christopher Lord ask whether there are legitimacy problems and whether such a post-national polity can at all be justified. Legitimacy is here understood as a three-tiered relationship, between legality, normative justifiability (according to socially accepted beliefs) and consent of appropriate subordinates. These are the liberal-democratic criteria for political authority which are also relevant for the EU because of its impact on citizens' and nation states' interests. Indirect legitimation, i.e., the contention that the EU derives its legitimacy from the legality and legitimacy of the member states, does not suffice: “.. the electoral authorisation of ministers at the national level, and their accountability to their national parliaments” is unsatisfactory (p.15). The EU requires direct legitimation, hence the three legitimatisation criteria; effective performance according to given ends, democracy – accountability and representation – and identity, i.e., agreement on the nature and boundaries of the political community.

A common identity is needed for securing trust, that is, in order for subjects of collective decision-making to be committed: Every political order presupposes some kind of common identity to foster allegiance and respect for laws. Even if the EU is something less than a state, it requires identity due to its ability to make collective decisions. Nevertheless, the prospects for a European identity that makes it possible to build a Union is rather bleak as there is no “European people” with a common history and cultural traditions on which the EU may vegetate. Its identity is quite thin and people in Europe display a “rather multi-tiered sense of belonging” (p.47). There is a low European identification by conventional standards, and the EU has had to apply different strategies in relieving its legitimacy problems: “by building national governments into its own political system...“ and “... by implicating organised non-governmental actors in policy formulation and implementation” (p.57). From the identity point of view democratization – extended participation - of the EU is required in order to secure the trust necessary for such a wide-ranging and consequential polity to go ahead.

While one may agree in this analysis by and large, the authors do not seem to adequately recognize the way the constitutional structure institutionalised in the member-states and half way already at work at the EU level presupposes and again reproduces the required kind of political identity. In this perspective there is already a political culture at work that fosters collective decisions making. The EU in fact has contributed to the de-legitimation of national identities! (p.101) Majority vote is limited and consensus democracy is a prevalent trait, but this does not necessarily hinge on lack of common identity, but rather on the lack of proper democratic structures of governance. In order to fully understand post-nation political integration and the underlying notion of identity quite another analytical treatment and measurement is required than the one undertaken in this book.

Their second assessment criterion – democracy - entails examination of the possibilities for the development of the political system along intergovernmental and supranational dimensions. On the first dimension it is the domestic authorization of the EU that lends credibility to the legitimacy claim. The EU need not itself be democratic while the member-states comply with democratic criteria. The structure of the EU in which the Commission has proposal power and is the main power unit, and not the (intergovernmental) Council, in addition to the technocratic and bysantic decision making style, renders this legitimation strategy obsolete. Further, representation and accountability under the intergovernmental model cannot sustain the indirect mode of legitimation, due to long and weak chains of command. This has led to the “de-democratisation of the state rather that the democratisation for the Union”. (p.74).

However, also the EU as a supranational entity poses legitimacy problems as lack of a Euro electorate, of a party system at the European level and complete parliamentary power serve to keep the politics of the EU in “a kind of sub-optimal equilibrium” (p.81). The EU is a dual legitimation system as it receives support both from the member states and from supranational elements – the Court and the Parliament – but its legitimacy deficit is profound as proper authorisation, representation and accountability is difficult to institutionalise. The authors also maintain that the EU may be aspiring to some new form of democratic system which carves up legitimacy on its own, but for the time being it has to work on established notions of democratic legitimacy. The problems posed by identity and democratic deficits put higher burdens on performance which is the last legitimation criteria.

While intergovernmentalists opt for an Union without democracy – i.e., member state democracy is enough, Beetham and Lord observe that the EU is far more than an inter-govermental system of governance and that political powers that impose goods and burdens on citizens and states are in need of direct legitimation. The EU is a far-reaching polity, whose undertakings have profound effect on citizens and their affairs. It affects their interests as consumers, producers, employees, and rights holders. There are thus three kinds of rights delivery through which the EU may obtain legitimacy: security, welfare and civil liberties. Due to its performance and the effects of the EU's policies, there is a rising call for a greater onus on measures to strengthen the direct legitimacy of the EU. This is underscored by the use of the EU to relieve the national agenda of difficult issues, which highlights the autonomy of EU decision-making. As also negative integration produces winners and loosers, and as performance itself is in need of justification, legitimacy through performance not only depend on the capacity to realise goals but also on agreement of the criteria for performance.

This, however, brings to the fore problems with the perspective presented here, in which performance and identity are held to be independent sources of legitimacy. These two dimensions should not be put at the same level as democracy in assessing legitimacy in the EU. In a post-methaphysical world – and even more so at a post-national level of integration – such a conceptual strategy is not adequate as it is only democracy and the way it involves citizens and their representatives in the deliberative and decison making processes that ensures legitimacy. Democracy is the only legitimate form of governance, it may be contended: It is by adhering to democratic procedures that a modern polity at all may achieve legitimacy. The concept of democracy therefore should be situated on a much deeper level than what is the case in the work of Beetham and Lord. This would make it possible to see that only procedures for deliberative and decision making processes can provide for legitimacy. Only through such procedures can outcomes claim to be just and identities and commonalties legitimately be expressed. Moreover, legitimacy is not easily subjectable to empirical measurement, as it involves a normative component – that is that powerholders or institutions deserve the support they are receiving.

I believe that such a perspective on legitimacy – in contrast to a perspective assuming legitimacy to be achieved by complying to existing norms of justice or to prevailing notions of identity – might produce a less pessimistic view on the democratic deficit in the EU, and conceive of the EU as in fact a more integrated and justified polity than the perspective of this book allows for. The EU itself claims popular approval, it claims to be a source of legitimacy in itself. The authors touch upon such insights several places. They point both to the rhetoric of `bringing the Union ever closer to the people' - the Community as `a political union' - a polity - and the many referenda on treaty changes to increase the depth of European integration. These features are, however, not only reminders that the power resides directly with the people, but also that the EU is a process, and that the process itself, and the way it is conducted induces legitimacy. Increasingly the European Community is becoming a polity sui generis and increasingly agreements have to be established not posited.

However, apart from this objection this is a very fine book, nuanced, nicely written and full of insights for every one interested in the very remarkable process of European integration taking place in an ever more globalized world. It shows the problems of institutionalising post-national democracy, and that globalization has sparked a new debate in political theory challenging older notions of democracy, citizenship and community and their inter-relations. The EU in particular is theoretically demanding as conventional perspectives are at pains to explain its endurance and stability. It is therefore very much to be appreciated that Beetham and Lord put legitimacy at the core of the analysis and that B�hler & co., connect democracy and globalisation. These books helps us see that the world order has become increasingly complex and that interconnections and mutual dependency have brought about new levels of integration which also require democratic governance, even without the existence of the EU.


* To be published in Public Administration in a slightly reversed version. I am grateful for comments by Johan P. Olsen and Helene Sjursen.

[Date of publication in the ARENA Working Paper series: 15.08.1999]