Democracy through strong publics in the European Union?
This paper discusses the emergence of a European public sphere from the vantage point of deliberative democracy; focus in on strong publics as a building stone of future EU-level democracy.
ARENA Working Paper 16/2001 (html)
Erik Oddvar Eriksen and John Erik Fossum
It has become a truism that the EU suffers from a democratic ‘deficit’, due to deficiencies in representation, accountability, transparency, and support. The problem is not merely the establishment of an additional layer of governance, further removed from the peoples of Europe. It is also that this process contributes to the transformation of the Member States, so that each Member State can no longer claim to be the source of its own legitimacy. These assertions are generally premised on two further notions: (i) That the decision-making processes in the EU are closed, elitist and expert-driven and (ii) that there is a very weakly developed or non-existent public sphere in the EU. The EU, however, is a dynamic system and is undergoing deep changes; since the breakdown of the ‘permissive consensus’ in the early 1990s, it has increased its commitment to democracy and legitimacy. Institutional reforms, human rights promotion and other remedial efforts have been made to close the legitimacy gap. These developments are puzzling when considered in light of the widely held assertion that there is no European demos, nor a genuine European-wide public sphere. If the public sphere is non-existent how then explain the commitment to democracy and rights - that has not only been sustained - but has even become strengthened over time? In order to answer this question we adopt a deliberative democracy approach - an analytical perspective that is particularly conducive to the study of the role and salience of a putative European public sphere.