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112 Working Paper

The European Union: Democratic Legitimacy in a Regional State?

May 26, 2024 Vivien A. Schmidt


Democratic legitimacy for the EU is problematic if it is seen as a future nation-state. If instead the EU were seen as a regional state—with shared sovereignty, variable boundaries, composite identity, compound governance, and a fragmented democracy in which the EU level assures governance for and with the people through effective governing and interest consultation, leaving to the national level government by and of the people through political participation and citizen representation—the problems of the democratic deficit diminish for the EU level. But they become even greater for the national level, where the changes to national democratic practices demand better ideas and discourses of legitimization. A further complicating factor results from problems of “institutional fit,” because the EU has had a more disruptive impact on “simple” polities, where governing activity has traditionally been channeled through a single authority, than on more “compound” polities, where it has been more dispersed through multiple authorities.