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92 Working Paper

In Defense of the "Democratic Deficit": Reassessing Legitimacy in the European Union

Jul 25, 2024 Andrew Moravcsik


Concern about the EU's 'democratic deficit' is misplaced. Judged against prevailing standards in existing advanced industrial democracies, rather than those of an ideal plebiscitary or parliamentary democracy, the EU is democratically legitimate. Its institutions are tightly constrained by constitutional checks and balances: narrow mandates, fiscal limits, super-majoritarian and concurrent voting requirements and separation of powers. There is little evidence that the EU impacts an unjustifiable neo-liberal bias on EU policy. The apparently disproportionate insulation of EU institutions reflects the subset of functions they perform – central banking, constitutional adjudication, civil prosecution, economic diplomacy and technical administration which are matters of low electoral salience commonly delegated in national systems, for normatively justifiable reasons. Efforts to expand participation in the EU, even if successful, are thus unlikely to greatly expand meaningful deliberation. On balance, the EU redresses rather than creates biases in political representation, deliberation and output.