Democracy and Legitimacy in the European Union

Vivien A. Schmidt

in The Oxford Handbook of the European Union

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199546282
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Politics & International Relations

Democracy and Legitimacy in the European Union


This article examines the quality of democracy and legitimacy of the EU. If the EU can be considered democratic in terms of its institutional set-up, it is so in ways unlike those of nation-state democracies. While democracies in nation states have established governments, the EU has ‘governance’, in which governing occurs without an established government through multiple authorities in highly complex sets of interrelations with state as well as societal actors. Scholars remain divided over whether a complicated set of institutional arrangements has engendered a democratic deficit for the EU and/or its member states, and also differ in the analytic framework deployed. They tend to summarize their main arguments using concepts borrowed from systems theory, as they analyse the interrelationships between output legitimacy, judged in terms of the effectiveness of the EU's policy outcomes for the people; input legitimacy, judged in terms of the EU's responsiveness to citizen concerns as a result of participation by and representation of the people; and ‘throughput’ legitimacy, building upon yet another term from systems theory, judged in terms of the accountability, transparency, and efficacy of the EU's decision-making processes along with their openness to pluralist consultation with the people.

Keywords: EU; democracy; output legitimacy; input legitimacy; throughput legitimacy; systems theory

Article.  6927 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; European Union

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