European Democracy


In the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the cultural historian Wolf Lepenies depicted ‘the greatness and misery of European intellectual life’ as an oscillation between ‘melancholy and utopia’ (Lepenies 1992: 20). If the accomplishment of the European Union’s Eastern enlargement in 2004 drove such dreams home, the failure of the project of establishing a ‘Constitution for Europe’ changed the tide shortly after. Since then, has melancholy among intellectuals prevailed, driven by the ‘inadequacies of the world they live in and which they are not able to change’? Or have utopian energies been fuelled again by the intellectual ‘inhibition of action and transference of unsatisfied dreams from this world to a better one’ (Kwiek and Lepenies 2003: 331)? This chapter revisits these questions about the ‘homo Europaeus intellectualis’ in the light of contemporary contentions over ‘Europe’s democracy’ and their transnational dynamics.

Ultimately, democracy beyond the state has become an issue of discursive public contestations at the global scale (Dryzek 2006). In twenty‐first‐century ‘Europe in contention’, the so‐called democratic deficit has conspicuously fuelled mass public politicization (Magnette and Papadopoulos 2008), replaced people’s permissive consensus by ‘constraining dissensus’ (Hooghe and Marks 2009), and further aggravated these trends by the seminal experiment of uniting the deepening and enlarging union of states by a common constitution.1 Thus, the questions of whether the EU requires popular or democratic or other forms of legitimacy, and if so, how the European would‐be polity could be (p.51) transformed into a democratic and effective system of governance, have been dubbed ‘one of the thorniest of all contemporary problems of democratic theory and constitutional politics’ (Offe 2003: 22).2 Even scholars and intellectuals who used to deny the question of democracy for an allegedly intergovernmental and regulatory regime have belatedly admitted that coming to terms with the ‘democratic deficit’ is ‘the deepest question Europeans face today’ (Majone 2010; Moravcsik 2006: 590). Hence, exploring how intellectuals think and engage across contending discourses and borders in a still divided Europe is critical. It will shed light on one of the most contested political ideas, and also on how these contestations have shaped Europe’s ‘communicative space in the making’ (Fossum and Schlesinger 2007).3

For exploring the discursive construction of a legitimate European political order, the insights into the national narratives that this book provides are crucial. Yet a transnational approach is also needed if we want to understand intellectual exchanges that transcend national discourses. Arguably, a transnational dynamic has become a defining feature of the most recent European constitutional debate, from Laeken to Lisbon.4 More than any previous episode of European contemporary history, this tormented chapter has brought intellectual ideas about democratic life in Europe into public light, from academia into the general public, and from national into transnational debate.5

Mapping ideas about democracy in Europe entails taking into account different theoretical, practical, and comparative questions, namely: (1) What does (p.52) democracy in contemporary Europe mean normatively, that is which values are attached to it? (2) To which institutional forms are these normative ideas wedded in the European context? (3) What misfits exist between facts and norms? and (4) What kinds of agency will it take to put such normative ideas into practice? After all, these democratic ideas will vary, depending on how public intellectuals position themselves regarding the longue durée semantic traditions of their national cultural contexts (Münch 2008).

Anticipating my findings in a nutshell, I will make a threefold argument. Firstly, I contend that intellectual disagreements about the European political order do not reflect incompatibilities between idiosyncratic national discourses, that is how ‘the’ Germans and ‘the’ French (or ‘the’ Continental Europeans) think and talk differently from, say ‘the’ British, Irish, Polish, or Czechs. As epitomized by leading European public intellectuals, for example the Dahrendorf–Habermas debate – first on positivism in German sociology, later on Europe and democracy – contentious issues have sometimes first fuelled domestic debates before spilling over into transnational intellectual controversy.

Secondly, intellectual positions in Europe can no longer be divided into two categories only, such as those proposed by Isaiah Berlin during the Cold War. In dealing with Europe’s ideological history, Berlin was preoccupied with the question of the origins of totalitarian thinking, and came up with a division among ‘monists’, whom he nicknamed ‘hedgehogs’, and ‘pluralists’, whom he dubbed ‘foxes’6 – the former being the bad guys and the latter the good. Here, I will argue that at both ends of this divide we can now find discourses that are no longer merely nation‐statist, but also European and supranational. More importantly, instead of pitting supranational ‘monist’ discourses on the one hand against national ‘pluralist’ discourses on the other, I discern a third discursive strand that has emerged more recently. Mapping onto the conceptual triangle that Justine Lacroix and Kalypso Nicolaïdis propose for characterizing national debates about Europe,7 this third pole emerges from the ‘search for a third way’, typically escapes binary thinking, and is aimed at reconciling ‘unity’ and ‘diversity’. Examples for this third category can be found, as I will demonstrate, in the republican camp, where the meanings and requirements of democracy beyond the state have been renegotiated.

Thirdly, I suggest that contentious issues of democracy in Europe have fuelled intellectual debates and exacerbated traditional ideological differences. At the same time, these differences have inspired creativity and innovation, in (p.53) content as well as in practice. As a result, European intellectual debates have engendered a multilingual conceptual network, connecting competing narratives about democracy in the European context and coming up with illuminating conceptual innovations.

Accordingly, I will reconstruct the European democracy debate in three steps. To start with, I review unifying ideas of political community that cherish democracy in the terms of single, universal, organizing principles that have been wedded to the national as well as to a supranational state. Next, I map ideas of pluralism and liberal democracy that celebrate diversity, and display sympathy for a confederation of states rather than for a supranational federal state. In the third part I survey ideas for reconciling these binaries. The concluding section draws a few lessons from the European democracy debate.

Cherishing unity: Monistic ideas of Europe as democracy

Monistic ideas of democracy are attached to notions of a homogeneous demos or people that is conceived as collective, either in pre‐political communitarian or in republican forms. In the first case, the demos is defined by unifying ideas such as ethnicity, nation, and religion. In the second case it relies on social cohesion, social solidarity, or shared ethical values. In any case, a democracy that is understood in collective terms requires the institutional form of the sovereign state. If the collectivist‐statist frame is then attached to the European level, it either mutates into utopia or into a nightmare: on the one hand, a European democratic state understood as a collective presents the ultimate ‘finality’ or target of European integration that is embraced by European federal democrats; on the other hand, it appears as a spectre that haunts ‘methodological nationalists’ or nation‐state democrats.

Nation-statist meaning of democracy in Europe

Democracy coded in a national or statist language in the singular has traditionally resonated strongly with Continental European thinking, originating in Rousseau as well as in Herder and Fichte, and taking on traditionalist, conservative, leftist, and post‐Marxist – but also communitarian and Christian – persuasions. This family of discourses has travelled widely across Europe and most national intellectual debates. For instance in France, Pierre Manent has come up with the idea that only a national – different from a civic – republic founded on ‘Christian community’ will be capable of constituting a ‘political body’.8 Within the Polish debate, Zdzisław Krasnodębski, one of the foremost (p.54) intellectual architects of Polish conservative reforms, drew on the Solidarność movement and communitarian ideas to counter post-1989 liberal deconstructions of Polish national history and commemoration. He proposed ‘Polish civil religion’ as a symbolic structure, based on an ‘ethics of solidarity’ and Christianity for understanding ‘the Polish experience in light of ultimate and universal realities’, and thus the ‘unified Polish political nation’ in non‐ethnic terms (Krasnodębski 2008: 207).9 And in Great Britain, the cradle of liberal democracy, preoccupations with national sovereignty have flourished as well. In recent British debates on Europe, conservative and right‐wing as well as left‐leaning intellectuals converge in defence of the nation, for instance Noel Malcolm on the one hand or David Miller on the other.10 In sum, in contemporary discourse, unifying ideas of the demos or democratic community vary, but attach value above all to national sovereignty, and sometimes to Christianity. They continue to refer to the national level but have also been scaled up to the European level, mutating into the vision of a European demos and the search for a ‘European soul’ or identity.

Admittedly, none of these conceptions of a European identity followed the image of an ethnically homogeneous people. Instead, ‘shared values’ and ‘myths’ – or, alternatively, ‘constitutional patriotism’ – have been put forward in the search for the idea expected to provide the bonds and, eventually, help constitute a European identity. While some looked back to antiquity and European history to determine the normative foundation of a European identity, others affirmed a self‐reflexive concept of reason. An intersubjective transformation of modernity, and an open‐ended formation of European identity in the framework of Europe‐wide constitutional principles, would arguably promote a shared sense of ‘European constitutional patriotism’.

For the culturalist project, the European identity of the early twenty‐first century could not be built from a European constitution, but only from a pre‐existing community defined by common values.11 A culturally founded European community needed values, historical narratives, and symbols as the foundation for political belonging. The ‘Christian Occident’, ‘the Enlightenment’, or ‘fifty years of European integration’ were screened as promising (p.55) cultural resources for a collective European identity that would augment the EU’s capacity to act. For maintaining the ‘specifically European’ democratic and social way of life, universal values were required as reference points for identity‐building.12

The project of a ‘European civil identity’ in the ‘postnational constellation’ took an alternative approach. First of all, a European identity was deemed necessary for maintaining the ‘specific European way of life’ and for coping with the challenges of globalization, denationalization, and enlargement.13 Then, as to the resources for this endeavour, the ‘civic European identity’ was neither constructed from old Europe’s past splendours, nor did it merely stereotype ‘Europe as non‐America’, as Timothy Garton Ash and Ralf Dahrendorf suspected.14 Instead, Habermas clarified that the mental ‘habitus’ of Europeans was based on individualism, rationalism, and activism, and thus applied to the whole West (Habermas 2006b). At the same time, he and Derrida claimed that these values found specific expression in the European context, different from the USA: for instance, Europeans displayed more negative attitudes than Americans to the death penalty and to the ‘liberal’ play of market forces; they were more sceptical regarding the promises of progress, thought more in social terms, felt more empathy with the weak. Moreover, common European historical experiences, traditions, and accomplishments, Habermas argued, were what constituted European citizens’ consciousness of a shared political fate that had endured in the past and would jointly shape the future.

Against this backdrop, Habermas and Derrida trusted that Europeans would be capable of developing a particular type of civic identity. In particular, Habermas conceived ‘European constitutional patriotism’ as a novel form of a non‐national political identity, based on principles of democratic constitutionalism and political order that are negotiated among the diverse parts and shared by common consensus.15 Against such recent ‘Europatriotic temptations’, Justine Lacroix has insisted on Habermas’ initial plea for critical and rational identities and their reflexive distance towards existing political practices (Lacroix 2009). Moreover, in the context of Eastern Europe, these ideas have not been embraced, but rather met with disappointment and contention. From the 2003 horizon of the new would‐be members knocking at the EU’s door, Imre Kertesz interpreted these ideas as ‘arrogant theory’, aimed at excluding the upcoming Eastern members from ‘core Europe’, and evoking the ‘paradox conveniences’ that Western Europe had enjoyed during the Cold War and that it was reluctant to give up. Summing up Kertesz’s words: ‘in the first (p.56) moments of the Iraq war, everything that had been established at Luxembourg and Strasbourg fell apart’.16

Institutional form of European democracy in unitary perspective

Precisely because of such dramatic failures, European public intellectual debate was expressly concerned with what the unifying idea of Europe as a democracy, if raised to the EU level, would require in institutional terms. The question about what was needed to reconstitute the European Union had long moved centre stage. In terms of institutional configuration, a federal multinational democracy is often portrayed as one where the Union’s borders would be set in accordance with European identity and where democratic legitimacy would rest on popularly elected bodies based on representative democracy at all levels; here, representative government, based on political equality and majority rule, would not remain the reserve of the nation‐state but would be implemented also at the supranational level (Eriksen and Fossum 2009: 37). Accordingly, in the context of the Laeken process at the beginning of the twenty‐first century, a series of visions about the ultimate ‘finality’ or target of European integration were proposed by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. In his legendary Humboldt University address in Berlin in May 2000, Fischer argued for a transition from an association of states to a European federation.17 Jürgen Habermas followed suit. Making the case for ‘Why Europe needs a Constitution’ (Habermas 2001b), he laid out how to reconceptualize post‐national constitution‐building as a virtuous circle. In this model, different anticipations stimulated and reinforced each other mutually in a circular process, enhancing the development of European political parties, of a European civil society, and a European political public sphere. These were not pictured as prerequisites of European constitution‐making, but rather as outcomes of synergistic interactions that would accompany it. Following this approach, European constitution‐building would function as a focal point of European identity and transnational solidarity which, in turn, would help construct the EU’s constituency (Habermas 1998: 154ff.). In the aftermath of the Laeken process, Habermas succeeded, if not in making the contentious idea of a European constitution popular throughout all camps, at least in placing an intensely discussed issue on the European public agenda:

The challenge before us is not to invent anything but to conserve the great democratic achievements of the European nation‐state, beyond its own limits. These achievements include not only formal guarantees of civil rights, but levels of social welfare, education (p.57) and leisure that are the precondition of both an effective private autonomy and of democratic citizenship…A European constitution would…constitute a necessary, not a sufficient condition for the kind of policies some of us are inclined to advocate. To the extent that European nations seek a certain re‐regulation of the global economy, to counterbalance its undesired economic, social and cultural consequences, they have a reason for building a stronger Union with greater international influence…From this perspective, the European project can be seen as a common attempt by the national governments to recover in Brussels something of the capacity for intervention that they have lost at home. (Habermas 2001b)

As is well known, the debate provoked by Fischer and Habermas by no means remained an exclusively intra‐German affair. Their ideas converged, for instance, with Larry Siedentop’s Democracy in Europe (2001), or withThe Idea of a European Superstate by Glyn Morgan (2005), a work that delved deeply into British Eurosceptic discourses in order to develop a compelling justification for why Europe’s security interests required a European supranational state.18 Although he could more accurately be called a politician writer than a public intellectual, Guy Verhofstadt’s advocacy for The United States of Europe (2006) also gained currency in nearly every national public debate and was translated into most European languages. Stefan Collignon (2009), meanwhile, further developed Habermas’ justification of a European constitution as a means for preserving Europe’s social model by offering compelling political economic reasons to support a social European constitution that would enhance Europe’s capabilities for producing public goods – namely, EU governance of financial and economic crises, fighting unemployment and inflation, and redressing other social deficits.

Misfits between democratic norms and European practices

The seminal venture of intellectually conceiving a constitutional project for the European Union not only became vital to opening a new chapter in European constitutional politics; it was also influential in provoking Eurosceptic opposition and rejection from many different camps. Oppositional ‘EU deficit‐discourses’ took two directions, a centre‐right and a leftist conservative one. In the German context, they came from conservative thinkers, notably German political scientist Peter Graf von Kielmansegg19 and Dieter Grimm, a legal scholar and judge of the German Constitutional Court.20 In the vein of cultural pessimism, and based on the 1993 Maastricht judgment by the German Federal (p.58) Constitutional Court, Kielmansegg (1996) constructed the ‘democracy dilemma’ of European integration. As a consequence of European integration, he argued, democracy was caught in an irresolvable dilemma: assuming that democratic legitimacy rested with the people, which he defined by a collective identity, a community of remembrance, and a common public sphere, and given that these prerequisites did not exist at the European level, crises of the EU were inevitable. Therefore, Kielmansegg did not discount an ultimate failure of the European integration process in a general sense. And as long as these presumed preconditions for a European demos were not in place, Grimm also rejected the particular project of a European constitution.21 In his contributions to the German and transnational Eurosceptic discourse, Grimm questioned the European constitution on normative grounds too. Accordingly, from the viewpoint of a Europe of sovereign nation‐states, a European identity was deemed unnecessary for the legitimacy of the EU’s authority, since it was derived from the democratic member states. As Hauke Brunkhorst showed, this argument was flawed. It was premised on assumptions that can no longer be seen as steadfast in the post‐national constellation: the notion of a sovereign people, or demos, is locked into that of the nation‐state (Brunkhorst2007: 40ff.).

Fatalistic warnings against a constitutional democratic European order were not the privilege of centre‐right conservative thinkers. They have converged with those on the left, including post‐Marxists and critical theorists, as well. For instance, Claus Offe shared the view that European integration had increasingly affected member societies and diminished the opportunities for citizen participation in decision‐making. He firmly believed that European democratic self‐governance based on input legitimacy was always less sustainable, since European identity was weak and cross‐border solidarities among constituents scarce (Offe 2003: 269). As a matter of fact, this was more than an expression of the traditional German belief that a European demos in the singular was needed as a requisite for enhancing a European democracy. Paradoxically, this belief complemented negative views on the impact of European integration on national democratic politics, autonomy, sovereignty, and republican ideals.22 Such cultural pessimist ideas of a democratic ‘race to the bottom’ attained popularity in Nordic Eurosceptic discourse too. Norwegian intellectuals, for instance, were reported to ‘insist that the EU is a democratic curse, which Norway should stay away from’.23 By contrast, Nordic fatalism about the fate (p.59) of democracy in the European Union ran squarely counter to Southern enthusiasm. For instance, Italian or Spanish public discourses did not blame the EU for domestic democratic deficits, but rather acclaimed it for its democratic benefits, that is for enhancing the consolidation and stabilization of domestic democracy.24

The French variety of the nation‐statist Euro‐critical discourse in the context of a multi‐religious and multicultural, liberal Europe took inspiration from Pierre Manent’s work. In the view of this French philosopher, the fate of self‐government in Europe could not but be seen critically as it depended on the national form of the liberal state that, ‘hand‐in‐hand’ with the ‘Christian nation’, made self‐government possible. Taking issue with the European form of democratic governance, Manent claimed that this ‘neither truly represents nor governs the individuals whose rights it aims to maximize’, and underscored that ‘the consent of the individual must be balanced by a broader cultivation of that civil and religious “communion” ’, by one that allegedly ‘informed every authentically human community’ (Manent 2007: 71).

In sum, nationalist or statist democratic frames of reference for painting Europe negatively can be found in conservative as well as leftist Eurosceptic discourses, in the British as well as in the German and French debates. On the left, national allegiance and the statist form of democracy were seen as almost as indispensable as on the right, although on different grounds.25 Whether the ‘dilemma of democracy due to European integration’, the non‐existing ‘European demos’, the missing European public sphere, or the lack of European identity, all these ideas erected cognitive impediments to rethinking democracy in more innovative and constructive terms. Under these conditions, for as long as the national statist frame of reference for thinking about Europe shaped mass perceptions, public opinion, and political behaviour on European politics, the institutional model of ‘derivative democracy’ at Union level coupled with representative democracy confined to the formally sovereign nation‐states (Eriksen and Fossum 2009: 35–6) was most likely to prevail.

Celebrating diversity: Liberal thinking about democracy in Europe and its tensions

Had we adopted a pluralistic lens, most of these unifying presuppositions for either a Europe of multiple national communities or as one democratic (p.60) community would have fallen apart. From a pluralistic view, and fore‐grounding the disparity of interests among the enlarged European citizenry, Armin von Bogdandy objected that even a concept of European identity that was defined by democratic constitutional patriotism might be ‘crypto‐normative’ and ‘thus dangerous’, since it submitted citizens to enormous expectations. Should a ‘liberal polity’, von Bogdandy asks, not be better guided by the long‐term self‐interest of the citizens than by a common identity (von Bogdandy 2005)? Similarly, French writer Claude Lefort and historian Pierre Rosanvallon have made the case that strictly speaking ‘the people’ is an empty space. Against the grain of the ‘artificial and perverse vision of social unity’, Rosanvallon has argued: ‘The people in a democracy is always a fragile people, ever incomplete and never a fused bloc. Instead of magnifying an unlocalizable unity, it is a matter, on the contrary, of ever making clear the tensions of life together, to allow the attempt to overcome them’ (Rosanvallon2006: 213).

Liberal‐democratic ideas

Sometimes liberal (‐democratic) ideas about how to conceive Europe have been portrayed as if they were first and foremost a British province.26 This claim merits three qualifications: to start with, liberal (-democratic) ideas had long gained purchase on the other side of the Channel, too. They resonated in Continental, Southern and Eastern European intellectual and political life, for instance in the writings of Raymond Aron27 or Norberto Bobbio28 or Václav Havel,29 to name but a few quite different thinkers. The liberal paradigm made inroads into mainstream political and social philosophy as well as legal thinking in Germany and spilled over into public debate.30 Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that Britain’s towering figures in post‐Second World War liberal philosophy and history were refugees and expatriates from the Continent. There were namely Karl Popper, the philosopher of Austrian origin, Isaiah Berlin, the historian of ideas of Russian origin, and Ralf Dahrendorf, the German‐British sociologist. In the dialectics of British–Continental European exchanges, this ‘sceptical generation’ between the wars had been defined by the experience of two devastating totalitarianisms in Europe, and prepared (p.61) the intellectual ground on which subsequent generations of liberal public thinkers in and on Europe could build. However, liberal thought did not escape tensions and contentions: not only on the part of outspoken enemies to the open society, but sometimes also that of illiberal thinking in the disguise of liberal rhetoric.

Liberal perspectives on Europe clearly diverged from Continental European intellectual efforts at conceiving the European demos in the singular. For liberal philosophers, the image of an open society had to be grounded on epistemological falsification and political pragmatism, as Karl Popper authoritatively established. Isaiah Berlin, preoccupied with understanding the intellectual origins of the two totalitarianisms in Europe, developed an influential critique of ‘monism’, that is of utopian and totalizing streams in modern political thinking, foremost from Continental Europe.31 For a liberal historian of ideas in the footsteps of Isaiah Berlin, it appeared unpromising if not perilous to apply the unifying template of a political collective to the complexities of any political order, including a European one. Rather, liberal interpreters of the Enlightenment message attached the highest value to pluralism, believing that this was furthered by ‘negative liberty’, that is individual rights for freedom from state or private intervention.32 As Ralf Dahrendorf argued, democracy is ‘domesticated conflict’.33 But modern social conflict is not ‘domesticated’ by a form of democracy as the rule of all, or of the majority; rather, it relies on ‘anti‐utopian’ devices, such as moderate market liberalism, the rule of law, and parliamentarism. Moreover, democratic conflict domestication required the socialization of a type of liberal personality that is immune to totalitarian temptations.34 Referring to Dahrendorf’s depiction of the ‘liberal icons’, the Arons, Poppers, and Berlins who – unlike many of their cohort – had kept their distance from the totalitarian movements of the Left and the Right, Habermas noted:

The representation does not leave any doubt about the model character of this attitude. It is the love for freedom which immunizes these intellectuals against the temptations of the totalitarian century.35

(p.62) Overall, the impact of liberalism on modern European political thought has not been without contention. For liberals it may not only be difficult to fight anti‐liberalism in practice. While attaching value to personal dignity and private property, to universal human rights and free expression, to religious tolerance and equality of opportunity, they also may have problems in upholding common values such as social equality, cohesion, and solidarity. As Richard Münch ambivalently argued, the semantic construction of a European social order that is modelled on liberal constitutionalism, and thus based on the rule of law, ethical individualism, and individual and human rights (Münch 2008: 58ff., 341ff.), does not come without costs; the ‘dialectics of transnational integration’ correlates with ‘national disintegration’. Likewise, the institutional correlates of liberal values include limited and transparent government, popular sovereignty and national self‐determination, respect for privacy, the rule of law and science; while those of social democrats and social liberals were more concerned about the fate of the welfare state under the liberal banners of an unfettered ‘free market economy’ and ‘free international trade’.36

Institutional forms of a liberal-democratic Europe

Liberal questions and ideas also inspired thinking about power and democracy in the ‘turbulent fields’ of European regional integration. As early as 1976, Ernst B. Haas took up Dahrendorf’s question as to whether the desirable expansion of scope in the activities of the European Community ought to be accompanied by the growth in centralized power demanded by the Commission.37 In fact, Dahrendorf had always rejected the functional logics (‘Sachlogik’) by which Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, or Sicco Mansholt had constructed the European Communities. In his theory as well as his practice of EU politics, he actively and successfully championed an integrated European market, and even more so international trade liberalization. On this position, Dahrendorf joined hands with one of the most prolific British political writers and public intellectuals debating Europe in a pronouncedly liberal vein, Timothy Garton Ash, to warn against European separatism.38Contrary to Habermas and Derrida, both advocated a ‘European pillar in the free world’, that is an economic and security ‘association of democracies’, constituted as an ‘open society’ of about forty (p.63) states. Garton Ash, in particular, called Europe to resist the dangerous myth of a European nationalism and to embrace instead the permanent peaceful and regulated competition between different models of economic, social and political orders, and promote democracy not as a value in itself but as a means for the pursuit of political objectives such as of liberty, good government and just laws (Garton Ash 2004: 268; 295–7, 299).

In these liberal terms of diversity and competition among EU democracies, supranational representative or participatory democratic institutions appeared neither a necessary nor a desirable asset. Nevertheless, comparing the uneventful elections to the European Parliament to the drama of US presidential elections, Garton Ash praised the ‘discreet charm of Eurodemocracy’, as a ‘postmodern Euro‐drama taken from the Franco‐German arts channel Arte, with subtitles’, a movie by Buñuel and not a blockbuster by Spielberg:

The cast consists of hundreds of characters, most of them totally unknown to most viewers. (Pöttering? Who, where, why or what is Pöttering?)…If you look at the biographies of the more than 700 members of this new parliament, you find former dissidents, writers, scholars, unionists, economists and youth activists, as well as the usual dreary party functionaries, from 25 different countries. A collection of people infinitely more diverse and interesting than the US Congress; a kind of anthology of European history over the past half‐century. Out of that history, and this complex political system, comes a politics of peaceful negotiation, consensus and compromise, not of high noon and winner‐takes‐all. Less dramatic, less fun, to be sure; but not necessarily worse. Given the choice between a Cheney and a Pöttering, I’d choose Pöttering any day. I say: let Europe keep Pöttering on.39

If passionate engagement for Europe, especially among young people, was lacking, Europe was to be blamed for having lost its ‘plot’, namely its ‘true history of freedom’ epitomized by the peaceful ‘evolutions’40 in East Central and Eastern Europe.

European democratic deficits from liberal perspective

Measured by liberal-democratic ideas, European Union legitimacy deficits loomed large. Yet, confronted with Europe, liberal ideals have sometimes degenerated into liberal rhetoric, sometimes used as justifications for British obsessions with European war memories and idiosyncratic nationalist fears of a European superstate. Such antagonizing insinuations have depicted the (p.64) European Union as just another name for the bad guys, for a ‘totalitarian’ and ultimately a German project for hegemony in Europe, aimed at belatedly winning the Second World War and fighting the British, this time with centralized European bureaucratic rather than military means.41

Contrasting with this dark side, the ‘European democratic deficit’ thesis had initially a constructive spin, placing the issue on the European agenda.42 Ralf Dahrendorf should be credited as an early analyst of the ‘two great problems of all modern public orders’ that characterized the ‘huge institutional experiment’ of the European Community already in the early 1970s, namely the inefficiency of its ‘huge machinery’ and its ‘unbearable deficit of democracy’ (Dahrendorf 1973: 221). While numerous critics have blamed the EU for failing to engage ordinary citizens, others have also come up with remedies for fixing this gap. Notably, Simon Hix has suggested that the EU should and could reproduce the patterns of pluralist party democracy established in the nation‐states. Making the case for a true, albeit limited, democratic politics in the EU, Hix advocated competitive European parliamentary elections and the formation of EU party government.43

On the other hand, to put the home‐grown democratic deficits in focus, Colin Crouch (2004) has coined ‘post‐democracy’ as a term that has successfully travelled from Italy to the UK and from there across Continental Europe. It has served the purpose of putting the European democratic deficit talk in critical perspective. In democratic practice, Crouch suggested, political decision‐makers had become more inclined towards business and economic elites; workers’ organizations had lost out against free markets and international corporate regimes; and social movements remained little more than ‘fig leaves’ that had lost sight of socially important issues such as quality of life and appropriate forms of political community. Moreover, in the age of ‘post‐parliamentarism’, representative democracy no longer responded to the requirements of social constituencies and courts no longer offered a last resort for individual or class action either. In sum, post‐democracy analysts warned that democratic promises of equality as well as liberty were lost.

Faced with these three discourses – European democratic scepticism, European democratic reform optimism, and post‐democratic fatalism – liberal thinkers had not yet convincingly answered the crucial ‘Dahrendorf question’, namely (p.65) ‘Can European democracy survive globalization?’ (Dahrendorf 2001). In view of low voter turnouts around the world, people had apparently lost faith in elections and mistrusted parties, at the national as well as at the European level. Yet, after discussing the shortfalls of a number of democratic reform alternatives, Dahrendorf left his conclusion in the air: ‘so rethinking democracy and its institutions must be a top priority for all to whom the constitution of liberty is dear’.44 The debate about the perils of liberal democracy entailed the issue of democratic practice, that is how public intellectuals imagine – and eventually engage with – the social, political, or institutional agency they deem fit for addressing them.

European democratic agency

On the practical side, liberal ideas have deeply impregnated post‐fascist Italian and German intellectual cultures and political reconstruction after the Second World War. Forty years further on, they have also fuelled peaceful regime transformations beyond the eastern borders of the European Community. Dahrendorf’s passionate ‘love for freedom’ coupled with political realism notably resonated strongly after the fall of the Wall with East and Central European reformers, to whom he predicted: ‘You can make a constitution in six weeks, for economic recovery you need perhaps six years, for freedom to take social roots however sixty years.’45 Given their attraction to values of freedom, it could hardly be a surprise that Continental European intellectuals, sixty years after the Second World War, had progressively turned to thinking about the demos, whether national or European, as a plurality.

Still, it came as a shock that post‐communist democratic consolidation might not have been successful, but that East Central Europe was backsliding.46 Some twenty years after the demise of the Soviet regime, some of the new democracies were still haunted by deeply illiberal pockets of totalitarian legacy. As the Jewish‐Hungarian Nobel prize laureate writer Imre Kertesz pointed out, from East and East Central European perspectives, the ‘liberty of self‐determination’ and ‘Free Europe’ were relatively short‐lived, compared to the ‘long and dark shadows’ from the ‘fortuneless century’; here, despite the ‘immortality of the (p.66) camps’ the ‘survival of survivors’ had not yet become a right taken for granted, and the question ‘will Europe rise again?’ was still unresolved.47 While Western European democratic cultures had grown as the result either of military defeat and subsequent re‐education – or, as Kertesz claimed, of successful revolutions – in Eastern Europe they were the outcome of the totally unexpected demise of the Soviet Union:

It…happened much as the unexpected fall of an oak,…It was an event without destiny… To be sure, there had been the Berlin workers’ upheaval of 1953, the Hungarian revolution of 1956, the Prague Spring of 1968, the Polish Solidarnosc movement of 1980: all schools of bitterness.…At the end, the peoples here had lost the belief that they could change their destiny. All wished for the break‐down, but nobody…has willed it.…there was no deed’ (Kertesz 2003: 172, author’s translation)

The twentieth century’s traumatic crises of human civilization have imprinted East Central European political cultures with lasting traces such as right‐wing extremism, anti‐Semitism, and xenophobia. For the sake of national sovereignty and the principle of diversity, such developments have been largely ignored as making up part of the member states’ idiosyncrasies. However, European liberal constitutionalists might be misled in assuming that European liberal norms do not require local roots in the member states, while ‘democratic sovereigntists’ might undervalue the necessity of implementing international human and European fundamental norms for consolidating national democratic cultures (Benhabib 2009).

Reconciling diversity with unity: Contestatory European demoi‐cracy

Above, I started by reviewing Continental European political philosophy as one, though not the only, source for conceiving democracy in unifying terms. I then portrayed British liberal pluralism as a hub for diversifying ideas of democracy, also making it clear why such geographical/intellectual ideal types are misleading. I thus illustrated that the European public intellectual debates on democracy in Europe provide discursive constructions of unity as well as deconstructive discourses of diversity. In a critique of the unitary thinking of Dieter Grimm, Hauke Brunkhorst has shown that in the context of denationalization and globalization, the binaries on which this is premised are exposed to continuous deconstruction.48 In what follows, I will review ideas about democracy in (p.67) Europe that deliberately aim at a third way, overcome binary thinking, and reconcile unity with diversity.49

There are a number of original propositions. For resolving the conundrum of moulding the ‘contradictory sovereignties of the parts…into a whole’, Yves Mény called upon the ‘Convention on the future of Europe’ to invent a new kind of democratic system, ‘a system which as yet has no name’, that is – drawing on Habermas’ term – a European ‘post‐national democracy’.50 Giuliano Amato came up with the term ‘hermaphrodite’ for depicting the hybrid nature of the European Union: ‘Such a hermaphrodite responds to the needs and the demands of the globalized world, by definition a world where not just states but also individual persons are active supranational actors’, thus ‘blurring the border between international agencies and constitutional ones’.51From a neo‐corporatist perspective, Colin Crouch and Wolfgang Streeck have conceived the ‘diversity of democracy’ in terms of corporatism, social order, and political conflict (Crouch and Streeck 2006).

In more analytic terms, the conceptions of ‘European demoi‐cracy’, and ‘contestatory democracy’ respond to the call for squaring the circle of unity and diversity. In the present context, and without any ambition to do justice to these innovative conceptions, I will limit myself to highlighting their underlying ideas regarding (1) norms, (2) misfits between norms and practices, (3) institutional forms, and (4) agency.

Republican norms of European democracy

Philip Pettit’s conception of ‘contestatory democracy’ offers a device for reconstructing democracy not only in the national but also in the international realm. Republican ideas of democracy cover a discursive space between two (p.68) antipodes, democratic politics in the singular – that is the political body in the tradition of Rousseau – and the dispersal of power in contestatory configurations of democracy, notably in Pettit’s political philosophy. In the first case, the concept of republic borders on that of a pure democracy understood as the unrestricted rule of the majority, that is of the people (singular) which collectively exercises power, directly or indirectly through elections. In the second case, the republic is conceived to secure freedom as non‐domination by combining majority rule with the rule by many, that is, by the people as a plurality of citizens who transform the unity (of the nation, or state). The distinction of ‘electoral democracy’ and ‘contestatory democracy’ emphasizes the two traditions of majoritarian and republican democracy that Pettit brings together.52 In other words, he squares the circle by sequencing a first component that looks at unity, and a second one that is concerned with diversity.

Kalypso Nicolaïdis has coined the term of a European ‘demoi‐cracy’ for capturing a multitude of intertwined democracies, arguing that ‘the EU is neither a union of democracies nor a union as democracy; it is a union of states and of peoples – a “demoi‐cracy” – in the making’ (Nicolaïdis 2004a, 2004b). Here, the focus is on the territorial dimension of the democratic process or federal ideas that prompt a ‘third way’ for reconciling diversity with unity. ‘European demoi‐cracy’, in these terms, depicts a new kind of political community that is defined by ‘the persistent plurality of its peoples—its demoi’.53 This model departs from a Europe of segmented, coexisting national democracies as much as from a European supranational federal state, erected on a collective identity. The republican principle of ‘constitutional tolerance’ is adopted for legitimating a kind of diversity that is premised on the acceptance of a shared destiny with ‘others’ (Nicolaïdis 2004a; Weiler, Mayer, and Haltern1995. ‘Mutual recognition’, cosmopolitan principles, and norms of European multiculturalism are established as devices for securing unity in a radically pluralist community of others, where the stable existence of peoples (bounded imagined communities) rather than groups is firmly acknowledged (Nicolaïdis 2007).

Ulrich Beck and Edgar Grande have foregrounded international human rights and cosmopolitan law for Europe, too, arguing that the cosmopolitan moment should correct or forestall vicious dynamics among its different parts. While ‘European demoi‐cracy’ is concerned with the political other, Beck and Grande’s ‘cosmopolitan Europe’ aims at refining the perception of ‘the cultural (p.69) other’, framing a transnational discourse of reconciliation in a Europe of clashing communities of memories. Arguably, through ‘the total devastation and cruelty experienced’ and ‘the immeasurable suffering and guilt that the nationalistic warmongering Europe brought to the world’, Europe had become ‘more sensitive to the internalised measures of self‐criticism, more open and at the same time more resistant in the struggle for a peaceful, post‐religious humanity’ (Beck and Grande 2004: 159).

Misfits between republican norms and European practices

Third‐way authors are concerned about misfits between democratic norms and practices in the European Union in different ways from supranationalists or intergovernmentalists. They do not take issue with judicial activism by the ECJ54 in as far as this may help secure the freedom rights of minorities. They do not question the political weakness of the Council, joint decision‐making deadlock, or structural policy gridlock to the extent that these result from domestic contestatory constituencies. Adopting third‐way perspectives, we will question the legitimacy of current EU governance practices from another respect. For instance, we should ask whether the aggregation of citizens’ preferences and majority rule – both supposed to secure effective co‐decision‐making by the Council and the European Parliament – are also equipped with mechanisms for transparency, for accountability, or for individual or collective access to national and European courts. Such mechanisms are required for affected minorities to ensure protection of rights or redress injustices of majority rule through contestation, civil society participation, or representation in the public sphere.

Institutional forms of a European republic

As intellectuals have conceived a great many innovative ideas of ‘contentious European democracy’, many of these will have to wait to be formalized, eventually constitutionalized, and possibly institutionalized. In any event, these ideas will help assess institutional practices, with an eye to the future of democracy in Europe. Regarding existing or emerging institutional forms that put ‘third-way democracy’ ideas into practice, there are a number of propositions. They can be grouped in four clusters: federal, parliamentary, deliberative, and legal.55

(p.70) Firstly, British scholars and public intellectuals have prepared the ground for bridging the federalist divide. Key institutional features include federal constitutionalism – that is, a territorial configuration that comprises constitutional, governance, public, and civil‐sphere components that leave room for a plurality of power centres and peoples. In this context, John Pinder has pioneered two ideas. On the one hand, he established that after the demise of de Gaulle it was time for the UK to join in the project aimed at the ‘United States of Europe’. On the other hand, he sought to justify federalism as not being alien but rather an inherent part of the British (Scottish) political tradition (Mayne and Pinder 1990; Pinder 1969).

Secondly, as to the electoral components of a democratic Europe, Pinder had claimed that national parliamentary democratic traditions together with the European Parliament would provide the appropriate ‘foundations of democracy’ for the EU (Pinder 1999). Moreover, Erik Oddvar Eriksen and John Erik Fossum have made the case for measuring ‘democracy beyond the nation state’ by the quality of deliberation that leads to Community law and the deliberative quality of the public institutions that encourage such debates – the public spheres (Eriksen and Fossum 2009; Fossum and Schlesinger 2007).

Also, for ‘contestatory’ procedures as a supplement to electoral institutions, Bohman has proposed that ‘democracy across borders’ might require not only transnational governance arrangements and deliberative transnational democratic publics but also transnational civil society networks (Bohman 2007). In this context, deliberation procedures would be linked to decision‐making, that is to the ‘aggregative’ mechanisms of majority rule, on the one hand, and also to contestation, that is mechanisms for minority protection, on the other hand.

Ideas of a ‘third way’ and a ‘contestatory European demoi‐cracy’ also resonate with the German Constitutional Court’s Lisbon ruling. By this judgment, the GCC established the constitutional principle of ‘integration responsibility’ and, applying it to Germany, required the Bundestag to strengthen its muscles for a more effective oversight of EU political decision‐making by the executive. Also, the 2009 Lisbon ruling took a decidedly civic stance for replacing the ethnic conception of the German demos than its 1993 Maastricht judgment suggested. Yet, while devaluing the contribution of the European Parliament as the EU’s most prominent majoritarian institution to its democratic legitimacy, the GCC confirmed litigation procedures and mechanisms for minority protection against unjustified majority. To sum up, the German judges provide ‘mixed messages’ – a reasoning not without tensions.56

(p.71) Contestatory constituencies of a European republic

Finally, tackling the issue of agency – that is the question of the EU’s constituency – is a matter of theoretical, formal, and substantive ideas. Theoretically, the European demoi‐cracy would replace the absent European demos by the plurality of peoples. In formal‐legal terms, Anne Peters has made the case for a mixed constituent subject. Accepting that there is no homogeneous European people, she identifies three types of constituent subjects in the EU: the European peoples as the associated – including, but not exclusively, aggregated – citizenries of the member states; member state governments – in intergovernmental as well as transgovernmental terms; and a ‘pouvoir constituant mixte’ composed by peoples as citizens as well as member states (Peters 2000). In substantive terms, ‘mobile citizens’, social movements, and ‘organized civil society’ have surfaced as agents that do matter in the politics of contestatory European demoi‐cracy. Moreover, non‐national citizenship has become another key to the most pressing problem of the European polity, that is its search for legitimacy:

It is this embryonic form of non‐nation‐based citizenship which suggests an entirely new construction of the ‘we’ in the field of political action. Might Union citizenship define a new political identity, a new ‘we’ which is able to shape the fates of people in a new manner?…To conclude, the problem of European democracy is not that there is no European demos…The EU’s political vision derives its legitimacy from being appropriate to a world where people have become neighbours and still remain strangers to each other. This genuine political and institutional innovation is the contribution of Europe…(Offe and Preuss2006: 200)

For the third way to ‘European demoi‐cracy’ that has been mapped out here, courts, individual, and collective rights are necessary preconditions for legal contestation. In this perspective, ‘political constitutionalism’ would be lopsided if it were to privilege constitutional forms of representative democracy, while rejecting legal constitutional foundations for contestatory practices (Bellamy 2007).

Conclusion: Beyond utopia and melancholy

Starting in pre‐Constitution Europe, the intellectual debate that was kicked off by the futile search for the ‘finality of European integration’ has come a long way since. One of the most ambitious ideas had to be abandoned, namely that of establishing a ‘Constitution for Europe’.57 Moreover, in post‐Constitution Europe, the idea of ‘European constitutional patriotism’ had to be shelved, as (p.72) well. Yet, the challenges, crises, and changes of Europe’s political and institutional order have not necessarily spread melancholy among European intellectuals. Rather, the debate on the future of Europe has fuelled vital debates about European democracy and greatly encouraged transnational exchanges among them. Populist rhetoric continues to cast these debates in the terms of national sovereigntist versus supranational antagonism, thus reflecting the traditional clash between monist and pluralist thinking. Many public intellectuals, in turn, have searched for ways out of these binary traps. A variety of third ways have emerged from the dynamics of cross‐border exchanges and mutual learning. In the light of innovative as well as realist ideas, sterile stereotypes start losing out, including that of the ‘European democratic deficit’ or the famous ‘No European demos’ thesis. Instead, less unitary lenses have been constructed, from the early ‘post‐national democracy’ to that of ‘contestatory democracy’, ‘European demoi‐cracy’, ‘cosmopolitan values’, or ‘European civil society’. These ideas provide new frames of reference for a more reconciliatory thinking in a still divided Europe. They do not require a formal constitution, nor are they necessarily constrained by popular dissensus.58 Some of these ideas have already entered European institutional arenas and reshaped their practices, for instance the European Parliament.

A recent episode will illustrate this point. In his plenary speech to the European Parliament, Czech President Václav Klaus challenged the very institution which had called him to present the Czech programme on behalf of the EU’s rotating presidency for the first half of 2009. ‘Since there is no European demos – and no European nation’, Klaus declared, ‘this defect cannot be solved by strengthening the role of the European Parliament.’59While a number of protesting MEPs walked out, the European Parliamentary President acknowledged Klaus’ view as ‘an expression of the diversity in Europe’ and affirmed that in the ‘European democracy…everyone can express his or her own opinion’.60 Echoing as well as transcending the earlier controversy of Dieter Grimm and Jürgen Habermas,61 this dispute in the European Parliament can be read as an instructive manifestation of how the binary terms of negotiating a democratically legitimate European order have started changing.

In sum, twenty years after the end of the Cold War, the lessons to be drawn from the public debate about the future of democracy in Europe neither suggest (p.73) a melancholy‐driven ‘homo Europaeus intellectualis’ nor one whose utopian energies were fuelled primarily by an inhibition to act. Instead, European public intellectuals have started engaging with transnational discourses that contribute to the making of a European communicative space, and, arguably, to constructing third ways for escaping past and present dilemmas. (p.74)

Table 2.1 60 Public intellectuals debating Europe 2000–2009

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Amato, Giuliano

I 1520







Balibar, Etienne








Baudrillard, Jean








Bauman, Zygmunt








Beck, Ulrich








Benhabib, Seyla