This article explores the ramifications of the European Union’s (EU) internal legitimacy debate for its external relations. It applies the Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM) as a case study to examine the EU’s attempts to promote legitimacy in global governance, more specifically in interregional institutions. The article’s theoretical framework draws from the EU’s legitimacy debate. It identifies three key sources of legitimacy, namely, (i) input legitimacy or democratic control and accountability, (ii) output legitimacy or performance and achievement of core purposes, and (iii) the degree of common identity as externalised through collective representation and the articulation of shared norms and values. The empirical analysis thereafter leads to three observations. First, the EU’s presence has contributed to an increased democratic involvement by ASEM’s different stakeholders including parliaments and civil society. Second, purely from an institutional legitimacy perspective ASEM achieves its purpose as a forum to ‘constructively engage’ with Asian countries and address issues relating to global governance. Third, ASEM reveals the EU’s dual identity as an intergovernmental grouping and an organisation with a gradually increasing capacity of collective representation. However, the advancement of the EU’s normative objectives through ASEM has been problematic, leading to a more interest-based and pragmatic policy path. The article concludes that the EU’s legitimacy debate has had a bearing on relations with Asia and, in particular, with ASEM. Importantly, and given the EU’s setbacks, some elements of the ‘EU’s way’ have proven successful in promoting democratic notions of legitimacy beyond the state.
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Weiss makes this claim in the context of the UN system, but it can be expanded in a majority of the global governance institutions reflecting intergovernmental cooperation rather than supranational governance.
Although the concept of legitimacy has a universal character, the normative bases of legitimacy of a state’s political system are diverse (Beetham and Lord 1998, pp. 3–5). Accordingly, a state with an authoritarian regime can be viewed as a legitimate actor within the international organisation view. However, and in the EU context, a political system based on liberal democracy is one of the key requirements for membership. Hence, the EU’s rightful authority as an international organisation is closely connected to the liberal democratic notions of legitimacy.
Significantly, these essentially normative concerns are also reflected in the ‘analytical disputes between political scientists: about what kind of political phenomenon the EU is, or is on the way to becoming; about whether there is a ‘legitimacy deficit’, and, if so, wherein it lies and how far it matters’ (Beetham and Lord 1998, p. 2).
Ten new EU member states joined in 2004, while the Asian group enlarged to include Cambodia, Laos and Burma/Myanmar. India, Pakistan, Mongolia and the ASEAN Secretariat entered the partnership in 2006, after the EU had further come to include Romania and Bulgaria. The total reached 48 after Russia, Australia and New Zealand joined the gathering in 2010. Bangladesh applied for membership in October 2010, followed by applications by Switzerland and Norway in March 2011.
See Lambert (2011, p. 50) for an outline of the practical arrangements to enable the public–private dialogue during the recent summit in Brussels.
ASEP meetings have been held in Strasbourg (1996), Manila (2002), Hue (2004), Helsinki (2006), Beijing (2008) and Brussels (2010). The seventh gathering is scheduled to take place in Vientiane, Laos in October 2012, one month before the actual ASEM summit.
The EP organised the first ASEP gathering in Strasbourg in 1996. It thereafter promoted the idea of reviving the forum (see European Parliament 2000).
See, for example, Commissioner Patten’s remark in the EP (debate of 16 January 2001): ‘Another positive step forward is that our Asian partners seem more inclined to increase the involvement of civil society’.
Most progress in this field has been made in the area of customs cooperation, through the work of the ASEM Working Group on Customs Matters (AWC; European Parliament 2010).
In the form of a proposed technical support unit or ‘ASEM Chairman Support Group’ (ACSG). See ‘Non-paper on ASEM Working Methods’, Annex 2 of the Chairman’s Statement of the 10th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Gödöllö, Hungary, 6–7 June 2011.
The visa ban was lifted in January 2012 in recognition of Myanmar’s progress in political reform.
The seminars have so far taken place 11 times and have been jointly organised by ASEF, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (delegated by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs) as the three main sponsors.
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Jokela, J., Gaens, B. Interregional relations and legitimacy in global governance: the EU in ASEM. Asia Eur J 10, 145–164 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10308-012-0325-3