What can we learn from the collapse of the European constitutional project?
The draft European constitution sought to legitimate the EU by inducing more popular deliberation about Europe’s future. This strategy was doomed to failure because it is inconsistent with basic empirical social science about how advanced democracies work. Salient political rhetoric and increased opportunities to participate do not, as a rule, generate more intensive and informed public deliberation or greater public trust, identity and legitimacy — particularly where the issues in question are not highly salient. Two conclusions follow. First, the failure of constitutional reform is, paradoxically, evidence of the success and stability of the existing “European constitutional settlement.” The rhetoric of federalism has not changed to reflect this new reality. Second, prescriptive analysis of real-world constitutional reform requires that normative theorists draw more heavily on empirical social science in order to ascertain to what extent institutions actually have the consequences ideally ascribed to them.
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