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Citizens’ ‘Permissive Consensus’ in European Integration Scholarship: Theoretical Reflections on EU Politicisation and the Democratic Deficit Discourse

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Tracing the Politicisation of the EU

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology ((PSEPS))

Abstract

The ‘permissive consensus’ discourse permeates the scholarly debate about the democratic legitimacy of the EU, the nature of European integration, and specific political decisions, such as treaty reforms and policy-making processes. This chapter argues that the academic literature on European integration has developed a narrative relating to the progressive politicisation of the EU, involving an assessment of the democratic quality derived from assumed public support and citizen involvement. First, it explores the concepts that are used to describe the politicisation/depoliticisation dichotomy and their link to the description of what is meant by the citizens’ ‘permissive consensus’, depicting a European project detached from citizens and manipulated by political elites. Second, it assesses this narrative on the democratic character of the EU, focusing on the use of these concepts in the scholarly literature to portray the origins of the Union, its institutional embodiments and policy-making processes (i.e. normal politics), and the poly-crisis period. The chapter concludes that for a more nuanced assessment of EU politicisation the standard description of the permissive consensus requires a more complex theoretical approach, focusing on the multilevel system of representation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For a similar argument about scholarly positions when theorising about the EU, see Kari Palonen’s chapter in this book.

  2. 2.

    The legitimacy of power (Beetham, 1997) relies on: (a) conformity to moral and political normative principles; (b) legal validity; (c) consent proven by the facts. To assess this legitimacy, however, there is a strong tendency to focus on the third dimension—the perceptions of citizens—and the low support for the EU is taken as proof of its lack of democratic legitimacy, whereas the normative proposals to solve this democratic deficit often run counter to citizen perceptions.

  3. 3.

    For a discussion, see Claudia Wiesner’s chapter in this book.

  4. 4.

    This question has been discussed in the language of systems theory thanks to Scharpf (2009), who differentiated two sources of democratic legitimacy: output (judged by the effectiveness of policies) and input (responsiveness to citizen concerns as the result of participation by the people). Input legitimacy refers to the participatory quality of the process, leading to laws and rules as ensured by the ‘majoritarian’ institutions of electoral representation. Output is concerned with the problem-solving quality of the laws and rules, and has a range of institutional mechanisms to ensure it. More recently, V. Schmidt (2013) added a third normative criterion for the consideration of legitimacy; namely, throughput legitimacy, which is judged in terms of the efficacy, accountability and transparency of the EU’s governance processes, along with their inclusiveness and openness to consultation with the people.

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Correspondence to Elena García-Guitián .

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García-Guitián, E. (2022). Citizens’ ‘Permissive Consensus’ in European Integration Scholarship: Theoretical Reflections on EU Politicisation and the Democratic Deficit Discourse. In: Haapala, T., Oleart, Á. (eds) Tracing the Politicisation of the EU. Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-82700-7_3

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