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Democracy by Delegation? Who Represents Whom and How in European Governance1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2013


The democratic legitimacy of European governance is often said to rest on its ‘output’. However, such arguments also make the implicit ‘input’ claim that the community method and new modes of governance offer a more participatory and deliberative style of democratic politics to standard democratic processes, which is best suited to represent the European interest. We test such claims by analysing them from three different perspectives: functional, societal and delegatory. We conclude that they are grounded on a substantive conception of representation in which the agents of European governance ‘stand’ or ‘act’ for the European public. However, such claims are empty without formal democratic processes of authorization and accountability that ensure European governance effectively promotes the democratic values of political equality and responsiveness.

Symposium on Democracy and New Modes of Governance
Copyright © The Author(s) 2011.

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A draft of this paper was delivered to a panel on ‘Political Representation in Times of Governance’ at the ECPR Conference in Potsdam in September 2009. We are grateful to the other participants, especially Chris Lord, for their comments on that occasion, to Sandra Kröger, David Coen, Christine Reh, and this journal's referees for helpful written observations, and to Jonas Tallberg, Sofia Näsström and other members of a Department of Politics seminar at the University of Stockholm for their stimulating discussion of a penultimate version. Research for this paper was undertaken as part of the Democracy Taskforce of the EU-funded 6th Framework Integrated Project on New Modes of Governance (Contract no CIT1-CT-2004-506392).


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47 Cf. Dietmar Braun and Bruno Gilardi, ‘Introduction’, in Dietmar Braun and Bruno Gilardi (eds), Delegation in Contemporary Democracies, London, Routledge, 2006, pp. 1–23, at pp. 4–11; and K. Strøm, W. C. Muller and T. Bergman, ‘The (Moral) Hazards of Parliamentary Democracy’, in Braun and Gilardi, Delegation in Contemporary Democracies, pp. 27–51, at pp. 32–3.

48 Majone, Dilemmas, pp. 64–7.

49 Coen and Thatcher, ‘New Governance’, pp. 233 and 236.

50 Ibid.

51 Cf. Adrienne Héritier, ‘Managing Regulatory Developments in Rail’, in D. Coen and A. Héritier (eds), Redefining Regulatory Regimes: Utilities in Europe, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 2005; Thatcher, Mark and Sweet, Alec Stone, ‘Theory and Practice of Delegation to Non-Majoritarian Institutions’, West European Politics, 25: 1 (2002), pp. 122 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at pp. 5–7; and Coen and Thatcher, ‘New Governance’, p. 334.

52 Cf. Majone, Dilemmas.

53 Edmund Burke, ‘Speech to the Electors of Bristol’ (1774), in I. Hampshire-Monk (ed.), The Political Philosophy of Edmund Burke, Harlow, Longman, 1987, pp. 108–10.

54 Cf. Coen and Thatcher, ‘New Governance’.

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59 Kohler-Koch, ‘Civil Society and EU Democracy’.

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61 Citi and Rhodes, ‘New Forms of Governance’ pp. 468–72.

62 Kröger, ‘Nothing but Consultation’, and ‘The End of Democracy as We Know It?’.

63 Pitkin, Concept of Representation.

64 Ibid., p. 114.

65 Weale, A., Democratic Citizenship and the European Union, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2005, pp. 130–5Google Scholar.

66 Pitkin, Concept of Representation, pp. 112–43.

67 Ibid., p. 121.

68 Ibid., p. 126.

69 Ibid., p. 125.

70 For a discussion of the issues of representation and governance in a more national context, see David Judge, Representation: Theory and Practice in Britain, London, Routledge, 1999, ch. 6.

71 For the general issue of the benefits of the democratic process, and the consequences of their absence in those mechanisms that seek to provide democratic ‘output’ without an appropriate democratic ‘input’, see Bellamy, R., ‘Democracy Without Democracy? Can the EU's Democratic “Outputs” be Separated from the Democratic “Inputs” Provided by Competitive Parties and Majority Rule?’, Journal of European Public Policy, 17: 1 (2010), pp. 219 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.