The eu’s Legitimacy in the Eye of the Beholders

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The EU’s Legitimacy in the Eye of the Beholders
An Analysis of the Public Discourse on the Legitimacy of the European Union in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France

Master’s Thesis for International Public Management and Policy

July 2009
Author: Jan Pieter Beetz

Student Number: 272262

Supervisor: Dr. Hans W. Blom

Second Reader: Dr. Markus Haverland

The EU’s Legitimacy in the Eye of the Beholders

An Analysis of the Public Discourse on the Legitimacy of the European Union in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France
Master’s Thesis for International Public Management and Policy

Department of Public Administration

Faculty of Social Science

Erasmus University Rotterdam

© July 2009, Rotterdam

Jan Pieter Beetz, BSc BA

Student number: 272262


Dr. Hans Willem Blom

Second Reader

Dr. Markus Haverland

Word count

32.569 (incl. 36.985)

Many parts of the world struggle with the task of making state and nation congruous. But the even greater challenge is making state and market congruous. In Europe this has been tackled by the remarkable creation of the European Union. The severity of the congruity dilemma, however, is demonstrated by the fierce debate over whether the European common market should develop into a common European state.

Istvan Hont Jealousy of Trade: 155

Although usually couched in terms of sovereignty and national identity, the real question at the heart of the Europe debate has always been one of political economy.

David Clark The Guardian, September 5, 2005

We should see Brussels for what it is: a way of tackling problems in common, settling disputes between traditionally fractious neighbours and applying the rule of law to agreements that have been entered into. It serves British interests, and if we didn't have it, we would have to invent it.

Timothy Garton Ash The Guardian, June 5, 2001


Before you lies the result of several months of ‘hard labour’. Many hours of me alone in a room with my laptop reading, writing and rewriting. This process has at last come to an end, although the next thesis is already waiting. During this time I have written many pages that have not made it into the final product or were reduced to a single paragraph or footnote, but such is the harsh reality of academic research.

A process which at times is like a mental rollercoaster-ride. One cannot complete such a ride in solitude. I would like to thank those people, who have kept me on track and moving forward at all times – even when moving forward paradoxically meant taking a break.
First and foremost I want to thank my supervisor dr. Hans W. Blom. He accepted me as a thesis candidate after a rocky start and even though one and half months later I would leave for six months to the University of Sydney. An invaluable experience indirectly made possible by him as well. From start to finish, his feedback and insights have been many and invaluable. We kept in touch through many e-mails, which ranged from feedback to relevant seminars. Further, we met in person and even ‘Skype-ed’, which just goes to show that physical distance does not have to be an obstacle for mental labour. In my experience, such commitment is rare and therefore it motivated me throughout the entire process.
I also want to thank the second reader of my thesis: dr. Marcus Haverland. His final remarks helped to improve the final version significantly, but also his quick assessment of my draft, only three days, made it possible to avoid the usual last minute rush.
Further, I have to thank two people in particular for their direct contribution. First of all, Pepijn van Houwelingen, because our ‘Skype meetings’ were a source of inspiration, motivation and relaxation. Secondly, Casper Geurtz, for, next to being a good roommate, his insights into the subject matter.
Finally, I want to thank all my family and friends, because they supported me by offering their love, friendship and showing an interest in my progress. I want to thank you all for keeping me on track. There is one last person I have to thank in particular: my mother. For without her unconditional love and support I would never be the person I am today.
Before I forget, despite of this assistance I am off course solely responsible for any omissions or inaccuracies in this thesis. It is a bitter paradox: one is responsible for all the mistakes, but cannot claim all the glory. This, I guess, is just another harsh reality of academia.
Yet, I want to pursue a career in this apparently ‘harsh’ environment and one might wonder why. Well in part for the satisfaction one gets from holding the fruits of one’s labour in one’s hands. Further, the creational process is more fun and exciting than I suggested above. I hope you will find ‘the fruit of my labour’ an insightful, but also an enjoyable read.
Jan Pieter Beetz

Rotterdam, July 2009

Executive Summary

According to many the European Union has a democratic deficit. It manifests itself in a lack of support among the populations of the Member States. In order to overcome this deficit the European political elites decided to democratise the European level of governance. Many academics realise that the problem is more than just democratic. They describe the deficit, more accurately, as a legitimacy deficit. In this research, the reasons for this deficit are investigated using several perspectives on legitimacy.
First, a historical perspective is taken. Central to this is Istvan Hont’s analysis of the legitimacy of the modern democratic nation-state, which leads to a distinction between legitimacy based on nationalist republicanism and universalist republicanism. The former focuses on cultural identities and state-interests, whilst the later focuses on humanist ideals, like democracy and the rule of law.

Secondly, modern democratic theory leads to the distinction between input, throughput and output legitimacy. Input legitimacy focuses on identity and support, throughput on procedures, and finally, output on performance.

Thirdly, the European level of governance is emerging as a political order of multi-level governance. A further distinction is therefore made between legitimacy based on different models of political order. The nation-state requires direct legitimacy, whilst an international regime is legitimised by indirect legitimacy. Unfortunately, neither fully does justice to the reality. This theoretical framework leads to a multi-faceted understanding of how legitimacy can be conceptualised.
The, often implicit, conceptualisation of legitimacy and evaluation of the EU’s legitimacy in people’s perception is investigated in public discourse by analysing newspaper articles from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France. Because of this method, the mass media influence on legitimacy is also discussed. Different conceptualisations translate into different visions of the EU.
The analyses resulted in the following visions: the Dutch discourse is dominated by federalists, who struggle to raise popular support for the EU. The British discourse is a clash between pro-European Gaullists and Europhobes. Neither wants to federalise the EU, but the former wants the EU to further British interests, whilst the latter fears domination by the EU. The French discourse is a battle between Euro-sceptic Gaullists and federalists. The former are turning their back on the EU, because France is losing influence, whilst the latter keep supporting the EU.
The conclusion is that the perception of the legitimacy deficit differs in each country, but they do have reasons in common for the deficit. First, there is the lack of identification of people with the EU, which makes the deficit is nationalist rather than democratic. Secondly, the EU is and in the near future will stay a political order of multi-level governance. The theoretical conceptualisations of legitimacy however do not match this reality. This reality deficit is another reason for the deficit. Finally, the mass media increase the deficit, but they do not create it.
The following recommendations are made to overcome the deficit. First, a more active media policy with recognizable faces and a story adaptable to national circumstances needs to be developed. And secondly, more funding needs to be allocated into research on the question: how to legitimise an emerging political order of multi-level governance, whilst taking into account national loyalties?

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