, Volume 90, Number 6

Kalypso Nicolaïdis and Richard Youngs

A truly democratic European Union seems to have become the graal of European politics, the project’s redemptive promise and unreachable horizon. Much has been written about the gap between promise and performance and about the obstacles to EU democratization. Here, we suggest that one way to apprehend the ‘democratic deficit’ debate as it has evolved in the wake of the euro crisis is to think of it as a ‘democratic trilemma’. We argue that European legitimacy requires responses in different realms: first, an acknowledgement of Europe’s ‘transnational democratic interdependence’; second, an anchoring of the functionalist European superstructure in ‘national democratic legitimacy’; and third, a grounding of both European and national power in ‘local democratic legitimacy’. While the very notion of trilemma points to the tensions that arise in trying to satisfy these requisites simultaneously, we nevertheless need to look for ways of alleviating the trilemma rather than coming up with democratic magic bullets in a single one of these realms. While our main goal is to reframe and open up the debate around the key concepts of empowerment, mutual recognition and flexibility, we also provide examples of what this may mean.

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