Webcast Recap

In a recent discussion on her new book, Democracy in Europe: The EU and National Polities, Vivien Schmidt, the Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration in the Department of International Relations at Boston University, offered an explanation of the European Union's oft-cited "democratic deficit." In establishing a conceptual framework for her analysis, Schmidt distinguished between two types of governance in European states: simple and compound polities. In simple polities, governing authority is channeled through a single authority while in compound polities it is diffused through multiple authorities. France and the United Kingdom, for example, are simple polities while Germany and Italy are compound. The EU, Schmidt asserted, is a compound polity because it has a composite (national and European) identity and only possesses state-like sovereignty in some policy areas. Trade policy, for example, was cited as an area where shared sovereignty is accepted. When it comes to the Common Foreign and Security Policy, however, this is not the case.

The ultimate impact of a compound EU on national democracies, Schmidt argued, is the creation of a split-level democracy. Under this arrangement, the EU conceives policy and serves as a hub for national and public interests, expressed through the European Council and the European Parliament respectively. National governments, on the other hand, are confined to the arena of politics and public discourse. This makes the EU, in Schmidt's words, "policy without politics." This occurs because both simple and compound polities have lost a significant amount of autonomy within the EU's institutional structure, although simple polities have lost more than compound ones.

As a result of this Europeanization of governance, said Schmidt, national leaders are held accountable for problems that are beyond their reach. Not only does this situation represent the failure of public discourse, but it fuels political extremism. Part of the solution to this disconnect in the democratic process, Schmidt argued, is to bring national politics back into the EU. Each member state, she said, must develop its own public narrative for being in the union. In addition, new institutional avenues for citizens' voices must be established. Schmidt recognized, however, that these solutions to the "democratic deficit" would likely result in less efficient governance by the EU.

Indeed, Desmond Dinan, the Jean Monnet Professor at the George Mason School of Public Policy, suggested in his commentary that exposing the EU to national political forces may endanger existing support for it. He cited the public discourse that preceded Ireland's rejection of the Treaty of Nice as evidence that such exposure is not necessarily conducive to the European project. Furthermore, Dinan expressed doubt about the distinction between simple and compound polities and said it would have been interesting if Schmidt had included Central and Eastern European member states in her analysis. But overall, Dinan praised Schmidt for broadening the discussion surrounding the "democratic deficit" by bringing it to the national level.

Drafted by Mitch Yoshida