Research objectives

WP 3 - Representation and Institutional Make-up

WP 3 assesses the status of democracy in Europe, with emphasis on (a) clarifying the nature of the challenges facing systems of representation at the national and supranational levels in Europe; (b) analyzing interactions between these levels; (c) establishing the direction of change; and (d) evaluating the democratic quality of these arrangements. Such an assessment presupposes proper attention to the broader institutional settings within which patterns of representation are entrenched in the European multilevel setting.

To ascertain the nature of the challenges facing contemporary democracies in Europe, WP 3 seeks to establish which RECON model best captures the present situation and ongoing developments. This is done in close co-operation with WP 1 – Theoretical Framework, WP 2 – Constitutional Politics, WP 4 – Justice, Democracy and Gender, and WP 5 – Civil Society and Public Sphere, in particular. It does so through evaluating the core institutional and procedural arrangements of the EU own institutions, as well as their interactions with representative structures in a range of the old and new member states. Twice during the duration of RECON, WP 3 assesses the status of democracy in Europe through democracy audits of Union institutions and the treatment of Union questions by national institutions. In addition, assessments are undertaken of inter-parliamentary co-operation on Union matters, and of adjustments of representative politics in new member states to Union membership. A post-graduate course on EU democracy assessment will be organised within WP 3.

Together with the investigations under WP 4 and WP 5 which bring in civil society and the public sphere, WP 3 enables RECON to spell out in more detail which factors affect and condition citizens’ trust in, and participation through, the range of available channels at the various levels of governance in Europe. Based on these examinations, the aim is to establish which model provides the most adequate democratic response and on this basis to spell out more specific recommendations for how participation might best be enhanced.

Each RECON model contains a specific and distinct diagnosis of the factors that affect citizens’ engagement with and trust in – or disaffection with – political participation. Each model also has a distinctive view on the nature of the relations among representative institutions, citizens and civil society organisations, as well as a particular constellation of participatory procedures, which includes interest organisations, lobbying, and other mechanisms for the mediation of interests and values.

Model I highlights a functional division of labour between expert-based transnational committee governance at the European level and representative systems at the national level. Will transnationalisation undermine the state-based foundations and move Europe beyond the state system? Can a transnational system persist without undermining national democracy? Can the purported epistemic quality of transnational governance somehow recompense for weakened systems of political representation?

Model II highlights democratic will-formation through the voter-party-legislature interface, which can be entrenched in a parliamentary or in a division-of-powers system, and is stabilised through a common national identity and culture. To what extent can this model be replicated at the European level? Would such efforts strengthen or weaken national and regional systems of representation? Given the problems of scale and scope, can deliberative arrangements that offload/supplement representative systems reflect the wills of citizens?

Model III highlights democratic opinion and will-formation through a regional-European representative system, which operates within a limited remit of government functions. Such a system is based on a mix of aggregative and integrative modes of representation. Its diversity, complex composition, and thinly based allegiance posit public deliberation as playing a greater role than representation. Can such a system ensure authoritative and accountable decision-making? Which institutional safeguards are required for such a system to be made up of self-legislating citizens?

A proper evaluation of the democratic quality of the emerging arrangements in Europe has to recognize the variety of possible modes of representation. Each RECON model provides its own distinctive configuration of forms of representation. Which forms reflect contemporary European reality best and which meet best important democratic standards? Even if representative democracy can take many different forms, the assessment also has to recognize the limitations of the electoral model of democracy: the aggregation of preferences and the principle of majority vote on their own cannot ensure full political equality. Representative democracy, therefore, does not exhaust the concept of democracy; it has to be complemented with a requirement of public justification of decisions to all those who are affected by them. Thus, even if our focus is on representative democracy (as it is in actual European politics), its performance also needs to be assessed in relation to other features of the political process, including democratic mechanisms that allow citizens to intervene directly, practices that infuse public decisions with specific forms of expertise, and means by which decisions are publicly justified on a continuous basis in between the only intermittent election of representatives. WP 3 conceptualizes new kinds of institutional arrangements for establishing alternative models of accountability on the basis of the theory of deliberative democracy.