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European Integration Theory

European Integration Theory (3rd edn)

Antje Wiener, Tanja A. Börzel, and Thomas Risse
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p. 21611. Normative Political Theory and the European Unionlocked

p. 21611. Normative Political Theory and the European Unionlocked

  • Richard Bellamy
  •  and Joseph Lacey


This chapter highlights the three main positions that have come to dominate the normative debate on the European Union: cosmopolitanism (premised on a social contract between individuals globally), statism (premised on a social contract between states), and, more recently, demoicracy (premised on a social contract between states and all their individual citizens). The main body of the chapter attempts to understand each of these normative perspectives, both as freestanding political theories and as they have been applied to the EU. Proponents of each view maintain that the EU embodies some of the principles that comprise their respective theories, but fall short in other regards. Using each of these three theories to evaluate the European response to the refugee crisis, which peaked in 2015, the authors of this chapter attempt to further illustrate the similarities and differences between them. Final reflections concern directions for future research on political theory and the EU.


The ‘normative turn’ in European Union (EU) studies came about in response to a rapidly evolving EU, with the Maastricht Treaty a watershed moment (Bellamy and Castiglione 2003). This treaty shifted competences from the national to the European level, included a plan for monetary union, and established European citizenship as a set of legal rights and duties, prompting scholars to assess the legitimacy of the new and evolving arrangements. Fallout from major events, like the euro and refugee crises, have only served to underscore the significance of European integration for the social, economic, and political fabrics of member states.

p. 217This chapter cannot provide a complete overview of normative theory on the EU. Instead, it highlights the three main positions that have come to dominate the debate: cosmopolitanism (premised on a social contract between individuals globally), statism (premised on a social contract between states), and, more recently, demoicracy (premised on a social contract between states and all their individual citizens). Scholars may not articulate these three political theories in exactly the same way, but for each one it is possible to spell out widely shared concepts and assumptions.

Each of the following three sections presents one of these theories and outlines how they conceive of the EU. If cosmopolitans view the EU as a social contract between individuals and statists think of the EU as a contract between states, demoicrats view it as a social contract among both states and citizens. We argue that underlying these different starting points are competing normative understandings of the purpose and character of political community. A fourth section illustrates some of their commonalties and differences by exploring how each theory evaluates the EU’s handling of the refugee crisis post 2015. The final section sketches some priorities for future research.

Cosmopolitanism: A Social Contract between Individuals Globally

The normative basis of cosmopolitanism rests on three elements: that individual human beings have ultimate value; that each individual human being has equal moral value; and that these two conditions apply to all human beings (Barry 1999: 35–6). Cosmopolitans seek to constrain the ways political institutions, however configured, operate so as to ensure they treat ‘every human being’ as having ‘global stature as an ultimate unit of moral concern’ (Pogge 2008: 175). Personal traits or accidents of birth like ethnicity, gender, and social class are deemed morally irrelevant by all contemporary social contract theorists and therefore precluded from consideration in articulating the principles of fair cooperation across a society. A crucial feature of the cosmopolitan social contract is that it also disqualifies partiality to compatriots or the according of value to collective entities such as states. The argument goes that being born into a given country is a matter of good or bad fortune and as morally arbitrary as birth into a given class, while discriminating on the basis of nationality is as morally repugnant as discriminating on grounds of race or skin colour (e.g. Beitz 1983: 593, 595; Pogge 1994: 196, 198; Caney 2001: 115 n.3).

This move puts the national social contract and the cosmopolitan social contract in tension, with the latter claiming moral superiority over the former. The social contract applied to nation states provides a set of obligations that the state must perform if it is to secure the rights and interests of its inhabitants, suggesting that the regime is morally required to prioritize the welfare of its exclusive political community over and above individuals who are not legally members of this community. Yet, cosmopolitans fear that this may lead to the exploitation of some states by others in the pursuit of national self-interest, as well as indifference to the suffering of individuals p. 218and collectives beyond the national political community. Consequently, they view the nation state and the exclusive national identity it fosters as an obstacle to treating all persons with equal concern and respect.

The cosmopolitan social contract presupposes a civil or instrumental view of political community, which maintains that both the design and competences of democratic institutions, and the size and location of the political communities in which they operate, should be determined by whatever scheme proves most appropriate to deliver effective and equitable policies in the most efficient manner (Van Parijs 2013; Pogge 2008: 174–201; Beitz 1994: 124–6). Though some regard both state and popular sovereignty as undermining impartial principles of justice and favour their radical dispersal across a variety of political units (Pogge 2008), others grant that modern nation states may prove convenient for certain purposes (Goodin 1988; Ypi 2008). In particular, nation states have refined themselves into effective units for the administration of complex social relations within a given territory. So long as the nation state is reconceived as simply an effective administrative unit that operates according to the principles derived from the cosmopolitan social contract, it can still play an important role in the delivery of cosmopolitan ideals. That the nation state may ultimately give way to some other administrative unit is not viewed as necessarily undesirable (Cabrera 2004; Nili 2013). Indeed, the strongest form of cosmopolitanism advocates the gradual move towards a cosmopolitan federal state, or civic political community, capable of sustaining a cosmopolitan democracy at the global level (Koenig-Archibugi 2011).

The cosmopolitan social contract should not be seen as a fanciful normative theory that has lost its grounding in reality. Proponents of this view offer substantial evidence to suggest that global socio-economic trends are making the world much more interconnected, while the need to address problems through forms of international cooperation has already given rise to international institutions and agreements based on roughly cosmopolitan principles. On this account, technological advances have internationalized production, distribution, and exchange and have transformed financial markets. Multinational corporations (MNCs) are said to organize their affairs on an international scale and respond to global market pressures. Meanwhile, the media have altered the situational geography of social and political life by giving people direct access to distant events and creating new experiences, commonalities, and frames of meaning that do not require direct physical contact.

The aforementioned processes, it is claimed, have weakened the capacity of nation states to provide for the security and welfare of their citizens, and have prompted the creation of a number of international power blocks, organizations, regimes, and networks to facilitate their continued ability to do so by managing various areas of transnational activity. All these institutions—from purely technical agencies with limited scope (like the Universal Postal Union or the World Meteorological Association) to other more politically contentious organizations with a potentially profound impact on core domestic policies (such as the IMF, World Bank, and EU)—are thought to modify the freedom of action of states to one degree or another and undercut their capacity to operate as sovereign units. Consequently, their right to act as the agents of the sovereign will of their people has been likewise eroded.

p. 219Finally, this move beyond the sovereign nation state is reflected in the body of international law that has grown up in the wake of these developments. Here individuals are gradually replacing states as the main subjects of the law. On the one hand, it has been recognized that individuals have rights and obligations that are independent of and go beyond those duties and entitlements they have as citizens of particular states—a point made most strikingly in war crime trials. On the other hand, the legitimacy of states has come to rest as much on the justice of their rule as on their de facto hold on power. Post-war international declarations of rights have reinforced this shift from state to individual, creating a body of international law designed to protect individuals from unjust state actions.

A Cosmopolitan European Union?

At least two broad possible views of the EU can follow from the cosmopolitan perspective. One version holds that the forces described here have undermined the nation state, but that a centralized federal Europe, that is itself not unlike a nation state writ large, can fill the gap (Duff 2011; see Chapter 2 of this volume). Another, more truly cosmopolitan, version is not so much supranational as post-national in orientation (Habermas 1999: 105–27; Habermas 2001), viewing moves towards federalism as an alternative to, rather than a new form of, the unitary sovereign state (Beaud 1995). Pogge (2008: 196–7) even advocates the vertical dispersal of sovereignty across a number of governance levels, from the international to the local. On the one hand, inclusiveness favours a centralization of power, so that all significantly affected by decisions may be included. On the other hand, effective and equal participation in decision-making favours the decentralization of power, so that individuals may influence the social and political conditions that most immediately shape their lives (Pogge 2008: 184, 186, and 191–5). Pogge regards the EU’s system of multilevel governance as partly reflecting such a democratic vertical dispersal of sovereign power, with the reconfiguration of its constituent political units a natural cosmopolitan step for the future (Pogge 1997 and 2008: 301, 282n, and 386n).

Cosmopolitans identify the EU as the closest approximation of their global social contract. The EU is thought to be particularly strong on four dimensions: codification of human rights and international citizenship; increasing interdependence; the strengthening of authoritative international institutions; and the rise of post-national identity and discourse. The theory of neofunctionalism and the normative demands of cosmopolitanism make for natural bedfellows, as the former hypothesizes deeper European integration along these dimensions. According to the neofunctionalist thesis (see Chapter 3 of this volume), the acquisition of competences by the EU induces spillover effects linked to functional efficacy, which both leads the EU to move into ever more related policy areas and in time encourages the shift to the European level of political institutions and ultimately people’s allegiances and identities as well (Haas 1958).

On the first point, cosmopolitans have drawn inspiration from the gradual development of a single legal framework by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), noting with approval its increasing tendency to appeal to human rights and to p. 220claim that EU law applies to citizens with direct effect and regardless of any contradictions with national law (Mancini 1989; Bogdandy 2012). Many of the Court’s decisions relate to questions of European citizenship and have established transnational rights for individuals. Cosmopolitans praise the incorporation of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights within the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, which they believe gives it equal legal value with the Treaties in constituting the European legal order (Habermas 2012: 1–70).

The cosmopolitan demand for increasing international interdependence is partly met by the gradual ceding of competences to the European institutions (Hooghe and Marks 2009). Cosmopolitan authors have particularly welcomed the move towards common policies in the spheres of domestic justice and foreign affairs, in addition to economic and social matters (Eriksen 2009; Giddens 2014). Furthermore, as neofunctionalism expects, stronger supranational institutions have proceeded in step with increasing interdependence in the EU, with virtually every treaty in some way further empowering the Commission and the European Parliament (EP). Supranational institution-building is expected to weaken and perhaps even phase out the power of intergovernmental bargaining that makes fair and effective policy-making at the European level difficult, and too often leads to lowest common denominator decisions (Scharpf 1988).

Cosmopolitans are also encouraged by the slow but sure signs of an identity developing beyond the nation state, whether it be conceived of as a supranational or post-national identity. To cite just some indicative evidence, 45 per cent of respondents in one pan-European poll claim to have at least some kind of attachment to the EU (Eurobarometer 2014: 10), whereas 64 per cent in another such survey report feeling like a European citizen (Eurobarometer 2015: 32; see also Chapter 7 of this volume). The development of a European media focus characterized by coverage of transnational events and supranational actors (Statham 2010; Risse 2015; Grande and Kriesi 2015), as well as an increase in forms of transnational mobilization and protest across Europe (Imig and Tarrow 2000; Della Porta 2007; Pianta 2013), are viewed as important for the continued decoupling of citizenship from national identity on a cosmopolitan perspective. Indeed, post-national cosmopolitanism does not eschew the need for identity formation beyond the state, but insists that this should take the form of ‘constitutional patriotism’ or the common attachment to universalizable liberal democratic political principles (Habermas 2001).

By and large, cosmopolitans believe that the main problems with the EU as presently designed lie in its failure to overcome the so-called ‘democratic deficit’ and the related ‘justice deficit’ (Habermas 2012). On the one hand, as the EP is the only institution representing the citizens of Europe taken as a whole, cosmopolitans argue that elections to it should determine the composition of the EU executive and that the EP should become the main legislative body. On the other hand, greater redistributive competences for the EU, such as the introduction of a euro-dividend or basic income for all citizens (Van Parijs 2013), are seen as key cosmopolitan advances, made all the more urgent by the increasing socio-economic disparity between the member states in light of the euro crisis.

Key Points

In sum, cosmopolitans hold that:

The state is a morally arbitrary construct.

A global social contract between individuals is morally superior to national social contracts between citizens.

Political communities should be (re-)designed instrumentally for cosmopolitan ends.

The EU is an advanced example of cosmopolitan ideals, especially as it develops transnational citizenship, authoritative human rights law, and political identity beyond states.

p. 221Statism: A Social Contract between States

Statism is the main alternative to cosmopolitanism in the contemporary debate. Statists modify the national social contract for the international level by replacing individuals with representatives of existing nation states as the relevant contracting parties. In making this move, they nevertheless insist that this international social contract merely complements the domestic social contract between citizens, the latter of which retains its moral primacy. Although statists agree with cosmopolitans that race, gender, and class are morally arbitrary features, they refuse to accept the moral irrelevance of the state. Whereas cosmopolitans adopt a civil or instrumental model of political community by arguing that individual rights and citizenship can be decoupled from a territorial political community, statists adopt a civic or intrinsic model of political community by claiming that citizenship and the ability to secure individual rights is necessarily framed within the context of a territorially limited political community.

Statists contend that coercive institutions must operate on terms that make sense to those subject to them (Walzer 1983: 28–9). If political institutions are to operate in non-arbitrary ways, they must appear acceptable to all reasonable citizens as reflecting the public political culture of the society concerned. Within these accounts, a political society cannot be regarded simply as a voluntary association of convenience among a group of individuals that are sufficiently co-located, numerous, and wealthy to constitute a functional polity. These individuals must relate to each other in ways that make them a ‘people’ or demos (Pettit 2006). This relationship arises in part from having certain shared interests through participating in what Rawls calls ‘a cooperative venture for mutual advantage’ (Rawls 1971: 4), whereby the interactions and dependence of citizens on one another in a polity gains an intensity sufficient to give them a roughly equal stake in the collective good of the political society. Meanwhile, as important as shared interests are shared ideas about the appropriate ways to order the collective organization of their affairs and to resolve conflicts peacefully.

Statists do not deny either the great global injustices that arise from huge disparities in wealth between rich and poor countries or that these ought to be diminished. p. 222However, contrary to cosmopolitans, statists claim that law and democracy cannot bootstrap and provide the source of their own polity conditions. Such institutions imply a people who are entitled to make and enforce decisions within a given domain. As a result, they claim any attempt to right the world’s wrongs ought to be done through the coordination of nation states rather than their replacement by international authorities of a regional or global nature.

Nesting rights and obligations within particular political communities in this way affects their cosmopolitan reach. To the extent that people’s understanding of basic rights is coloured by the culture of a particular political community, conflicts between the priorities and publicly recognized needs of different societies are likely. For example, state support for certain religions or languages may be important in some communities and regarded as illegitimate in others. Even when the same rights are acknowledged, variations in local context may lead them to being interpreted and balanced in contrasting and not always compatible ways. In addition, the common feeling that ‘charity begins at home’ is likely to set limits on how much people will commit to helping outsiders when that clashes with domestic welfare programmes, also motivated by rights’ considerations. Thus, statists regard it as legitimate that a more generous national social security system, say, might be established at the cost of less spending on foreign aid overseas (Miller 1995: chap. 3 and 100–3; Miller 2007).

Support for national sovereignty need not entail a view of international relations as an anarchic and amoral Hobbesian state of nature. Claims to self-determination by one group imply recognition of similar rights for others—including non-aggression and limited aid (Rawls 1999). Globalization can be expected to produce forms of interstate cooperation where the capacity of states to act in autonomous ways has been seriously impaired. To the extent that global interdependence does link states within institutional networks, then they will have at least some of the obligations that cosmopolitans advocate.

Statists question how far globalization is eroding the nation state. For example, they dispute the extent to which MNCs operate transnationally. As Hirst, Thompson, and Bromley (2009) have shown, core capital, basic research and development, and management personnel and structures are mostly located within a main national base. The various political bodies and non-governmental agencies that have developed to cope with global problems of security and welfare tend to be international and intergovernmental rather than supranational. The UN, for example, far from representing a nascent form of cosmopolitan governance, as is sometimes argued (Held 1995), remains very much an instrument of the sovereign states that compose it (Zolo 1995: 27–8). More generally, statists doubt whether economic globalization has undermined the capacity of governments and states to make autonomous decisions that impact on the welfare of their citizens. The share of global GDP consumed by states has never been greater, with state income and expenditure positively correlated with economic openness rather than the other way around (Hay 2007: 123–52).

When it comes to the purported emergence of a global or transnational society, it is argued that more homogeneous consumption patterns and a greater awareness of world affairs has not necessarily produced as much convergence in political identity p. 223among the national populations as cosmopolitans assert. People distinguish a humanitarian concern with famine or other disasters in countries other than their own from the sort of formalized responsibilities they have for co-nationals. They may support initiatives such as Band Aid or give to Oxfam, but that is a long way from condoning increased taxation to expand the development aid budget, for example. Television, social media, faster communication systems, greater job mobility, and the like may have broadened people’s horizons in certain respects and even encouraged them to identify with a wider community. However, statists argue that this identification is not nearly as deep as the kind of solidarities of which nation states are capable, based as they are on continuous, direct contact and personal involvement with co-nationals. Meanwhile, as Will Kymlicka notes in relation to the impact of the EU and NAFTA on the citizens of their respective member states, ‘despite being subject to similar forces, citizens of Western democracies are able to respond to these forces in their own distinctive ways, reflective of their “domestic politics and cultures”’ (Kymlicka 2004: 260).

A Statist European Union?

It is possible that neofunctionalist processes play out as cosmopolitans hope, but that the civil or instrumental understanding of political community that this theory invokes nevertheless proves false. In that case, the national demoi would need to be superseded by the creation of a European demos, much as the gradual centralization of powers in the United States led to the development of a strong federal demos at the expense of the previously dominant state demoi. A European demos that was thick enough to generate a public political culture and corresponding forms of solidarity that allowed for the interests of citizens to be equally represented in supranational institutions, which were in turn connected to a European public sphere, would dilute the force of statist objections to the ceding of national sovereignty in the construction of a post-national cosmopolitan society.

Nevertheless, such a scenario faces numerous obstacles. The sheer scale of a multilingual and culturally diverse international demos could preclude the possibility of fluent and effective political communication between citizens across this polity, while simultaneously reducing the ability of citizens within national demoi to exercise democratic control over their own fate (Lacey 2016). Indeed, though cosmopolitans rightly note that some kind of European identity is emerging, the vast majority of citizens identify more strongly with either their state or local region (or with both) than they do with the EU (Eurobarometer 2014: 5; Bruter 2005; Fligstein 2009; but see Chapter 7 of this volume). To the extent that this remains the case, a supranational EU regime risks not being supported by an adequate European demos.

EP elections would seem to provide support for the statist position. Designed to represent the interests of the citizens of Europe as a whole, rather than any national interest, the EP is the most natural focal point of a European demos. However, not only are these elections run by national parties in national public spheres, rather than supranational parties in a European public sphere, they are typically decided on the basis of national rather than European concerns (Hix and Marsh 2011). To encourage a greater supranational dimension to these contests, the 2014 elections were to be tied for p. 224the first time to the appointment of the Commission president. Despite some transnational campaigning and televised debate with would-be Commission presidents, each standing for one or another of the European political parties, awareness of this electoral competition by European citizens was low. According to one report (AECR 2014), based on survey data covering fifteen EU countries, only 13 per cent of respondents could name a candidate running for Commission president and only 8 per cent a European political party without assistance. Such a state of affairs is a far cry from national elections, where a unified public sphere makes the key personnel, issues, and political parties well known to the citizenry.

The statist EU ideal is of a cooperative bloc that has the goal and effect of preserving state autonomy rather than diminishing it. Alan Milward’s account of the European Community (EC), the forerunner of the EU, as a ‘rescue’ of the nation state is highly pertinent in this respect (Milward 1992). By extension, the EU emerges from this analysis as being, in part at least, a reaction against the negative externalities of globalization that serves to protect states and their citizens from an otherwise unregulated space of market forces and technological developments. Just as cosmopolitanism finds a natural partner in neofunctionalist theory, so statism welcomes a liberal intergovernmental understanding of the EU (see Chapter 4 of this volume). On this view, Europe’s integration trajectory is largely explained by bargaining between national leaders, who are responsive to the demands of their national constituency and aware of the need to secure mutually credible commitments through the establishment of shared institutions.

Statists express concern about the strengthening of supranational institutions and the continued ceding of national sovereignty, insisting that the EU is and should remain primarily an intergovernmental pursuit. Importantly, the member states remain ‘masters of the Treaties’ in that no new competence can be bestowed upon the EU without the unanimous consent of all member state governments. Meanwhile, the European Council, composed of heads of member states and governments, sets the general legislative agenda for the European institutions, while no legislation can be passed without the Council, itself composed of member state government ministers. Each member state also retains the right to restore full sovereignty by withdrawing from the Union, the potential exercise of which is no longer in doubt following the 2016 British referendum result to leave the Union. Statists acknowledge the development of cosmopolitan human rights law at the European level. And, indeed, statists typically think of human rights guarantees as the basic and only cosmopolitan duty between states (Rawls 1999; Valentini 2012: 598–601). They may therefore welcome these developments as better than the alternative of having no international human rights law. At the same time, from the statist perspective, a more ideal arrangement than empowering supranational institutions would be one where states (and their national courts) collectively retain control over the interpretation and application of European human rights law (Bellamy 2014).

Contrary to cosmopolitan-minded federalists, statists deny that the EU suffers significantly from either a ‘democratic’ or a ‘justice’ deficit. They draw attention to the extraordinary array of checks and balances in the EU as a means of ensuring p. 225democratic accountability over decision-making (Moravcsik 2002). Not only do all EU decisions require agreement among member state governments, by unanimity and with the consent of national parliaments or citizens through referendums when it comes to major Treaty revision, but also, depending on the decision, the consent of the EP is often required. Furthermore, all of this is done in the context of conformity to the existing EU legal architecture and case law of the CJEU. One result of this accountability has been to limit the competences of the EU and to keep the member states as the prime venues of welfare and social policy. Considering the nation state as the most suitable site for such competences, not least because it ensures greater efficiency and diversity in the way economies operate, statists have welcomed this state of affairs.

Key Points

In sum, statists hold that:

Political communities have intrinsic value by providing conditions of self-rule.

Only an international social contract between states can preserve the value of self-rule guaranteed by the domestic social contract between citizens of a state.

EU institutions and decision-making procedures testify that this political system is fundamentally an international social contract between states.

The EU has not produced and probably cannot produce a political community capable of supporting a process of collective self-rule comparable to the nation state.

Demoicracy: A Social Contract between States and All their Individual Citizens

A third position in the normative debate is the demoicratic perspective. In its most general terms, this concept describes a democratic system of multiple and diverse democracies that voluntarily come together to govern themselves in common while maintaining their respective identities as distinct political units (Nicolaïdis 2013). This view proclaims itself as a third way between the supranationalist tendencies of cosmopolitans and the intergovernmentalism of statists (Nicolaïdis 2004, 2013). It does this by recognizing states and all their individual citizens as the appropriate normative subjects of any political unit beyond the state that involves a significant transfer of competences from the sovereign states to the supranational level (Nicolaïdis 2004, 2015; Cheneval 2011; Bellamy 2013; Lacey 2016). One version of the demoicratic position, put forward by Francis Cheneval (2011; cf. Lacey 2017) and also referred to as multilateral democracy, explicitly takes up the social contract methodology to derive normative principles of political organization for a supranational political system. For this reason, we primarily focus on this articulation of demoicracy, even though not all demoicrats fully agree with this account.

p. 226Like statism, multilateral democracy adopts a civic understanding of political community and insists that the subjectivity of states or demoi must be part of any social contract beyond the state. However, multilateral democracy also goes beyond statism in including all their individual citizens as distinct parties to the multilateral social contract. Two main justifications motivate this move. First, the interests of citizens as individuals may not be identical with the interests of their states, especially when we consider that citizens in their capacity as migrants to other polities within the international association may require different rights and protections to citizens who continue to reside in the territory of their original state (Cheneval 2011). Second, to the extent that citizens across the association will be bound by common laws and institutions beyond their state, they form a collective subjectivity that is distinct from the subjectivity of states. Therefore, they should be represented in the social contract independently of states as citizens of the association (Lacey 2017, chaps. 3 and 4). Note that unlike cosmopolitanism, individuals only form part of this multilateral contract because they are citizens of a state that has formed an association with other states. They contract as members of both a national and an international demos, with attendant rights and obligations.

The central question of multilateral democracy is what kind of political system would states and citizens agree to in an idealized social contract? As with cosmopolitan and statist social contracts, the subjectivities of the multilateral social contract are not expected to agree on anything that would undermine their individual autonomy or equal standing with regard to one another. Consequently, states cannot be expected to rescind their sovereignty in favour of empowering a supranational citizenry, any more than citizens would fail to ensure that there are mechanisms that protect their interests in the institutional configuration establishing the association. A number of principles follow from this rendering of the multilateral social contract (Cheneval 2011, chap. 7, and Cheneval and Schimmelfennig 2013).

First, a principle of sovereignty insists that the freedom and equality of states can be secured only to the extent that no state is coerced into joining or remaining within the regional association, while each state must retain veto rights over all changes to the primary law of the association. Granting a majority of nation states or regional citizens the right to change the terms of the association or force any given nation state to join or stay within it would be a fundamental breach of the nation’s right to self-determination. Second, this principle also entails that peoples should be free to integrate to different degrees—some more and others less—so that the association must allow for forms of differentiated integration (Cheneval and Schimmelfennig 2013: 342; cf. Bellamy and Kröger 2017). Third, a principle of non-discrimination requires that all laws and institutions at the association level must not discriminate between either nation states or citizens. Fourth, when it comes to the secondary law required to implement primary law, states and regional citizens must share legislative rights equally. Fifth, in order to ensure that non-discrimination is effected throughout the association, mutually agreed associational law must have primacy over state law.

p. 227By insisting that states maintain control of primary law and their own entry and exit decisions, while allowing for forms of differentiated integration, multilateral democracy clearly falls short of grander cosmopolitan goals that would ultimately eliminate the relevance of the state. A more moderate cosmopolitan might accept these principles and the autonomous value of the state implied therein, while seeking to create a global multilateral democracy. This move, however, is resisted by demoicratic scholars on republican grounds. According to republican theory, legitimate political systems must be non-dominating by ensuring that citizens are not interfered with in an arbitrary manner. A crucial ingredient for guaranteeing this value is the creation of meaningful possibilities for citizens to exit their political community (Pettit 2012). Governing social relations at the global level, even in accord with principles of multilateral democracy, would open up individuals to domination by eliminating the possibility of exit from the singular world political community (Cheneval 2011). Individuals who reasonably disagreed with or felt arbitrarily interfered with by global rules would be unable to move to an alternative political community where the laws may be more agreeable to them. For multilateral democracy, a global constellation of separate demoicracies that are regionally limited to prevent global expansion is the closest we should get to a cosmopolitan order (Lacey and Bauböck 2017).

The impact of including citizens in the social contract figures most prominently in the third principle requiring non-discrimination between citizens, the fourth principle of equal legislative rights, and the fifth concerning the primacy of associational law. In these ways, multilateral democracy goes significantly beyond statism. By recognizing that citizens’ interests in a supranational politiy are not reducible to those of their states and thereby require independent representation in secondary law, while simultaneously positing a supranational authority with the ability to trump national law as a means of ensuring equal treatment to citizens across the polity, the multilateral social contract takes on a limited cosmopolitan hue.

Some demoicrats resist the fourth and fifth principles on the very republican grounds that multilateral democracy at least partly claims to base itself. With regard to the fourth principle, critics argue that giving citizens of the association equal legislative rights with states involves positing a supranational demos of citizens and a shared context for political debate and democratic accountability. Yet, they note that in reality the demoi and contexts of debate not only exist already within the member states, but also diverge in many ways. Furthermore, it is argued that the formation of a pan-European demos and public sphere would artificially deny the pluralism and diversity of the European peoples and publics. As a result, critics contend that decision-making at the associational level can be only legitimately pursued via representatives elected at the state level (Bellamy 2013). Rather than attempting to create a supranational parliament for the citizens of the association as a means of counterbalancing the wills of states, it is argued that the focus should be on empowering national parliaments (rather than simply their executives) in forging associational law (Bellamy and Kröger 2016).

They criticize the fifth principle, which insists upon the primacy of associational law, on similar grounds. Because all constitutional orders are necessarily incomplete, open as p. 228they are to continuous interpretation (Hooghe and Marks 2001: 7; Majone 2005: 71), it is possible that supranational institutions propose secondary laws and interpretations of primary laws that unexpectedly conflict with some national laws or constitutional values. To claim that supranational law can override national laws and values in cases of conflict between them ensures that a non-sovereign supranational entity can undermine the collective autonomy of member states. While this proviso may be appropriate in a federal state, many scholars deem it inappropriate for a voluntary international association of states. According to constitutional pluralists, such associations should recognize that there are two levels of government with equally valid claims to final authority (Weiler 2001; Maduro 2012; Walker 2016; Bellamy and Weale 2015). When there is conflict between supranational law and the laws of a given member state, neither has the right to invalidate the other, but compromise must be sought between both parties with the aim of preserving the legal integrity of both levels of government as much as possible.

A Demoicratic European Union?

Although it is possible for demoicratic associations to develop in multiple regions of the world, advocates of the demoicratic perspective claim that the demoicratic ideal is most closely reflected by the EU constitutional order. Certainly, this political system would appear to embody the first three key principles of multilateral democracy, to which demoicratic scholars more generally would subscribe (Nicolaïdis 2013; Bellamy 2013). Not only is the principle of state sovereignty instituted in the EU, to the extent that member states remain ‘Masters of the Treaties’ and in charge of their own entry and exit decisions; examples of differentiated integration abound (with the eurozone and Schengen area being prominent examples); while the principle of non-discrimination for both states and citizens is well-entrenched in the EU legal order.

The fourth, and more contested, principle of equal legislative rights has been satisfied in many areas of secondary law between the Council (representing states) and the EP (representing citizens). However, it is the Council and European Council who largely decide upon policy areas that are especially close to questions of national sovereignty (including foreign policy, justice and home affairs, and the economic and monetary policy of the eurozone). While the minor role played by the EP in these policy areas is a deficit for multilateral democracy, which requires the full legislative equality of citizens and states across all areas of secondary law, it is a saving grace for those demoicrats who believe the EP lacks the legitimacy conditions to constrain the collective wills of member states.

Whether or not the fifth principle of legal primacy adequately describes the EU is a matter of continued debate. On the one hand, the doctrine of primacy is well established in European case law since the early 1960s, with rulings of the ECJ taking precedence over national laws in cases of conflict. On the other hand, even though national courts have worked closely and cooperatively with the ECJ on the implementation of EU law at the national level, a number of supreme courts (notably the German Constitutional Court) have refused to accept that EU law takes primacy in principle over the sovereign law of nation states. This view would appear to be shared p. 229by member state governments themselves as the doctrine of primacy has failed to be codified in the Treaties, despite numerous attempts by advocates of this provision during rounds of Treaty reform.

We saw that a fundamental disagreement between statists and cosmopolitans concerns the extent to which the EU does or should have a demos. Like statists, all demoicrats reject the possibility of a unified European demos that could fully replicate the legitimacy conditions provided by the democratic context of member states (Cheneval 2011; Bellamy and Castiglione 2013; Nicolaïdis 2015). Some demoicrats are keen to emphasize this point, so that sporadic forms of transnational mobilization and more Europeanized media coverage are not mistakenly taken as adequate substitutes for the more robust forms of discourse and mobilization that are possible within demoi (Bellamy 2013).

Meanwhile, a demoicratic argument has been made that insofar as European citizens are in a direct legislative relationship with European institutions, it is desirable that they develop the communicative infrastructure necessary to inform and contest power at the supranational level. However, though the contours of a weak European demos have been constituted and would ideally continue to thicken, demoicrats contend that it will and ought to remain weaker than the national demoi. Indeed, the unique and significant feature of the European demos lies in its being derived from and mediated by the national demoi (Besson 2006; Nicolaïdis 2015; Lacey 2017). European citizens do not typically communicate and mobilize through a unified public sphere, but through transnational networks established by media and civil society groups primarily rooted in national contexts. On this view, the activation of a European demos through its constituent demoi is an important avenue for legitimating European decision-making.

By guaranteeing member state control over the integration process, demoicracy in all its forms comes closest to a liberal intergovernmental understanding of the EU (see Chapter 4 of this volume), even if, from a normative perspective, intergovernmental bargaining does not necessarily lead to states being treated in a non-dominating fashion. Nevertheless, in accord with neofunctionalism, demoicracy recognizes the reality of certain spillovers as a result of integration (see Chapter 3 of this volume). These include but are not limited to the equal recognition of citizens in the EU legal and institutional framework and the development of more Europeanized public spheres.

Demoicrats address the democratic and justice deficits in distinctive ways, reflecting critical agreement and dissent from aspects of both the cosmopolitan and statist views. As such, they worry as much about the ‘democratic disconnect’ and the hollowing out of democracy at the national level as about the ‘democratic deficit’ at the EU level. On the one hand, it has been recognized that national parliaments have been too much sidelined in European decision-making in favour of both national executives and the EP. As such, innovations for empowering national parliaments at the European level have been advocated, including granting them the collective right to initiate legislation (Bellamy and Kröger 2016). On the other hand, multilateral democracy is especially concerned with democratic issues at the supranational level. As we have seen, empowering the EP in accord with the principle of equal legislative rights is p. 230a priority, while the development of a more robust demos of demoi is advocated. Some go further still and argue that the EP should have a more equal role with the European Council in appointing the Commission (Lacey 2017, chap. 7).

When it comes to the justice deficit, demoicrats tend to be supportive of the statist position that welfare competences are best localized at the national level (Bellamy and Lacey 2018). However, matters are complicated by the economic dynamics of a shared currency area and its attendant regulations, including those to ensure fiscal discipline on national budgets and thereby restrict the room for national policy manoeuvre. Where European governance undermines the capacity of some states to deliver satisfactory welfare at the national level, as it did during the euro crisis, some demoicrats have advocated the introduction of ‘minimum centralized financial support mechanisms’ that would be at least capable of supporting small and medium-sized states during difficult times (Nicolaïdis and Watson 2016: 67). Some demoicrats go further still and support the introduction of a minimal basic income that would supplement rather than replace existing national welfare provisions (Bellamy 2019, chap. 5).

Key Points

In sum:

Multilateral democracy (a version of demoicracy) takes states and all their individual citizens as equal normative subjects in the social contract.

This social contract produces principles that give states powers appropriate to their sovereign status, but also empowers individual citizens to protect their interests.

A global order of regionally limited demoicracies is preferable to global demoicracy.

The EU fully embodies some, and partly embodies other, demoicratic principles.

Normative Theory, Free Movement, and the Refugee Crisis

This final section explains how each of the three theories discussed in this chapter could be applied to the European refugee crisis. To do this, it will be helpful to first sketch how each perspective understands the nature of free movement and the moral claims of refugees more generally. We have seen that a core demand of the cosmopolitan position is global open borders. Both statists and demoicrats recognize the value of free movement for individuals: a state cannot fully embody the value of non-domination unless it secures at least some reasonable exit options for its citizens (Cheneval 2011; Pettit 2012). This minimally requires states to establish reciprocal agreements with at least some other states that ensure relatively few hurdles to free movement.

Statists and demoicrats resist a system of global open borders, even if this were achieved through interstate cooperation and without the creation of potentially dominating global institutions. Connected to their civic understanding of political community, they maintain that political stability requires citizens to have a sense p. 231of ‘ontological security’, that is, the feeling that they can maintain and defend their socio-political values and identities. Border control is understood to be a key ingredient in producing this sense of ontological security (Della Salla 2017). While nation states and city states are particularly well-suited containers for authoritative borders, given their relatively thick political identities, statists and demoicrats are open to the possibility that the ontological security of states can be maintained in the context of a shared external border. The fact that there must be a boundary drawn somewhere and controlled by accountable political authorities is considered a psychological precondition for sustainable political community (Bellamy, Lacey, and Nicolaïdis 2017). As Michael Walzer famously puts it, tearing down borders would not produce a world without walls, but rather set in motion local political movements for border control that would ultimately produce ‘a thousand petty fortresses’ (Walzer 1983: 39).

Refugees differ from migrants in being driven to leave by life-threatening persecution or state collapse. Statists, demoicrats, and cosmopolitans all agree unequivocally that refugees have a moral right to be protected, have their asylum applications fairly heard, and to be granted residency in a political community where they can pursue a plan of life. We find disagreement among the views, however, when it comes to two questions: a) the weight of refugee rights when faced with conflicting values and b) who should decide upon this weighting.

Let us consider these questions in the context of the EU’s refugee crisis. This crisis came to a head during 2015, when over a million refugees unexpectedly entered the EU compared to 280,000 the year before. The overwhelming majority were escaping war in Syria, Afghanistan, or Iraq, with most arriving by sea at great personal risk—with almost 4,000 dying in the process (Moravcsik 2017: 21–3). Over 1.2 million individuals applied for asylum—double the number of the preceding year—with Germany receiving almost half a million applications (Eurostat 2016). In line with the Geneva Convention to which the EU and its member states subscribes, the EU’s current refugee policy (the ‘Dublin Regulation’) maintains that the first member state in which an asylum seeker enters has legal responsibility for him or her. In the context of the current crisis, this rule has placed a heavy burden on countries on the EU’s southern border, especially Italy and Greece.

Concerning the first issue on the relative weight of refugees’ moral claims, a conventional position in normative theory is that no right is absolute. There are always conceivable cases where a given right may conflict with other important values or rights and a choice must be made between them. For cosmopolitans, in an ideal situation of global open borders, refugees should have no issue in moving to another state and would be entitled to assistance in securing basic needs where they cannot provide for these themselves. The one limit on this is when the influx of refugees is so great that it becomes a serious threat to public order in a particular political community. In this case, the state in question may be justified in directing refugees elsewhere. However, cosmopolitans insist that states have a moral duty to make extensive sacrifices to accommodate refugees unless their ability to uphold public order is threatened (Carens 2013, chap. 10). While statists and demoicrats recognize the strength of p. 232the moral claim presented by refugees, they tend to be more expansive in what they believe could be justified grounds for closing borders to refugees (Miller 2016). Just because a state’s public order may not be threatened by receiving an unusually large number of refugees, the potential for other pernicious effects—like putting a strain on social welfare and public services or the emboldening of growing xenophobic forces that make the state increasingly unsafe for all non-native denizens—is seen as a valid consideration.

The refugee crisis hardly met the only cosmopolitan condition that would justify member states refusing refugees: so long as the situation was not managed recklessly, it would be far-fetched to suggest that the influx could be seen as posing a fundamental threat to public order in the EU. When it comes to the more expansive statist and demoicratic conditions for refusing entry, it is hard to make the case that there would have been an exorbitant drain on economic resources if all refugees were admitted and resettled. After all, the total number of refugees in 2015 amounted to just 0.25 per cent of the total EU population. The socio-political strain on a number of member states, and the EU itself, is perhaps more concerning. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to accept one million refugees over time, for example, did not come without cost. Not only did it cause significant polarization of the electorate while spreading anti-immigrant sentiment, it ultimately contributed to the rise of far-right xenophobic political parties in Germany. Other states, despite having accepted far fewer refugees, have experienced analogous political reactions, while the EU’s role in resettling refugees has helped make it a major object of contestation in many member states.

Yet these socio-political tensions are unlikely to outstrip the moral claims of refugees on statist or demoicratic views. This is especially true when we consider that there is substantial support at the national level for a fair refugee regime. One indicative poll in this regard—the poll being conducted a year after the height of the refugee crisis—suggests that either a majority or a very large minority of the populations in the European countries surveyed are against closing national borders to refugees entirely (Ipsos MORI 2016). Meanwhile, the gains for xenophobic parties as a result of the increase in refugees have been limited. For example, although Merkel’s Christian Democrats and her coalition partners the Socialist Democrats lost seats in the 2017 general election, in part due to opposition towards their shared refugee policy, they both nevertheless maintained much of their support base and returned to parliament as the two largest parties.

What about the second point relating to who should weigh up the rights of refugees against competing values? While we have seen that statists are willing to open up their borders to produce a limited area of free movement, they nonetheless believe that states are best placed to both secure citizens’ ontological security and to know how far it can be stretched with free movement agreements. As such, it is argued that states should maintain control over their refugee policy (Miller 2007, chap. 8). The cosmopolitan concern with this position is that states will be persistent in their willingness to shirk their moral responsibilities towards refugees by claiming any costs as too great to bear. Therefore, they remain sceptical that refugee crises can be adequately addressed by p. 233states negotiating together, advocating that such matters are at least partly addressed by supranational authorities. Demoicrats have similar concerns about the risk of minimalist outcomes if refugee policy is left solely to member states, with the multilateral democracy perspective particularly open to a greater role for supranational authorities in refugee policy.

Cosmopolitan and demoicratic concerns proved warranted during the refugee crisis. Many member states adopted the narrowest interpretation of their duties when it came to assisting receiving states on the southern border, both financially and by resettling refugees in states where they can live and work. One significant attempt to resettle refugees across the EU was in fact agreed at the European level. The aim was to distribute a modest 98,255 refugees from Greece and Italy across the EU by September 2017. However, as of this date, only 27,695 have been successfully relocated (European Commission 2017). This comes down to an implementation problem, as many states have been slow to honour their commitments—with some flatly refusing to accept their prescribed share of refugees. To the extent that member states are responsible for implementing EU policies, there are very limited enforcement mechanisms available to the EU when a large number of states are wilfully guilty of poor implementation. Yet this is as true of refugee policy as any other policy area, which is why this voluntary Union identifies in the Treaties a principle of ‘sincere cooperation’ as a precondition for the achievement of its goals.

In sum, the EU and its member states have failed to provide what is owed to recent mass waves of refugees, according to each of the theories discussed in this chapter. Statists are likely to defend the prominent role played by states in the decision-making process, even though critical of the outcome. Meanwhile, to the extent that states are required to implement any agreements made at the EU level, there may be limits to the effectiveness of an increased role for supranational institutions as recommended by cosmopolitanism and multilateral democracy. Arguably, it is only by member states themselves internalizing a stronger sense of their moral duties to refugees within their respective political cultures that more just outcomes can be expected (cf. Nicolaïdis and Viehoff 2017), regardless of whether or not these are pursued through intergovernmental agreements or supranational governance.

Key Points

In sum:

Statists and demoicrats are more expansive than cosmopolitans when it comes to the scope of morally defensible justifications for limiting the acceptance of refugees.

Cosmopolitanism and multilateral democracy recommend empowering supranational institutions to better secure refugees’ rights, whereas statists insist on refugee policy remaining national.

EU responses to the refugee crisis fail to provide what is owed to refugees on each normative theory, with both national and supranational channels performing poorly.

p. 234Normative Political Theory and European Integration: Future Research

A central role of normative political theory is to provide standards by which we can judge the legitimacy of a political system in terms of how it responds to the interests of individuals and collectives, the manner in which it is internally organized, and the way in which it deals with the demands and problems of society, including crises. Normative theory operates between ideal and non-ideal theory, developing models of more perfect political arrangements and policy solutions, on the one hand, and articulating more or less substantial improvements to political institutions and policies, on the other. In this chapter we have presented three major normative theories that have been applied to the EU, with each one operating at the more ideal end of the political spectrum. Our focus on the migrant crisis in the final section is an exploratory example of non-ideal normative theory. From the perspective of European integration theory, the main task for the future lies closer to the non-ideal end of the spectrum. That is to say, having gone a long way towards articulating various ideal conceptions, the primary goal of EU normative theory is to explain how this political system can move from its current position to develop as a more democratic and just entity. Many of these recommendations will inevitably involve Treaty change of some degree or another. Yet theorists should also focus in greater detail on how normative principles can be best realized within the existing Treaty framework.

Normative theory does not operate in an empirical vacuum, but rather relies upon insights from political science concerning political behaviour and other evidence that shapes our understanding of the politically possible (Bellamy and Lacey 2017). As we have seen, normative theory is responsive to more empirically minded theories from across the mosaic of European integration theory, including liberal intergovernmentalism, neofunctionalism, and federalism. However, in line with social constructivist theory (see Chapter 7 in this volume), normative theorists emphasize the creative role of ideas and norms in shaping political processes. It is precisely because of these creative possibilities, where agents can impact upon the structures by which they are partly conditioned, that the ‘oughts’ of normative theory can meaningfully address themselves to the EU as a changing and changeable political system.

Study Questions


How does the idea of political legitimacy relate to the idea of social contract?


What are the arguments for and against including collectives, like states or peoples, in a social contract beyond the nation state?


Outline the central normative differences between cosmopolitanism, statism, and demoicracy.


In what sense does each theory believe that the EU is consistent with or an approximation to its normative ideals?


How does each normative theory evaluate the EU’s response to the refugee crisis?

p. 235Discussion Questions


Is the social contract a useful method for constructing normative principles of political organization?


Which normative perspective most closely describes the EU as it is?


Which normative theory outlines the most desirable future development for the EU?


Is a European political community based on cosmopolitan values viable?


Do statist and demoicratic views put too much emphasis on the value of national autonomy, and the prosperity of Europe, over and against the value of international justice and the rights of refugees?

Guide to Further Reading

Bellamy, R. (2019) A Republican Europe of States: Cosmopolitanism, Intergovernmentalism, and Democracy in the EU (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

This book presents a normative account of the EU from a republican perspective, resonating with various elements of both the statist and demoicratic perspectives.

Bellamy, R. and Lacey, J. (eds) (2017) Political Theory and the European Union (London: Routledge).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

This edited volume is a collection of some of the most significant writings on the political theory of the EU since the ‘normative turn’ around the time of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

Cheneval, F. (2011) The Government of the Peoples: On the Idea and Principles of Multilateral Democracy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

This book is the canonical statement on the ideal of multilateral democracy, which is one version of the demoicratic perspective.

Eriksen, E. O. (2009) The Unfinished Democratization of Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

In this book the author provides a normative analysis of existing European institutions and an account of how they might be improved, from the perspective of the theory of deliberative democracy.

Habermas, J. (2001) The Post-national Constellation: Political Essays (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Despite several more recent statements by Habermas focused explicitly on the EU, this more general collection of essays is Habermas’s formative statement on the idea of a post-national cosmopolitan order.

Lacey, J. (2017) Centripetal Democracy: Democratic Legitimacy and Political Identity in Belgium, Switzerland, and the European Union (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

This book explores the nature of democratic legitimacy and political identity in the EU from a demoicratic perspective, drawing lessons from normative theory and diverse societies for the future development of this political system.

p. 236Miller, D. (2007) National Responsibility and Global Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

In this book the author provides one of the key articulations of the statist position when it comes to questions of international justice and democracy.

Neyer, J. and Wiener, A. (eds) (2010) Political Theory of the European Union (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

This edited volume provides a set of original essays on the themes of democracy, justice, and constitutional change in the EU.

Nicolaïdis, K. and Howse, R. (eds) (2001) The Federal Vision: Legitimacy and Levels of Governance in the United States and the European Union (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

This influential edited volume provides a large set of normative and theoretical essays that explore the EU from a federal perspective.

Rawls, J. (1999) The Law of Peoples (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

In this book Rawls provides an important statement on the nature of a just international order that has been highly influential on statists and many demoicrats.

© Oxford University Press 2019