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EUROGOV No. C-05-03
Peter Mair

Popular Democracy and the European Union Polity

Published: May 18, 2005


Although we still celebrate the late twentieth-century ‘victory of democracy’, our understanding of what democracy entails in both theory and practice is increasingly subject to a variety of qualifying definitions, many of which now seem to devalue the role of elections and electoral accountability. This is also obviously seen in the politics of the European Union, where the efforts to displace conflict dimensions into arenas where democratic authority is lacking, as well as the efforts to depoliticize issues that relate to European integration, have led to the development of a distinct political system in which the exercise of popular control and electoral accountability proves very difficult. At the same time, the EU should not be seen as exceptional in this regard, but should instead be seen as symptomatic of a wider process of depoliticization. As the experience of the EU suggests, the combination of popular democracy and legitimacy is proving increasingly problematic – not only in Europe, but also further afield.

Keywords: constitutional change, democracy, Europeanization, governance, legitimacy, non-majoritarian institutions, political parties, political representation, polity building

Peter Mair – Department of Political Science, Leiden University

© 2005 Peter Mair

Citing this EUROGOV paper:
Mair, Peter. 2005. Popular Democracy and the European Union Polity. European Governance Papers (EUROGOV) No. C-05-03,

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