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EUROGOV Discussion Paper No. 1
Stefano Bartolini

Taking ‘Constitutionalism’ and ‘Legitimacy’ seriously

Published: October 27, 2008


The recent debate surrounding the ‘Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe’ and the following ‘Lisbon Treaty’ has been framed around the question ‘constitution Yes or No’ and the language of constitutional and legitimacy theory. This paper argues that we should not discuss whether the EU has a ‘formal’ constitution or not, but rather whether the EU treaties embody the principles of ‘constitutionalism’ as developed by the European enlightenment tradition. These principles include ‘limited government’, ‘bill of rights and judicial review’, ‘checks and balances and separation of powers’, and, last but certainly not least, ‘the normative construction of political responsibility’. Judged by these standards, the EU treaties, independently of whether we call them, collectively, a ‘constitution’ or not, are definitely defective on ‘constitutionalist’ grounds because they very poorly substantiate these fundamental principles. This paper does not argue that constitutionalism should be introduced into the EU architecture, although an argument to this effect can be made. It argues that words such as ‘constitution’ and ‘legitimacy’ should not be abused for a context in which ‘constitutionalist’ principles are distinctively weak or absent altogether. Such verbiage is detrimental to the extent that it confuses and bewilders European citizens and it raises expectations or fears that cannot be either fulfilled or dissipated.

Stefano Bartolini – European University Institute

© 2008 Stefano Bartolini

Citing this EUROGOV paper:
Bartolini, Stefano. 2008. Taking ‘Constitutionalism’ and ‘Legitimacy’ seriously.European Governance Papers (EUROGOV), Discussion Paper No. 1,

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