Beate Kohler-Koch, Barbara Finke
The Institutional Shaping of EU-Society Relations: A Contribution to Democracy via Participation?

Journal of Civil Society, 2007: 3, issue 3, pp. 205-221

European integration has added an extra dimension to the perceived crisis of contemporary democracy. Many observers argue that the allocation of decision making powers beyond the nation state bears the risk of hollowing out the institutional mechanisms of democratic accountability. In EU governance, the Commission has emerged as a particularly active and imaginative actor promoting EU-society relations and it has done so with the explicit desire to improve the democratic legitimacy of the EU. However, assumptions concerning the societal prerequisites of a working democracy differ with the normative theory of democracy employed. Therefore, expectations concerning the beneficial effect of institutional reforms such as the European Commission’s new governance strategy, which has been launched at the beginning of the century, vary according to normative standards set by different theories of democracy on the one hand and to confidence in the malleability of society on the other. Our contribution wants to pave a way for the systematic assessment of the democratic potential of the European Commission’s consultation regime. To this purpose, two alternative theoretical conceptions which link participation to democracy will be presented. A list of criteria for both conceptions will then be presented which enable us to empirically assess the democratic potential of the EU Commission’s participation strategy.