The Missing Link in EU Democracy? Why a Transnational Public Sphere Matters

Maximilian Conrad


The European Union’s perceived democratic deficit has various sources, but it is to a large extent the outcome of unresolved disputes about the locus of democratic rule in EU decision making. As decision making moves to supranational (and transnational) arenas, intergovernmentalists maintain that democratic legitimacy, and therefore also democratic procedures, should remain rooted in the nation state. Without settling normative questions as to whether a reconstitution of democracy beyond the nation state is desirable, answers to questions about the democratic quality of EU decision making will remain conceptually blurry and thus inconclusive. While these issues blur paths to a democratic reform of the EU’s institutional architecture, they also impair the prospect for a fundamental infrastructural requirement for European-level democracy, namely a lively European public sphere that can serve as a counterweight to institutional decision making at the EU level. The literature on the European public sphere suggests that a European public sphere can be conceptualized as a transnational communicative network in the existing national mass media. Drawing on empirical material from debates on EU constitution making in Swedish and German daily newspapers, this article not only shows that newspapers already play an active role in framing EU politics, but furthermore suggests that deliberation on EU politics already follows transnational patterns. While deliberation is seen by some to hinge on the prior existence of normatively integrated communities, our analysis suggests that transnational communities with a preference for intergovernmental and supranational integration, respectively, are already well established.


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