Surface and Depth: The EU's Resilient Sovereignty Question

Research output: Working paper

Abstract / Description of output

The paper asserts the enduring significance of ‘sovereigntist’ thinking not just at the rhetorical surface of EU discourse, but as a deep organizing theme of its constitutional politics. It argues that the ‘sovereignty surplus’ of the EU — referring to the excess and overlapping quality of claims to sovereignty in the EU (i.e. that ultimate authority is claimed both for the supranational centre and for the member states) and to the competition over scarce legal, political and cultural capital that arise from the simultaneous pursuit of these claims — underscores the notorious ‘democratic deficit’ of the EU in three ways. The sovereignty surplus is, first of all, the deep cause of the democratic deficit, in that competition over sovereignty’s scarce symbolic and organizational capital frustrates the development of EU-wide democracy. Secondly, the very gravity and divisiveness of what is at stake for the various parties involved and for the positions implicated in the ‘sovereignty surplus’ renders the question of the proper diagnosis and treatment of the ensuing democratic deficit highly controversial and, indeed, sharply polarised. Thirdly and finally, and bringing us back to the recent controversy over the aborted EU Constitution, the sovereignty surplus also makes the question of praxis — of how to secure the very ground of initiative necessary to develop and act on a more inclusively resolved diagnosis and treatment of the democratic deficit — whatever that may be, difficult if not intractable. The paper concludes by arguing for the importance of keeping that last question on the legal and political agenda, even — indeed especially — in an age of constitutional fatigue.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationSSRN
PublisherUniversity of Edinburgh, School of Law, Working Papers
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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