Legitimacy in a post-national context: Efficiency and democracy in the European Union

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Michael Barkun


European Union, Legitimacy, Efficiency, Inequality, Democracy

Subject Categories

Political Science


Most observers agree that the Maastricht Treaty of 1997 exposed the disconnect between the European Union as an effective and efficient international organization of economic interdependence and an institution standing for the rights and interests of the people it claims to represent. Yet, since 1997 the effectiveness of European economic integration has been called into question by growing socioeconomic inequality in some sectors of society. As a result, the persistent neglect of the European peoples' democratic rights has assumed center stage in the legitimacy debates. In light of this dilemma, this study examines two problems associated with issues of governance at supranational level. First, modern international organizations are premised on a utilitarian model of instrumental rationality which encourages the drive for a maximization of security and/or economic integration. Historically, the utilitarian model has worked against the models of governance based on human rights. Hence, the logic imposes severe limits on successful resolution of the current legitimacy crisis. Second, today's international system is characterized by increased integration along functionally differentiated spheres (economic, legal, social, cultural) and the absence of any effective mediating powers in the political sphere. Conflicts arising within or between functionally differentiated spheres are left to self-policing mechanisms. Recent structural changes in international organization and governance have consequently unraveled both (a) the old and comfortable political contract between the state as protector and guarantor of human rights and its citizens, and (b) the social contract in which the public sphere of the state acts as a neutral arena for mediating the interests of different economic classes. The resolution of the current crisis of global governance requires a new political-social contract between the governors and the governed. In this study I offer a model of legitimacy that joins a commitment to principles of equality, democracy and rights with increased integration and new forms of international organization.


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