G. Bistagnino, ABSTRACT -
In the past years, the idea of a democratic deficit within the European Union has gained more and more relevance, not only at the academic level, but also at the political one. Indeed, scholars have debated such issue for at least twenty year, and recently it managed to become a prominent topic also outside academic circles. This increasing interest is due by, on one hand, the economic
challenges raised by the crisis and its management and, on the other, by the possibility of exiting the EU membership considered by many member states. As it is well-known, the global financial crises has had a tremendous impact in Europe by showing the vulnerability of existing institutions of the European Union in dealing with economic traumas and economic disparities between member states. Moreover, the perceived technocratic and experts’ handling of the crisis, with new measures drastically reducing member states’ scope for independent fiscal policies (Lord 2012), has worsen the problem. For this reason, “since the banking and sovereign debt crisis, the question of further integration has acquired renewed urgency” (Habermas 2015) and new conceptual tools to address the issue of the EU democratic deficit are needed. This paper aims at contributing to this by addressing the questions surrounding EU’s legitimacy. Indeed, the underlying assumption of this work is that what the European Union needs to secure its political future and overcome the democratic deficit are institutions and procedures apt to claim legitimacy. In particular, the main focus of this paper is the so-called throughput dimension of EU legitimacy (Schmidt 2013). Until recently, the debate about the legitimacy of the EU revolved around the notions of input and output legitimacy (Easton 1965; Scharpf 1999), referring, on one hand, to the responsiveness to citizens’ preferences and demands and, on the other, to 2 successfully solving societal problems. Nowadays, the dimension of throughput has gained a key position and prominent importance. Despite being employed and highly discussed, the idea of throughput has been underdeveloped from a conceptual point of view. There has not been a particularly rich discussion about the conceptual framework of this notion and its relation with the other dimensions of legitimacy. Indeed, it is not easy to understand what throughput is really about because scholars disagree about which processes and procedures fall under this tag and what criteria should govern its evaluation. Moreover, it is also not clear whether the dimension of throughput can be considered genuinely independent, or simply a part of either input or output. The goal of this paper is exactly to fill this gap and provide a conceptual analysis of throughput apt to better understand EU’s legitimacy. The paper is divided as follows: in section 2, I introduce the problem of political legitimacy as a virtue of political institutions and decisions – about laws, policies, norms – made within them. I distinguish between a normative and descriptive approach to legitimacy, making particular reference to the work of Max Weber. Section 3 is devoted to the reconstruction of the debate about EU’s legitimacy. I first attempt to distinguish between input, output, and throughput and, second, to illustrate the different understanding of the dimension of throughput present in the literature. In section 4, I evaluate the idea of throughput and argue that it is a problematic concept because it needs to rely on either the dimension of input, or that of output. I then proceed by questioning whether throughput can be considered a genuine source of legitimacy and argue that it retains a specific and fundamental role in fostering citizens’ beliefs in the legitimacy of institutions. Finally, in the last section, I propose some criteria to understand when the political processes can be considered appropriate from the point of view of throughput, with particular reference to the European Union and its multilevel governance.