ABSTRACT

We saw in the introduction that for a long time the academic community has placed a special emphasis on the need to increase the participatory quality of European public debates in order to enhance the democratic legitimacy of the European Union. Years of public debates and complaints about the EU’s perceived ‘democratic deficit(s)’ had depicted the European-level as excessively executive-dominated and deficient in the way the representative and participatory political mechanisms performed relative to their counterparts at the national-level. The idea that a good way for extending public participation was through creating a European Constitution gained widespread academic support from the start of the Convention process (see Chapter 1). Here the guiding thesis was that European citizens would be more likely to shift their attentions, affections, and political trust to the European-level, the more political actors were able to speak to the public gallery over consequential European decisions that executives had previously managed behind closed doors. In theory, the EU’s Constitution-making process could kick-start greater engagement by polities and civil societies, so that European publics would also catch the habit of politically engaging with the European Union. Greater partisanship over Europe would awaken the ‘sleeping giant’ of public opinion (Van der Eijk and Franklin 2004), while increasing mobilization by NGOs and social movements over Europe would enhance the quality of public engagement because, as Habermas pointed out (2004: 29), ‘The generation of a European public opinion depends on the vital inputs of actors within a European civil society.’ At stake in the inclusiveness of public debates over Europe is that a variety of opinions, actors and expressed positions are publicly visible, relative to those of government and executive actors.