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The Post-crisis Legitimacy of the European Union European Training Network

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PLATO (The Post-crisis Legitimacy of the European UnionEuropean Training Network)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-12-31

The European Union has suffered multiple crises since 2008. But has it experienced a legitimacy crisis, defined as a crisis that calls into question its very justification as a form of political power? Addressing that problem is of foremost societal importance. Without solving collective action problems and managing externalities between themselves, European democracies may find it hard to meet their core obligations to their own publics to secure rights, justice, welfare, freedom from domination and democracy itself. They may struggle to provide their own publics with rights against polluters, monopolists, tax-evaders, terrorists, traffickers or discriminators if the sources of those ills are located in other states. They will also need to manage inter-state externalities if they are to control pandemics, provide collective security, avoid systemic risk in financial systems or fight climate change. Yet, it is precisely the role of political systems in making public policy and law aimed at managing externalities between other systems that expose them to risks of legitimation crisis. Problems can be displaced from financial, demographic or ecological systems in ways that overwhelm the ability of political systems to satisfy all conditions needed for their legitimacy simultaneously. Problems can also be displaced in a similar way between political systems. All of that, arguably, happened with the financial crisis after 2008 and, again, with the migration crisis of 2015.
To investigate whether the EU has experienced a legitimacy crisis as a result of multiple other crises in European integration, PLATO (The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the European Union) had the following objectives:
1. To build theory of what would count as a legitimacy crisis in the case of the EU
2. To design methods of evaluating whether the EU has experienced a legitimacy crisis
3. To use cases to generate new empirical understanding of whether the has experienced a legitimacy crisis
4. To combine the foregoing research with a training programme aimed to train future research leaders across sectors
5. To embed PLATO’s research findings in a new, improved state-of-the-art
PLATO has achieved those objectives through an Innovative Training Network of nine university partners from across Europe and eleven training partners from the policy advice, consulting, media, and career development sectors, as well as from civil society. The academic programme has trained 15 PhD researchers through a common multidisciplinary investigation into the EU’s legitimacy. The professional training has included professional skills, individual professional career planning and work experience from relevant sectors that provide the main users of research into the EU.
PLATO developed new theory of what it would be for the European Union to experience. As set out in its living review, PLATO conceptualised legitimacy crisis as a condition where a political order is unable to satisfy all necessary conditions for its legitimacy simultaneously. PLATO then used that definition to develop three models of what it would be for the EU to experience a legitimacy crisis: where the EU cannot simultaneously satisfy all necessary conditions to be directly and democratically legitimate with citizens (model 1); where it cannot simultaneously satisfy all conditions necessary for it to be indirectly legitimated by its member state democracies (model 2); and where it cannot simultaneously satisfy all conditions necessary for input, throughput and output legitimacy (model 3).

To use those three models to build new theory of what it would be for the EU to experience a legitimacy crisis, PLATO made two methodological innovations. First, it developed methods of investigating legitimacy crisis through case studies structured along three dimensions: the one corresponding to core standards and conditions needed for democratic legitimacy, namely public control with political equality, participation, representation, accountability, a public sphere, civil society relations, and a defined democratic political community; another dimension consisting of behaviours and attitudes that can be used to investigate the legitimacy of any political system: support, trust, awareness of the political system, compliance, complaint, protest; a final dimension consisting of actors with whom the EU needs to be legitimate: member governments, parliaments, citizens, officials, courts and civil society actors. Each of the 15 PhDs investigated a different combination of standards, behaviours and actors along those dimensions. Second, PLATO adapted a range of social science methods – process-tracing, focus groups, content analysis, and some quantitative methods - to the investigation of theoretical expectations of legitimacy crisis.

Using that research design and those research methods, the 15 cases find little support for the idea that the Union has experienced a legitimacy crisis. In contrast there is some evidence of adaptation to changing conditions of legitimation or of relegitimation.
By building theory of what it would be for the European Union to experience a legitimacy crisis, PLATO has made an important move beyond the state of the art. Original theories of legitimacy crises concerned problems specific to particular kinds of state. Yet, the EU is a multi-state, multi-national, multi-demos political order which exercises power beyond the state without itself being a state. Indeed, the EU changes the very stateness of its own member states in ways that call into question whether the Union can simply borrow the legitimacy of its component democracies. So, whatever we know about the causes, character and consequences of legitimacy crises within states might not tell us so much about legitimacy crises within the EU.

By using three models to build theory of what it would be for the EU to experience a legitimacy crisis, PLATO then made three further moves beyond the state of the art. First, the three models allow new theory to be built from a plurality of conceptions of what is needed for the EU to be legitimate in the first place. Second, distinctions within the models and combinations between them allow for clearer understanding of exogenous and endogenous causes of legitimacy crises; or, in other words, the difference between legitimacy crises caused by factors external to the EU and those caused by the failure of the EU itself to adapt and repair its legitimacy problems. Third, applying the three PLATO models to the 15 PhD case studies has yielded important new understanding of several important questions in the study of politics and society: questions about power and legitimacy; about things that happen within states and beyond them; about social constructions of identities, meaning, politics and politicisation; about trust, accountability, public spheres, parliaments, civil society, stakeholders, democratic principals, democratic agents, norm diffusion; or, in short, many of the most basic building blocks of democratic politics within and beyond the democratic state.
04 Team-building activity at the ESRs’ first meeting, 14 October 2017
06 ESRs and supervisors drafting PLATO’s Supervision Charter, 17 October 2017
09 The PLATO team at the last PhD School hosted by University of Twente, 16 October 2019
08 Team-building activity during PLATO PhD School 3 hosted by POLIS Cambridge, 13 September 2018
10 The PLATO team at the midterm review meeting hosted by Bruegel, Brussels, 10 December 2018
07 PLATO PhD school hosted by BTS Berlin, 16 January 2018
05 Training session on professional development planning in Oslo, 17 October 2017
03 Speed-dating at the kick-off conference in Oslo, 18 October 2017
01 The PLATO team at the kick-off conference in Oslo, 18 October 2017
02 PLATO coordinator Chris Lord and the 15 ESRs at the kick-off conference in Oslo, 18 October 2017