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

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PLATO (The Post-crisis Legitimacy of the European UnionEuropean Training Network)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

In the wake of the financial crisis, EU governments have spent taxpayers’ money to rescue European banks, straining public finances and social protections in all EU member states. Core state powers of taxing, borrowing and spending have been transferred to the European Central Bank, the European Banking Authority, and other authorities created through new intergovernmental treaties. The increased powers of non-elected technocratic institutions in financial policy have raised new questions about the EU’s legitimacy.

A legitimate and well-functioning democracy is crucial to the stability and economy of European societies. Legitimacy is at the core of ‘good government’ and means the justified or rightful exercise of political power. If European citizens are to be free and equal as individuals, they must have democratic control of their own laws. Yet, there is no consensus as to how to ensure democratic legitimacy at the EU level. The EU is a multi-state, non-state political system that seeks to solve problems from beyond the state, and in a manner that transforms the very nature of political authority within the state itself. The EU needs to be legitimate with both member states and citizens. Existing theories of legitimacy must be adapted to the case of the EU as a distinct political system.

PLATO (The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the European Union) investigates the legitimacy of the EU’s responses to the financial crisis. It uses the example of the financial crisis to build and test theory of what would amount to a legitimacy crisis in the case of a multi-state, non-state political system such as the EU.

The Innovative Training Network brings together nine university partners from across Europe and eleven training partners from the policy advice, civil society and consulting sector, media and career development. The PhD programme trains 15 PhD researchers to contribute to solving key policy issues for Europe by undertaking a common multidisciplinary investigation into crisis and the EU’s legitimacy. PLATO offers an intensive and demanding programme of academic training as well as training in a range of professional skills, work experience from relevant sectors and individual professional career planning.
PLATO has developed new theory of what it would be for the European Union to experience a legitimacy crisis. In its living review, PLATO has conceptualized legitimacy crisis as a condition where a political order is unable to satisfy all necessary conditions for its legitimacy simultaneously. PLATO has then used that definition to develop three models of what it would be for 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 has worked in the first period on operationalizing two methodological innovations in its original research design. First, the method of investigating legitimacy crisis through 15 connected case studies has required coordination across the projects to ensure that, between them, they investigate a range of questions, actor configurations and standards suggested by our three theoretical models. Second, PLATO has worked to adapt a suitable range of social science methods – process-tracing, focus groups, content analysis, and some quantitative methods to the specific task of investigating of theoretical expectations of legitimacy crisis. Training in those methods has, in turn, formed one part of an innovative training programme which PLATO has worked hard to implement.
Building theory of what it would be for the European Union to experience a legitimacy is an important move beyond the state of the art. Original theories of legitimacy crises concerned problems specific to particular kinds of state. Yet, as seen, 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 even 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.

Moreover, by using its three models to build theory of what it would be for the EU to experience a legitimacy crisis, PLATO makes 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 will yield important new understanding of several of the most 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 15 PLATO ESRs during a training hosted by Sciences Po Paris, 13 November 2018
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