Democratic discourses and the rule of law

Specific Challenge

Discourses on the legitimacy of the EU, and especially its democratic deficit, have been a perennial issue for many years but have become significantly more urgent and pressing in times of crisis and austerity. At both ends of the political spectrum, claims about the illegitimacy of current EU governance and regulation have found broader resonance, expressed both in public manifestations of discontent combined with claims for alternative forms of legitimacy and in electoral successes of radical right and radical left parties across Europe. In this context, questions of justice, fairness and European solidarity have equally been raised. The concept of justice is inherently connected with the rule of law and entails a right to justification. Fundamental rights are also key in this regard. The European Stability Mechanism and the Fiscal Compact have been regarded by some as emblematic challenges not only to the rule of law but also to democratic governance. What is more, especially in the light of some recent election results in EU Member States, it seems as if not only the legitimacy of certain policies and institutions have been questioned, but also fundamental issues concerning the locus and exercise of popular sovereignty have been placed on the agenda. The specific challenge is to take the cues from such developments and ensuing contestations over sovereignty and legitimacy in order to reappraise discourses about democratic legitimacy on the one hand, and the rule of law and justice as increasingly thorny issues for the European public space on the other.


The research to address this challenge should focus on one or two dimensions that have to be comprehensively addressed taking into account the global context. The research may also cover other issues relevant for addressing the specific challenge.

1) Sovereignty and democracy

In light of the increasing number and growing popularity of alternative discourses about EU legitimacy and the locus of sovereignty, research should re-examine what is meant by sovereignty considering its wider context. Common democratic deficit arguments, in particular in relation to a possible decline of democratic control and participation in Europe, should be examined. This requires inter alia a historical comparative investigation of the sovereign and democratic powers of Member State parliaments and governments, not least in the light of a possible de-legalisation of the (Economic and) Monetary Union. It is of specific importance to clarify questions related to sovereignty and the ultimate source of authority in contemporary EU governance: who does, can and should possess this authority and how is it legitimately exercised at EU level. Research will also assess comparatively new patterns concerning the usage, transformations and popular understandings of various arguments about European legitimacy and sovereignty in public political discourse and in civil society and the conditions under which they do or not resonate among European citizens. It should also revisit the inter-institutional relations in the EU with specific attention to the position of the European Parliament through a thorough analysis of its practices in the legislative process and its functioning. In particular research must normatively assess the constitutional implications of the European Stability Mechanism and the Fiscal Compact for Parliament on the one hand, and the assertion of the Parliament to install the winning party's candidate as Commission President after the 2014 European Parliament elections on the other. Contributions from disciplines beyond law and political science are particularly welcome.

2) Legitimacy through the rule of law, delivery of justice and fundamental rights

Research should reappraise the significance of the rule of law and discourses on justice with regard to the legitimacy of the EU in times of crisis. Of particular importance in this regard is the jurisprudence of both the European Court of Justice and Member States' courts in upholding the rule of law. Research should ascertain whether and to what extent calls for simplification and better laws have any impact on the regulatory activities of EU legislators and the European agencies. The increased importance of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the wake of the Lisbon Treaty and the nomination of a First Vice President of the Commission with responsibility for Fundamental Rights ought to be considered. The role of mutual recognition, also in relation to the recognition and judgements of other Member States, needs to be explored in this regard. The evolution as well as the strengths and weaknesses of judicial cooperation among Member States should also be examined, whereby it should be considered whether existing justice and home affaires agencies need to be strengthened, and if so how, and/or whether new tools ought to be instituted. Research should critically assess whether and how there is any risk of undermining the rule of law and/or of justificatory discourses by recent and contemporary fiscal governance.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU in the order of EUR 5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. This does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Expected Impact

Research will inspire and inform future debates on the locus and exercise of sovereignty at EU level and the democratic credentials and deficits of the EU in particular with regard to the new fiscal governance instruments outside the Treaties. Research is also envisaged to feed into future debates on the constitutional arrangements of the EU taking due account electoral developments which appear to pose challenges to those arrangements. Research will deepen the understanding of the significance of the rule of law in general and justification discourses in particular, both at national and supranational level and inform whether and how they can contribute to fostering legitimacy of the EU and to creating a new narrative for Europe.

Application date
Social sciences