Defending Democracy Within the EU

Issue Date April 2013
Volume 24
Issue 2
Page Numbers 138-149
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Recent illiberal turns in Hungary and Romania have prompted the question what, if anything, the EU could and should do to protect liberal democracy within Member States. The article discusses four principled concerns about democracy-saving EU interventions in Member States: that an institution which is itself largely undemocratic cannot credibly protect democracy; that there are in fact no common European standards which could be used to determine whether a Member State is departing from a shared European understanding of democracy; that interventions are per se illiberal; and, finally, that only small States will be subject to intervention, a form of EU hypocrisy which delegitimizes Brussels both in the States concerned and possibly across the EU as a whole. The article counters all these concerns and argues that the problem with intervention is not to be found at a theoretical level, but on a practical plane: as of now, the EU lacks a tool kit to intervene effectively in Member States; whatever it has recently used by way of sticks and carrots seems arbitrary or opportunistic. The article concludes by proposing a number of remedies for this situation.

About the Author

Jan-Werner Müller is professor of politics at Princeton University, where he also directs the History of Political Thought Project. Research for this essay was mostly conducted while he was a nonresident fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington, D.C. His latest book is Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth-Century Europe (2011).

View all work by Jan-Werner Müller