Public Lecture: Rethinking Democracy for an Interconnected World. Democratic Principles for a Multileveled Europe
On 1 February, Simona Piattoni, University Trento and visiting Professor at the IHS, presented her latest book project, in which she analyses fundamental ailings of modern democracy. Her greatest concern is the failure of the understanding of democracy as delegation with accountability. Given that today chains of delegation have greatly multiplied, become blurred, broken and intertwined, disappointments and frustrations on the part of the citizens are inevitable. Representative democracy, so her conclusion, thus needs to be re-theorised for the 21st century - or at the very least complemented by new mechanisms of securing legitimacy. The presentation was followed by an animated discussion of her theses and suggestions.
Abstract: Representative democracy, as we have theorized it – that is, as "delegation with accountability" – is clearly ailing in the new circumstances of political organization. The heightened interconnectedness that characterizes current democratic polities disrupts the chains of delegation and accountability which have secured the democratic legitimacy of our political systems and have given meaning to the democratic ideal of free citizens governing themselves as equals. Democracy can no longer simply be identified with the presence of chains of delegation that run from the sovereign people to its elected representatives and their executive agents and by the matching chains of accountability running in the opposite direction. In the context of the European Union, in particular, the chains of delegation and accountability originating from and returning to each sovereign demos get blurred, broken and intertwined with those of other sovereign demos, thus creating problems of transparency, responsiveness and legitimacy. These problems concern primarily the procedures and decisions emanating from Brussels, but reverberate also domestically on the elected and non-elected national representatives participating in these procedures and making these decisions. The difficulty of understanding precisely how decisions are made and who should be held accountable for those decisions invites accusations of unresponsiveness if not of elitist collusion and technocratic rule. In this presentation, I shall argue that although the manifestation of these failings are multiple and have been addressed already by several distinct literatures, they have a common root: the failure of the principal-agent model upon which democracy as "delegation with accountability" is premised. I will suggest mechanisms that can address some of these failings, even though a full theorization of democracy for the twenty-first century is still missing.