Politics is basically about deciding common action norms. Once we recognise that we are not alone in the world, and that our actions have severe consequences upon others, we realise the existence of what have been called the circumstances of politics. The only way to claim our own autonomy while respecting that of others is by means of agreeing on sets of norms to deal with conflicts, and, hopefully, behaviour that is co-ordinated in ways that improve the lot of every one of us. Democracy is the yardstick that allows us to determine whether political decisions are legitimate and, consequently, to assess whether there is a good case for us complying with them even if we do not agree with their content. This is essential for the regular functioning of political communities. But what does democracy entail? It has become quite intuitive to associate it with majority rule, but if we pause for thought, we would depart from such a conclusion quite quickly. Respect for fundamental rights and a fair application of the law is also clearly associated with our concept of democracy, and this involves an appeal to substantive values (respect for the life of the person, for his or her autonomy and dignity) and criteria governing the actual implementation of the laws, either by courts or by public administration.21 It is in this sense that we can claim that democracy is basically about procedure (about how we decide which laws should govern us), but that it is also about substance and guaranteed implementation.
If this is granted, a democratic polity becomes one in which citizens freely decide about common norms which give institutional expression to a set of democratic values, and which are implemented in ways that ensure their respect. Democratic politics is the epitome of freedom. However, freedom is one thing and unbounded free will is another. We are free to argue and vote for a given set of common norms, but we are not free either to decide whether we have certain issues on the agenda or to decide which individuals will also be part of the community. The circumstances of politics (the commonality of interest in avoiding conflict and defining schemes of co-operation) are the ones that define the constituency. If this is so, this adds a fourth dimension to democracy, namely, scope. The political constituency called to decide a certain matter should be one of those that is affected in a relevant way by the outcome of the decision. This works both ways. In the same way that it would be undemocratic for the national parliament to decide the amount of funds to be devoted to gardening by a given city council, it would be undemocratic for the local city council to set the rates of the income tax at national level.
All this has relevant implications for the European integration process. Different processes have led us to increasingly share interests across European countries. One could argue that the process of market integration ensuing the Rome Treaty of 1956 is itself to be blamed for this, but it is also the case that this was perceived to be the reaction to previous developments which took place much earlier.22 Be this how it may, we have reached a point at which we share many interests, just as we already share a good deal of common action norms, as the thick repertoires of Community law prove. This creates a good prima facie case for arguing that the only way to deal democratically with a good number of issues is at European level (some issues might even require us to move to the global level). Against the arguments of Eurosceptics, it is democracy itself (the dimension of its scope) which calls for supranationalism.
Although it was stated at the beginning, it is probably worth repeating now that this does not mean that the European Union is a perfectly legitimate polity and that we should bow to any argument for deeper integration. European institutions are still inadequate in what concerns the other three dimensions of democracy. Political participation is weak, the acquis communitaire needs to be expanded in order to give a more balanced protection to basic fundamental rights, and access to Courts is imbalanced in favour of certain sectoral interests.23 My reasoning only clarifies that the way out of the democratic deficit is neither deep deregulation nor a return to the `classical' nation-state. In both cases, we will end up with a serious democratic deficit, due to the mismatch between the level at which decisions should be adopted and the one at which they are actually adopted. Consequently, we will probably end up with far from efficient arrangements. The experience with rigid neo-liberal macro-economic policies must have taught us the extent to which the market depends on fundamentals that it cannot provide by itself. A good deal of the pressures to Europeanise certain fields or policies derives from the incapacity of nation-states to deal with global problems unilaterally (although they might try to adapt and do their best, and some do this clearly better than others).24
21 It needs to be said that all this is dealt with in the draft charter of the fundamental rights of the European Union.
22 Alan Milward's, The European Rescue of the Nation State, (Milward 1992), remains the unavoidable reference.
23 Harding (1992).
24 Scharpf (1999).