This article discusses what implications the European Union's (EU's) multilevel structure has for its democratic legitimacy. It identifies three channels of democratic input in the EU – the European Parliament, national democratic processes influencing the Council of Ministers, and civil society participation in consultation procedures of the European Commission – and assesses them on the basis of a comprehensive set of criteria. The evaluation shows that the democratization of the EU faces three interlinked dilemmas. Most fundamentally, there is an incongruence in territorial scope between the issues requiring democratic control (increasingly European if not global) and the imagined communities necessary for the functioning of democratic procedures (primarily national). This ‘congruence dilemma’ intensifies contradictions between participation and deliberation, as well as between effectiveness and accountability in EU decision-making. Grand reforms that would solve these dilemmas once and for all are unlikely to be successful, but changes in the interplay of the three democratic channels – such as the disentanglement of political competencies, the formalization of inter-channel conciliation procedures, and the introduction of directly democratic mechanisms – promise to mitigate their negative effects.

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Keywords congruence, democracy, European Union, multilevel governance
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Journal European Political Science Review
Hurrelmann, A, & DeBardeleben, J. (2009). Democratic dilemmas in EU multilevel governance: Untangling the Gordian knot. European Political Science Review, 1(2), 229–247. doi:10.1017/S1755773909000137