Governing Europe

By Jack Hayward; Anand Menon | Go to book overview

1 Institutions and the Evolution of European Democracy

Peter A. Hall

Although democracy is often seen as an achievement secured once and for all at one point in time, when the suffrage was extended to the bulk of the population, for instance, in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century in western Europe, in fact, it is the product of an evolving process in which the institutions and ideals of representative government adapt to recurring challenges. 1 Democratic institutions are not static features of the political space but subject to continuous challenge and change.

Institutional flux is as evident today as it was a century ago. In Italy, strenuous efforts were made in the 1990s to cope with the collapse of the political formula established after the Second World War. In nations as diverse as Britain, France, Spain, and Belgium, power has been devolved to regional bodies, some of which have many of the attributes of states. Across much of Europe, authority is being transferred to agencies that are virtually independent of popular control, including central banks, courts, and regulatory commissions. States that once relied on a civil service accountable to the political executive and legislature to ensure that policies are responsive to the populace now make increasing use of market competition and private-sector providers for that purpose. An expanding European Union is conferring substantial power on supranational institutions far-removed from the people, if not fully independent of them. These developments raise questions about the character and future of democracy in Europe that are addressed in many of the essays in this volume.

The purpose of this chapter is to place contemporary debate about European democracy in a wider historical context by considering how analyses of the institutions that underpin democracy in Europe have evolved over time in tandem with political developments. It is said that those who neglect history are doomed to repeat it. 2 That can be also true of social science. We depend on the insights of successive generations of scholars for much of what we know about democracy. By examining how their analyses shifted as European governance itself evolved, we can develop

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