Élite-Mass Linkages in Europe: Legitimacy Crisis or Party Crisis?
RUDY B. ANDEWEG
It is difficult to find a democratic country in the Western world where political pundits and politicians have not commented recently on a widening gap between the citizens and the political system. Declining trust in politics is not only reported from East and Central Europe, where the introduction of parliamentary democracy did not prove to be a quick fix to economic and ethnic problems. A gap between representatives and the represented is also offered as an explanation for the large majorities that voted in favour of electoral reform in such different countries as Italy and New Zealand. In the Netherlands, once a paragon of almost boring political stability, an all-party committee of parliamentary leaders suggested a series of wide-ranging reforms to stop the 'legitimacy crisis'. When 'Maastricht' ran into strong popular opposition in the referendums in Denmark (a small majority voting against in June 1992) and France (the small 'Oui' in September 1992), the President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, was not the only one attributing this adversity to the gap the citizens feel with regard to the government, and especially with regard to the EC.
Such a 'confidence gap' 1 between citizens and politics surfaces as regularly in political commentaries as the Loch Ness monster in other sections of the newspapers. To a certain extent the gap is more real than the monster. It is an inevitable side-effect of any parliamentary, i.e. representative, democracy. Etymologically, Pitkin reminds us, '"representation" means "re-presentation", a making present of something absent--but not making it literally present. It must be made present indirectly, through an intermediary; it must be present in some sense, while nevertheless remaining literally absent. '2 This ambiguity creates a tension between the principal and the agent. As Van Gunsteren put