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Constituent power, citizenship, and the European Union

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posted on 2021-11-15, 08:32 authored by Gallagher, James

The European Union (EU) has undergone constant political and economic integration since its inception in 1952. It has developed from a community in the aftermath of World War Two, into a Union of diverse states with its own political and legal system. It is the best example of international integration and co-operation in the world.  A number of treaties represent the primary law of the EU. The treaties represent the EU’s commitment to promote human rights, freedom, democracy, equality, and the rule of law. The Treaty of Lisbon¹ was introduced and adopted by the Member States to increase participatory democracy within the EU. Originally called the Reform Treaty, it amended the existing EU and EC treaties, providing the EU with the legal framework to meet the future challenges and to respond to the increasing demands of the citizens’ for a more transparent and open institution.  The European Parliament is the only directly elected institution of the EU, and traditionally had the least amount of power of the EU institutions. The Lisbon Treaty attempted to address the so-called democratic deficit through a range of institutional reforms that recognised the importance of European citizen involvement in the EU. Citizen involvement in the EU has also been increased through the implementation of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). The ECI represents a further step towards the EU becoming a true participatory democracy.  This purpose of this paper is to critically assess the democratic involvement of European citizens in the operation of the EU, and how the constitutional foundation of the EU provides for this involvement. The paper will seek to answer to what extent European Citizens’ have the ability to affect real and meaningful change upon the EU, a power that currently sits with the governments of Member States.  Democracy is often associated with the power of the citizens to affect change in the institutions that govern them. The theory of constituent power goes one step further and argues that it gives citizens the ability to alter not only the governing institutions, but the also the power that those institutions exercise. This begins with an introduction of the main institutions of the EU, before moving to discuss the theory of constituent power, before assessing what factors would be necessary for constitutent power to be successful in the EU.  ¹ Official Journal of the European Union 2007 No C 306/1 (herein after referred to as the Treaty of Lisbon). Adopted 2008, entered into force 1 December 2009.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Name

Master of Laws

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970118 Expanding Knowledge in Law and Legal Studies

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Masters Research Paper or Project



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Law