Referendum challenges to the EU’s policy legitimacy

Richard Rose (University of Strathclyde)

‘Referendum’ is unlikely to be a particularly popular term around the Rue de la Loi in central Brussels. While most observers of EU politics may currently associate talk of referendums with the ‘Brexit’ decision, member state electorates had challenged the trajectory of European integration long before the British vote in June 2016. In his article “Referendum challenges to the EU’s policy legitimacy – and how the EU responds” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Richard Rose documents a paradigm shift in the application of direct democracy since the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty: away from national referendums approving EU membership towards the rejection of EU policies. Still, Richard argues a thumbs-down in a national referendum may not necessarily mean the end of supranational policies. The EU has successfully employed several strategies to respond to these challenges, ranging from legal coercion to differentiated integration. Such strategies, however, do not guarantee effectiveness. Richard warns that where EU policies fail to deliver tangible benefits, attempts to circumvent popular verdicts create “a conflict between democratically expressed demands of national electorates and the absolute value of the EU’s legal legitimacy.”