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Tattered EU Flag: Photo: “Tattered EU flag,” by Derek Bennett licensed under CC BY 2.0 DEED. The hue is modified from the original.

Jan Pieter Beetz. 2023. “Saving Popular Sovereignty from a Slow Death in the European Union.” Journal of Common Market Studies, July.


The European Union (EU) faces a pressing challenge with democratic backsliding potentially resulting in an authoritarian member state. EU institutions have sought to safeguard member state democracy. Most normative studies submit that the EU can legitimately intervene based on either current treaties or the theory of militant democracy, but they leave unanswered the fundamental question of the EU’s normative political authority. I argue that shared popular sovereignty, which entails Europe’s peoples directly authorizing the EU, is the most appropriate principle to theorize the EU’s political authority for the foreseeable future. This principle results in a duty for the EU to protect its democratic peoples from backsliding governments and an account of who can legitimately decide on whether backsliding is taking place. A comprehensive normative assessment follows on the democratic legitimacy of various democracy protection measures. My argument bolsters the normative case for EU democracy protection.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.