Avoiding a Legitimacy Crisis Despite the Quarrels: The EU in the Emissions Trading System Negotiations

  • Abstract:

    For a decade, the European Union (EU) has been struggling through different crises: it has difficulty recovering from the financial crisis; it seems unable to deal with the migration waves; and it has now to face Brexit. If it has been shown that the EU thrives in times of crisis, it is also true that the EU has never been faced with so many challenges at once and many scholars have concluded that the EU is currently facing a legitimacy crisis. This paper argues otherwise. Indeed, it shows that legitimacy and legitimacy crisis are distorted concepts that have lost their operational power. Analysing the interviews of eleven stakeholders involved in the Emissions Trading System negotiations (ETS), the paper discusses the link between policy evaluation and legitimacy assessment. While many studies imply that discontent about a policy or an institution leads to legitimacy troubles, it shows that actually constituencies do not use the same norms to evaluate a policy or a polity, making the relationship between policy evaluation and polity’s legitimacy more complex than expected. In a second step, the paper shows that, if stakeholders disagree with some actions or behaviours of the EU, they do not contest the commonality that the EU builds, i.e. a negotiation arena: stakeholders might contest the unfairness or the results of the game but they do not contest the rules of the game. Because stakeholders agree with the organising principles, they do not withdraw their support to the EU even though they might not support its policies or institutional structure. Therefore, the EU is not facing a legitimacy crisis. It is at worse experiencing legitimation troubles.