The Legitimacy of Public Information Campaigns about EU Referenda

  • Abstract:
    This paper investigates the challenges that national governments face in their public referendum campaigns about European integration. Over the last 50 years, more than 40 referendums have been organized about the EU (or EC), mainly dealing with treaty ratification, accession or specific issues such as the adoption of the Euro. By a first short comparison of these three categories, this paper will show how the relationship between executive and public has been shaped by its executives’ publicity policy in order to explain their impact on democratic legitimacy. It will furthermore question whether this democratic relationship has been eroded and whether the central campaigns are able to change this relationship, either in a positive or negative way for the state of democracy. Main hypothesis is that public information campaigns about EU referenda have a delegitimizing effect on the state of democracy. Questions to be addressed are: can government endorsements in referendum campaigns be separated from the incumbent governing political parties? If not, a neutral, objective government campaign is impossible. Current literature does not say anything about the power of bureaucracies or administrative government itself while shaping these campaigns, which this paper will take into account instead. The paper aims to contribute to the debate about the perceived legitimacy gap between formal legitimacy and ‘social legitimacy’ in contemporary Europe and whether the used instruments of publicity policy make sense for what they are aimed for. The purpose of this is not to continue the discussions about the (non-)existence of a European democratic deficit, demos, public sphere or gap between citizen and politics. Its object is rather to add a more fundamental focus: whether the executive and its public are able to understand each other and thereby contribute to the legitimacy of democracies. The referendum cases form a suitable comparative instrument to measure this.