Citizens and Peoples? Transnational democratisation and the question of the demoi
By Anna Meine (University of Siegen)
In his kick-off contribution, Joachim Blatter proposes transnationalising nation-state constituencies and thereby “bringing international politics back closer to the people and […] helping national parties and parliaments to regain their central place in representative democracies.” He argues that this constitutes a third alternative for reacting to nation-states’ current reliance on bi- and multilateral forms of intergovernmental rule-making that are democratically deficient – an alternative to accepting technocratic forms of intergovernmentalism as well as to supporting populist nationalism. Blatter thereby highlights the value of existing forms of democratic decision-making and, at the same time, aims to strengthen cross-border will-formation and decision-making. He tries to institutionally incorporate external perspectives into national democracies by changing the underlying constituencies themselves. Thus, he proposes an innovative system of horizontally overlapping memberships to counteract one of the weaknesses of transnational public spheres: their incapacity of translating transnational processes of will-formation into institutionalised decision-making (see also Fraser 2008: 96). These are good reasons to seriously engage with his thought-provoking proposals.
However, Blatter’s sketch exhibits crucial flaws when looked at from the perspective of democratic theory and democratic citizenship. Thus, I’d like to follow up on the preceding contributions, especially Ludvig Beckman’s argument, by assessing in more detail the constitution and the boundaries of the demos – or rather demoi – that underlie Blatter’s proposals and the challenges of transnationally institutionalising multiple citizenships and multiple demoi.
Oscillating between States/Nations and Citizens
In his sketch, Blatter combines statist/collectivist and individualist arguments. On the one hand, inter-state agreements constitute the foundation of the transnational schemes Blatter proposes and states are asked to grant each other’s citizens an equal level of political representation. On the other hand, individuals assume the role of consociated citizens because they are individually subjected or affected by another state’s decisions. They individually claim the right to elect representatives or stand for office in a consociated state and should accept the duties to recognise and identify with the transnational system of governance thus created.
Reading through the proposal, however, questions arise as to who constitutes the primary point of reference and which ‘agent(s)’ Blatter is referring to, as he oscillates between statespeoples’ and citizens’ perspectives:
- “Consociated representatives can claim that they have been authorised to represent specific perspectives and interests through a democratic vote.” Or, as Blatter puts it: “[T]he people of the consociated states will benefit in two ways.” But who exactly is represented, who holds representatives accountable, and who benefits? A statespeople in its entirety? Or the individuals who have actively assumed the role of consociated citizens?
- Even the title “Let me vote in your country and I let you vote in mine”, which plays on the motivational force of reciprocity in Blatter’s account (see Eva Erman’s contribution), is open to ambivalence: Who is actually speaking and, thus, entering relations of reciprocal representation? States’ representatives who agree on a joint declaration of interdependence? Statespeoples who open themselves up to each other? Or rather the potential consociated citizens?
To be clear, I don’t think that including states’ or statespeoples’ as well as citizens’ perspectives in one institutional scheme is a bad idea. I’d even argue that it can be a promising way to move forward when we discuss new forms of democratic institution-building which extend beyond nation-states. Recent contributions on nested citizenship or a mixed constituent power in the European Union (see Habermas 2012) try to accomplish just that. However, to develop compelling proposals for democratic decision-making, we need to clearly distinguish between the different logics and define their scope – by highlighting the perspective of citizenship and citizens themselves.
In my reading, Joachim Blatter’s proposal comprises three possible kinds of demoi: (a) the distinct national demoi of national citizens, (b) encompassing demoi that are composed of all members of the interlinked national demoi, (c) transnational demoi composed of national citizens and consociated citizens. For democratic decision-making to work, it should be clear who is part of the relevant collective or citizenry, i.e. the demos, at any given time.
These ambivalences in the proposal are not only a problem in themselves. They are also interlinked with further theoretical problems that concern the composition as well as the constitution of the overlapping demoi, especially in multilateral constellations.
Who are the citizens? Who is the demos?
Beckman forcefully makes the argument that the inclusion of a national proviso that enables the representatives of the national citizens to block requests by representatives of consociated citizens to participate in a formal decision-making procedure in parliament undermines the democratic credence of the institutional proposal because it divests consociated citizens of their control of the agenda. Consociated ‘citizens’ therefore may have some rights associated with citizenship but they do not hold equal power. As Joseph Lacey points out, national self-determination here trumps transnational representation. In the same vein, but reframing the issue, I argue that the question at issue in Blatter’s national proviso is about the boundaries of the demos.
First, it is problematic that the decision on the constitutive question who the relevant citizens are and where the boundaries of the demos should be drawn is taken on a case to case basis and interlinked with the specific issue under consideration. Second, the decision on the boundaries of the demos and thus any attempt to transnationalise the nation-state constituency is unilaterally controlled by the national demos – not just in general, but every time specific decisions and thus interests are at stake. This move does not only undermine the logic of reciprocity Blatter attempts to establish. It also fundamentally devalues the individual consociated citizenships as well as the transnational demos.
The transnational demos is not recognised as a demos in its own right and provided with a secure place within the institutional setting Blatter envisions. Yet, in order for citizens to consider a decision democratic and legitimate, they need to know, at least in principle, with whom they take the decision. In other words, they need to know who the legitimate members of the demos are. This is not so much a question of identity and belonging as of the logic of democratic decision-making itself (see Meine 2017). Linking the constitutive decision on who is a member of a demos to specific issues and, simultaneously, allocating this decision to the national demos does not only put the boundaries of the transnational demos up for debate, but it also undermines, even more fundamentally, its status as a relevant demos, for national and consociated citizens alike. This is the underlying problem causing the “perceived legitimacy deficits” that Lacey fears. It undermines Blatter’s aim of providing a transnational demos and, thus, a constituency of national and consociated citizens with a say in processes of democratic decision-making that affect them all.
To make sense of Blatter’s proposal to transnationalise national constituencies, one could (1) conceive of a set of different, clearly delineated demoi, e.g. the national demos and the transnational demos, and develop an institutional scheme within which the place and the status of the distinct demoi are further specified. This, however, also requires (2) a separate answer to the question of who decides on the boundaries of the demos (see Näsström 2007). Following Blatter, one option would be to go back to the inter-state agreement that underlies the proposal for transnational democratisation and include specific issue areas in which consociated citizens have a right to participate in nation-state decision-making. Another option, which acknowledges that these decisions might need to be made continuously, would be to assign these decisions to a distinct body such as an encompassing, supranational forum that combines states’ and citizens’ perspectives.
Equal members of a demos?
A second and related issue, which I will cover more briefly, concerns the internal constitution of the transnational demos. By limiting the rights and responsibilities of consociated citizens as well as the weight of their votes and voices, Blatter questions the idea of political equality. He proposes to establish different levels of citizenship according to a principle of proportional equality. As Matthias Koenig-Archibugi argues with reference to the European Parliament, the value of this proposal needs to be weighed against the risks it poses to democratic self-determination in general. Declaring citizens and consociated citizens to be part of a single supposed demos while fundamentally undermining the equality of their status troubles me. My point is: If we distinguish between different levels of citizenship, we create internal distinctions within the demos – first-class and second-class citizens if you like. Proportional equality can be of value in some contexts, such as an income tax. But the institutional framework of our democracies is not a context in which I am willing to give up on the principle of numerical equality as an expression of the equal political status of members of a demos. The reason is that, for all its shortcomings, it actually forces us to try to convince a majority of persons (or their representatives) to reach a legitimate decision – without regard to who they are or what they have. While there might be good reasons for individuals to hold a different number of citizenships in distinct demoi, the equality of the members within each demos should not be questioned.
Nested citizenships as alternative?
Protecting the equality of citizens on the one hand and delineating the boundaries and the contexts of distinct, yet overlapping, demoi on the other is possible, as illustrated by the case of dual nationalities. However, keeping track of different demoi within such a network of overlapping citizenships is not a trivial task. The question arises: Is this mode of decision-making really easier for citizens to understand and “closer” to them than a nested system of citizenships and decision-making, e.g. in the European context? Why is a combination of state and supranational decision-making as it is developing within the EU not at least an equally valid option? If we agree that, under post-Westphalian conditions, democratic self-determination might rely on different citizenships as well as different demoi, nested models of decision-making on national and supranational levels might turn out to be not only what the citizens want (see Koenig-Archibugi); they might also bring us closer to large-scale political change (see Näsström) and could even be a more feasible approach (see Erman). They also allow us to explicitly recognise that for some decisions different perspectives – of the members of distinct states-peoples as well as of all (e.g. European) citizens – might be relevant and offer possibilities to institutionally combine these perspectives. As such, they can furthermore form an overarching framework within which it becomes possible to transnationally open national demoi to each other because the decision on who decides can be allocated to a more suitable forum. Without a shared framework that transcends the joint declaration of interdependence by states and declarations of interest and identification by individual citizens, a transnational network of overlapping citizenships that respects each demos’ boundedness and status and protects the fundamental value of political equality of citizens seems hard to defend – to democratic theorists as well as to citizens.
Fraser, N. (2008), Scales of Justice. Reimagining Political Space in a Globalizing World. Cambridge: Polity.
Habermas, J. (2012), The Crisis of the European Union: A Response. Cambridge: Polity.
Meine, A. (2017), Komplementäre Bürgerschaften. Demokratische Selbstbestimmung in transnationalen Ordnungen [Complementary citizenships. Democratic self-determination in transnational orders]. Baden-Baden: Nomos.
Näsström, Sofia (2007), ‘The Legitimacy of the People’, Political Theory 35 (5): 624-658.
 In this sense, Blatter’s proposal is different from the system of horizontally overlapping dual citizenships he takes clues from, because he stops short of creating a structure of clearly defined but overlapping demoi of national and consociated citizens.
 Lacey’s proposals, e.g. citizens’ assemblies, avoid this problem because he abstains from trying to institutionalise political rights to participation in decision-making in the first place.