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Centre of Migration Research

Russell Foster, Jan Grzymski, Monika Brusenbauch Meislová. 2021.

The Limits of EUropean Legitimacy: On Populism and Technocracy. Introduction to the Special Issue


Journal of Contemporary European Research Volume 17, Issue 2(2021)


This article introduces the special issue on populism and technocracy in the integration and governance of the European Union(EU), framing these opposing approaches in the context of polarised debate on the (il)legitimacy of the EU. The special issue was conceived as an interdisciplinary approach to questions of the EU’s legitimacy in the aftermath of structural crises (the eurozone, sovereign debt and the election and appointment of governing agents) and spontaneous crises (migration, external state and non-state security challenges, Brexit and Euroscepticism). Since the special issue’s conception the unanticipated Covid-19 pandemic, and responses from the EU and its memberstates (current and former) starkly illuminated debates on how the EU should operate, the limits of its power and the limits of its popular legitimacy. The era of passive consensus has been replaced by claims of legitimacy based on active expert-informed intervention, alongside populist claims of the EU’s inherent illegitimacyas an undemocratic technocracy. As such the special issue’s objective is to critically analyse manifold ways in which the populist-technocratic divide is narrated and performed in different regions, disciplines, and social and political systems in an era of growing internal and external challenges to the Union. We observe that the EU’s institutions remain highly adaptable in responding to challenges, but that member-states have continued and accelerated a tendency to nationalise success and Europeanise failure, with the EU acting as a perennial scapegoat largely due to the ease with which it can be narrated as a site of projection for mistrust,resentment, and social grievances. We argue that the relationship between populism and technocracy is rapidly evolving from an imagined binary into a much more fluid, overlapping, and reversible set of political narratives. We conclude that despite the changing nature of populist-technocratic debates and the resilience and adaptability of the EU, it faces accelerating challenges to its legitimacy in the new era of ‘politics of necessity’.


Populism; Technocracy; European Union; EU governance; Crisis