PhD course in legitimacy theory

The aim of this course is to help PhD students build a conceptual framework for dissertations which investigate how the legitimacy of the EU may have been affected by recent crises in European integration.

The aim of this course is to help PhD students build a conceptual framework for dissertations which investigate how the legitimacy of the European Union may have been affected by recent crises in European integration. The course will achieve that aim by introducing students to the following: a) debates about the justification of political power; b) the literature on the legitimacy of the EU; and c) the literature on the financial crisis.

By studying a)-c) the course will also introduce students to approaches different disciplines take to the investigation of legitimacy. Preparatory readings will include contributions from political philosophy, political science, political economy, law, public administration and sociology including gender studies. The course will be divided into three parts as follows:

Part 1. The concept of legitimacy

This part of the course will distinguish between the normative and sociological analysis of legitimacy. It will ask whether democracy is the only source of legitimacy in modern societies that conceive individuals as free and equal. It will enquire into the roles of justice and rights in democratic legitimacy. It will examine the view that political systems can only be democratically legitimate where individuals can control the making, administration and amendment of their own laws as equals. It will discuss the proper relationship between law and politics in democratically legitimate political systems. It will discuss how far legality is a necessary or a sufficient condition for the legitimate exercise of political power. It will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of different empirical indicators of the legitimacy of political systems. It will identify different ways in which legitimacy can be investigated in empirical political science (support, trust, absence of protest, etc.). It will introduce a gender dimension by using the example of gender to ask whether legitimacy is the same for all groups in society.

Part 2. Legitimacy and the European Union

This part of the course will ask whether investigations into the European Union raise any special challenges. Should the same or different standards be used when evaluating the legitimacy of the European Union, rather than single state political systems? Is democratic legitimacy the right standard to apply to the European Union; and, even if ‘yes’, should the Union be held to the same standards of democratic legitimacy and should it be expected to meet them in the same ways as single democratic states? Does the study of EU legitimacy require a distinction between ways in which the Union can be directly legitimate with citizens and ways in which it can be indirectly legitimate via the member state democracies of the Union? How useful is it in any study of the legitimacy of the EU to be able to distinguish between input, output and throughput legitimacy? How can different actors contribute to EU legitimacy, including voters, parliaments, courts, and forms of public administration, set up under various forms of delegation from democratic principals? How can we assess the legitimacy of the Union in practice?

Part 3. Political economy and legitimacy: Debates about the impact of the financial crisis on the legitimacy of the European Union

How, if at all, has the financial crisis affected the legitimacy of the European Union. Even accepting that the Union has suffered a crisis – or even a whole plague of them – has it really experienced a legitimation crisis; that is, a crisis which calls into question the very ability of the Union to operate as a justified form of political power? How far has any crisis – including any legitimation crisis – been the exogenous result of failings in the financial system; and how far, in contrast, has it to some degree been endogenous to the Union’s political and legal order themselves?


The course will take the form of an intensive 3-day seminar to discuss the foregoing questions. Some core readings will be recommended to all participants. Participants will then select further specialist readings from the common list set out below. They should select those specialist readings that best fit the conceptual frameworks they will need to build if they are to answer the research questions in their individual PhDs.

Course leaders

  • Markus Jachtenfuchs, Hertie School of Governance/Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies (BTS)
  • Chris Lord, ARENA Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo (PLATO Coordinator)
  • Dirk De Bièvre, Antwerp Centre for Institutions and Multilevel Politics, University of Antwerp

Other contributors

  • Mark Dawson, Hertie School of Governance/BTS
  • Dario Guarascio, National Institute for the Analysis of Public Policies (INAPP), Rome
  • Agustín J. Menéndez, ARENA, University of Oslo/University of León
  • Marta Warat, Centre for European Studies, Jagiellonian University
  • Ramses Wessel, University of Twente


The course is offered as part of the MSCA-ITN PLATO project (The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the European Union). For the 15 PLATO PhD researchers, this PhD course in theory is mandatory.

The course is open to a limited number of other doctoral students in political science or related disciplines upon invitation. These participants can take part in discussions but cannot present their work or have their academic papers assessed. No participation fee; travel and accommodation for external participants at own cost.


Participants are expected to have read the literature in advance in order to become active participants in the discussions (estimated work load: 2 weeks).

All PLATO PhD researchers will present the conceptual framework of their PhD project linked to one of the three parts 1-3, based on work they are doing for their PhD. A key purpose of the course is to provide participants with comments on their ongoing work. The presentations will not be circulated beforehand and will be discussed against the background of the literature.


The PLATO PhD researchers can submit a paper of 6-8,000 words for evaluation and approval after the course. Final deadline for submission: 1 May 2018.

Participants who submit a paper that is graded ‘pass’ by the PLATO Coordinator, will receive a course certificate recommending 10 ECTS credits. The paper will be evaluated within eight weeks after submission.

Participants who do not submit a paper will receive a certificate of attendance recommending 3 ECTS credits based on the preparatory work and presentation.

Note that in order to obtain ECTS credits for this course, prior approval by the PhD coordinator at the home institution of the doctoral student will be required.


Practical information

BTS will arrange for accommodation for PLATO PhD researchers from 14 to 20 January (covered by PLATO's overall network budget).

The Berlin PLATO PhD School will also include a 2-day ‘Effective Researcher’ course provided by Vitae (18-19 January).

Lunches will be provided. Joint dinners will be held Monday 15/1 and Tuesday 16/1.

Travel costs will be covered by the PLATO partners' local budgets.


For practical questions, contact the local organisers at BTS:

For questions related to the course outline and programme, contact PLATO's project manager:

Published Nov. 15, 2017 2:43 PM - Last modified May 25, 2018 11:35 AM