The Legitimation of authority in the European Union

  • Helen Drake

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The founding Treaties of the European Union (EU) provide the Commission with bureaucratic structures and functions, and the authority to take a political leadership role in the integration process. However, the legitimacy of the Commission's authority to act either as a bureaucracy or as a political institution is periodically contested, as is the authority and leadership of its President. Max Weber's theory of the legitimation of authority suggests itself in this context as a working tool for assessing the nature of institutional and individual authority and leadership in the Commission and the broader EU context. Weber's typology of authority offers both an understanding of the changes in the Commission's fortunes within the 'would-be polity' of the European institutions, and an appraisal of claims to authority at the individual level by the Commission President. When applied to two contrasting moments in the Commission's life during the presidency of Jacques Delors (the generating of the White Papers of 1985 and 1993), Weber's typology provides an explanation for the evolution of the legitimation of these forms of authority in terms of, first, the Union's imperfect provisions for legitimate claims to leadership authority on 'charismatic' grounds and, second, the absence in the Union of resources for leadership legitimacy based on 'traditional'-type authority, such as explicit, popular, or party political European-wide support for the project of European union. These are resources which, if present in the EU, would legitimise calls to reform the EU's institutions in the direction of more integration and a more federal polity. The case studies offer an appraisal of the functioning and malfunctioning of authority within the Union, as well as a critical assessment of the applicability of the Weberian model to the legitimation of authority in the EU.
Date of Award1996
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJohn Gaffney (Supervisor)


  • legitimation of authority
  • European Union

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