The Difficult Relationship between European Sovereignty and European Democracy in Franco-German Discourse

IED Strategic Research Paper by Ulrike Guérot



Europe will only be able to solve its sovereignty problem, if it addresses the questions of internal legitimacy and strategic autonomy together. They are two sides of the same medal. It is necessary to give the same answers to both questions: Who decides within the EU?

#EuropeanSovereignty #France #Germany #FrancoGermanTandem #EU-Governance #EuropeanSecurityPolicy #CoFoE #EuropeanCitizens #EuropeanRepublic


This paper assesses the notion of European sovereignty in the European discourse. The paper looks especially at French and German positions with respect to European sovereignty. It details how the question or the search for European sovereignty, in recent month, overlapped or intermingled with the question of European strategic autonomy, when the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the strategic vacuum of the EU. European sovereignty, in this context, became an empty signifier for the lack of European power.

In order to detail a semantic turn when using the term of European sovereignty, this paper firstly, retraces the European speeches of Emmanuel Macron and their reception in Germany. It shows how Macron intended to link the term sovereignty to the EU's democracy deficit, its lacking input-legitimacy and the lack of citizens participation. Secondly, the paper analyses the ambitions of both countries formerly known as the Franco-German "couple", "motor", or "tandem" of European integration, to develop an independent capacity to act for the EU, securing its strategic autonomy on the global stage, in policy areas such as foreign, security, digital, or energy policy. It argues that the strategic fallouts and the powerlessness of the EU in nearly all policy areas relates to the EU's internal and democratic flaws. The key finding is that there cannot be a "sovereign" external policy of the EU without legitimised institutions and a full-fletched democratic polity, linking sovereignty back to the representation of European citizens. In other words, clarifying the question of legitimacy is the very condition for strategic autonomy or even sovereignty of Europe in all relevant policy areas, especially in so called core state competences. The EU's current tendencies of institutional dismantling, if not unravelling have come to a point where the question of power – thus the question of the EU's capacity to act coherently – internally and externally – depends on the answer to the question "who decides in Europe".

About the author

Ulrike Guérot is Professor for Political Science at Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, where she co-directs the Centre Ernst Robert Curtius (CERC). She is also the Founder of the European Democracy Lab, a "Think-and-Do-Tank" based in Berlin and dedicated to rethinking the EU's institutional set-up through research, activism, and the arts. Ulrike Guérot is author of numerous books and research papers on the structural incompatibility between the nation state and the EU in terms of managing citizens' sovereignty and has sketched out the idea of a European Republic, based on a European Citizenship guaranteeing the principle of political equality for all European Citizens. This paper has been written with substantial help of Julian Plottka.