Europe has been facing a multi-dimensional crisis since 2008 with a strong impact on the quality of democracy in the EU and its member states. The continuous loss of citizens’ support threatens the very existence of the EU more than any other dimension of the crisis. For decades, the legitimacy of European politics was based on a permissive consensus and Pareto-efficient outputs, but since the late 1990s and especially as a direct consequence of economic problems, cuts in social systems and an emerging gap between the rich and the poor, the output-legitimacy is no longer sufficient. Today, the future of decision making and the democratization of the EU have become burning issues for the Union’s stability. In the light of rising scepticism and distrust in political elites all over Europe, further democratization is urgently needed. European policy makers are well aware of this. Since the 1990s, there have been discussions about a democratic deficit. And even since the late 1970s, a trend towards the democratization of the European Communities and the EU has been perceptible with a steady strengthening of the European Parliament. To date, however, all these efforts could neither fully eradicate the democratic shortcomings of EU decision making nor avoid mistrust and disinterest among European citizens. This paper argues that the European Union has developed an elitist or Schumpeterian democracy and that democratization continues to this day, albeit slowly. It is, however, bypassed by the trend towards extending the gap between elites and citizens which foils the democratization process and threatens European integration as a whole.

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