Do Supranational Organisations Compromise State Legitimacy?

While globalization generally has an impact on the role and nature of the State, there are specific components of globalization – including communications technology and the impact on community, frequency and immediacy of travel and the impact on territorial integrity – that should each be dealt with independently.  One of those is the development of supranational institutions, and the extent to which they may have an impact on state legitimacy, and/or legitimacy.  This can be a very legalistic argument, as it concerns itself with Public International Law, but it is a necessary foundational consideration for this part of the State Legitimacy Economy.

Dr Eric De Brabandere in a recent article considers whether this is the case.  He takes the view, broadly, that rather than ipso facto compromising state sovereignty, that the form of legitimacy of the supranational organisation is the key factor.  Further, he argues, essentially, that most supranational, international or regional organisations are primarily expressions of state sovereignty.  My sense – while he does not specifically go this far in the article – is that sovereignty is actually enhanced, because it can be expressed through these institutions in a way that would be impossible without them.  While sovereignty in the ‘conventional’ maelstrom of international relations could only be expressed in bilateral ways, it is only through the institutionalisation of broad, multilateral international agreements that state sovereignty can find its full expression.

De Brabandere is of course more circumspect.  Indeed he concedes that we are witnessing an evolution of international organisations, and that it is difficult to assess the extent to which such institutions will have an effect on state sovereignty as they mature.  On the one hand I agree, though taken with all of those other aspects of the modern world that are impacting on State Legitimacy (and by extension, perhaps, sovereignty), we can see that the position of the state is being diluted in many different ways.  The conventional role of the state, perhaps – the legal position of the state in International Law – may simply be shifting between bilateral, multilateral and supranational relationships.  But its sovereignty, and its legitimacy, may be more complex.

A further complication that arises is of course the relationship between legitimacy and sovereignty, which I’ll deal with separately.  On the face of it, legitimacy seems to be the extent to which a State has the authority to act in different ways.  De Brabandere in considering the legitimacy of international institutions considers a distinction between legitimacy of origin (the authority to execute an international agreement) and legitimacy of exercise (the adherence to and execution of the rules of the agreement, or the constitution of the agreement).  Transported on to the Nation State structure, one could similarly distinguish between the legitimacy of the Government upon democratic elections, or upon the establishment of institutions such as regulatory regimes and the judiciary, and the legitimacy of the decisions of the government after the election (such as when they are languishing in the polls) or the inappropriateness of judicial structures after the passage of time (such as the Irish Special Criminal Court, established to deal with terrorism, then adapted to deal with organised crime).  As for sovereignty, we’ll look at that in the next entry.  I will need to refer to the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, which I am reliably informed is online at I trust that the good people at the Boole in UCC will have access to it!

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