open access

Abstract

In the present article I take a critical view of the well-known discursive dilemma which captures the difference between governance by collective reasoning and governance responsive to majoritarian will. I identify a problem with the solution preferred by the republican theory which I call the rationality gap  and suggest that in principle deliberation in the public sphere may bring the two ends together, thus avoiding the gap. Then I look at the European Union (EU) through the prism of civic republicanism and analyse it as an example of a system which collectivises reason. From such a perspective, the notorious democratic deficit is explainable as a contradiction between collective reason and popular will. In principle, pan-European deliberation could close the gap there, too. However, it is obstructed by competition from spontaneous deliberation in the existing national public spheres. The latter are more robust and for that reason the rationality gaps arising there are closed faster so that national public opinions polarise  and  defend ‘national’ interest  against  further  deliberative challenges at the upper level. I argue that the notion of competition is useful to explain why, despite the development of common democratic institutions at the EU level and despite the emergence of a weak pan-European public, the deficit is bound to persist.