The E.U.’s Public Reason

The E.U.’s Public Reason: Public reason in circumstances of transition

The idea of public reason is central to mainstream contemporary liberal theory. The idea figures prominently in John Rawls’s political liberalism, for instance, and is also adopted by Jürgen Habermas, who incorporates it in his understanding of deliberative politics. Public reason consists of those reasons which all citizens may reasonably be expected to accept. Rawls and Habermas claim that the content of public reason is given by a family of (welfare) liberalisms. Citizens, including politicians and judges, have the moral duty to use only public reason, since only then are they able to accept the laws that govern them and consequently, remain free from domination.

Thus far, critics of mainstream liberalism have argued that the idea of public reason draws an unnecessarily strict boundary around the collection of political opinions and beliefs considered reasonable. This narrow understanding of the politically reasonable begs the basic question facing citizens in so-called circumstances of politics: “what course of action is this political community to adopt, now that we disagree, even after rational discussion, about the right course of action?” Liberals have replied that citizens can reasonably be expected to accept the essentials of a liberal constitution, since these are already presupposed in the circumstances of politics.

The question that has not received adequate attention in the discussion so far is whether actors have the moral duty to use public reason in what could be called circumstances of transition—transition from one political body to another, transition from one constitution to another. The urgency of this question is most prominently illustrated today by the European Union, a political body continuously in transition, moving from one treaty to the next.

This workshop aims to combine legal/political theory on the topic of public reason/deliberative democracy with E.U. legal and political practice. Among the questions we would like to address are the following:

Is the liberal notion of public reason relevant in circumstances of transition? Can it include the values and principles aimed for in the next constitution? What exactly are the circumstances of transition?

Do E.U. citizens, judges and politicians have the moral duty to use public reason when they vote or take position in the official political/legal sphere? And in the European public sphere?

What is the content of the E.U.’s public reason? Is it restricted to economic freedom? Should it include the established exceptions to the internal market (e.g. public morality, public policy, public security)? Are the E.U.’s general values part of its public reason? And the goals its member states aim for?

Academics interested in participating in the workshop are invited to send an abstract before 1 June 2013 to the convenors. Abstracts selected for the workshop must be converted into working papers (approximately 5000 words) to be circulated before 15 August 2013, in order to ensure optimal workshop participation.

Panel Convenors:

Dr. U. Belavusau (

Dr. L.D.A. Corrias (

Dr. A.J. Wolthuis (

Assistant professors at VU University Amsterdam and members of the research program Boundaries of Law.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: