Where do governors come from, what makes them authoritative, and how do they accomplish their goals? This question is perhaps nowhere more intriguing than in the case of the European Union (EU). Despite its dramas of constitutional disarray and financial discord, the EU stands as possibly the most successful innovation in political authority of the past century. The EU is a powerful governor: its rules and decisions are highly consequential for its twenty-seven member states, and it has an international presence across a variety of policy spheres and in ongoing formal international forums such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the G-8. At the same time, the EU's legitimacy continues to be contested by academics, politicians, and citizens alike, in no small part because of its unique nature – not a nation-state, but not an international organization as generally understood. What are the sources of the EU's authority, and how has it managed to be legitimate despite its novelty and in the face of severe constraints and competition from other political actors? How robust is this authority and its legitimating foundations?
To answer these questions, I focus on the social processes involved in constructing a political entity as legitimate. Legitimate authority, for my purposes, is a descriptive term, not normative. Authority is “the ability to induce deference in others,” as the editors of this volume state, and an actor can be viewed as legitimate if it achieves a significant level of acceptance without coercion.