Environmental Co-governance, Legitimacy, and the Quest for Compliance: When and Why is Stakeholder Participation Desirable?
Deliberative forms of stakeholder participation have been widely embraced as a key measure for addressing legitimacy deficits and non-compliance in environmental governance. However, the great significance of such collaborative structures for state-stakeholder interaction is much too often accepted uncritically as an established truth in the environmental policy discourse. Building on examples from the literature on fisheries co-governance, this article constructs a conceptual and normative framework for interpreting and assessing such views about co-governance, legitimacy and compliance. Analysing central claims in this discourse in relation to different concepts and standards of legitimacy helps us identify and distinguish many powerful reasons to welcome co-governance. However, the article defends the need to do so cautiously and reflectively. It is conceptually misleading to suggest that more intense forms of co-governance will generally improve the overall level of social legitimacy and, thereby, compliance rates among stakeholders. Furthermore, it is argued that the democratic value of co-governance is not fundamental. The democratic desirability of such arrangements should be primarily assessed on instrumental-pragmatic grounds, focusing on their capacity to serve the wider ideals of equal citizenship and public reason.