Populism and Democratic Defence in Europe

  • How can the undemocratic and illiberal actions of populist parties be effectively and legitimately curbed?

Europe’s liberal democracies are currently under pressure from populist parties. These parties are typically not opposed to democracy tout court but to liberal institutions, such as independent courts. Their aim is to obtain, through elections, a democratic mandate to dismantle liberal institutions. The project investigates how liberal democracies can respond to these pressures and contain the perilous aspects of populist parties in a legitimate fashion. The main research questions, which address various challenges for Europe, are:

  • How can the undemocratic and illiberal actions of populist parties be effectively curbed?
  • Can they be curbed without acting in illegitimate ways?

The project will investigate these questions in a uniquely integrated fashion. Firstly, it will study not only legal measures against populism but also political and cultural ones. Secondly, it will analyse not only domestic measures but also measures taken by trans- and supranational actors in Europe. And thirdly, it will throughout combine empirical research with normative democratic theory, systematically linking empirical problems to broader discussions on democratic values and legitimacy. As such, the project will break new ground in the field.

The interdependent levels of government in the EU make populist parties a European challenge. Populist parties and governments exert influence on other European countries through the European institutions and challenge basic European values and agreements. By dismantling liberal institutions domestically, they undermine individual (democratic) rights of citizens, impacting the democratic preconditions of not only domestic but also European politics. The illiberal aspects of populist policies are hence both a domestic and a European concern calling for democratic defence measures at both levels.

The research project has been granted DKK 7.5 million by the Carlsberg Foundation.