About the conference

About the conference

Standard accounts of political representation describe and justify democratic political representation in the context of nation-states. Their main, if not exclusive, aim is to perfect its territorially-based electoral forms. Contemporary democracies, however, have evolved in ways that increasingly undermine the adequacy of this standard model. Contemporary politics is increasingly defined by supranational actors such as the EU or the WTO, where new regional, international and global players operate outside of the reach of territorially defined democratic representation. Indeed, in the EU, due to its unfinished and contested nature, the quest for the right balance between a supranational and an intergovernmental political order and the institutional arrangements that go with it is particularly challenging and has provoked fierce debate in the context of its alleged democratic deficit.

The Euro-crisis has once again put in sharp relief the problem of democratic governance in the EU. Much of the debate has been on whether decisions should be made at national or European level, and whether they should be made by democratic representatives or experts. At the time of writing, much suggests that the future of the EU and its member states may look like Italy or Greece – member states governed by technocrats rather than by party government. Governments may no longer be enforcing partisan electoral promises, but implementing budgetary, economic and other policies decided at EU-level, either in the European Council or, worse, in the newly created Euro-Group, rendering national elections almost irrelevant. Whether a member state has a right-wing or a left-wing government does not seem to make much difference for the choice of core policies anymore. What has been said to characterize the EU – policies without politics – may be becoming the dominant governance form in member states, too. The Euro-crisis has certainly increased the opportunity structure for such a development – the further hollowing out of state democracy without establishing democratic government at EU-level.

Now for some, this development does not pose a severe problem. These scholars consider EU technocratic governance as a safeguard against government ineffectiveness, and propose that checks and balances at the EU-level have anyway superseded those at the domestic level. Others, in contrast, argue that there is a mismatch between taking policy decisions increasingly at EU-level while politics still mainly operates – so far as it does – at the national level and based on national elections. For democracy to be saved, they contend democratic government should move more consistently to the EU-level, in particular to the EP , so as to be responsive and accountable at the level where the policy decisions are being taken. Finally, a third group of scholars and practitioners also acknowledge a democratic deficit in the EU, but consider that it should and can only be countered through strengthening domestic representative institutions.
While this conference does not aim at settling this long-standing dispute, it seeks to engage with some of the most pressing questions in regard to democratic governance in the EU such as:

  • What is the most pressing problem in regard to democratic representation in the EU?
  • How does the European integration process contribute to changing the conception and practice of political representation?
  • What should be the normative foundation of political representation in the EU?
  • Which institutional design best captures this foundation?
  • Can democratic government be realized without partisan politics? Related to this, how likely is it that national political parties will finally start to engage with the EU in non-populist ways and that they accept a strengthening of the EP?
  • Can non-electoral forms of representation contribute to democratic representation in the EU, and if so, how?

These and other questions will be discussed at this three-day-conference by both academic scholars and practitioners. One main of the conference is indeed to bring academics and practitioners together and engage them in a dialogue so as to mutually learn from the respective bodies of knowledge. Doing so, the main actors of political representation in the EU will be addressed in both plenary sessions and parallel workshops (see program).