Reading Group Democracy in Europe

A Centre for European Studies research event
Date30 November 2022
Time10:00 to 11:00

In this iteration of the interdisciplinary reading group, we will discuss a text by Lise Herman et al., on: 'A Climate of Optimism? EU Policy-making, Political Science and the Democratisation of Central and Eastern Europe (2000-2015)’.


Democratic erosion in the EU’s Central and Eastern European (CEE) member states has confounded EU policy-makers. In this paper, we investigate the assumptions behind the climate of optimism about CEE democratisation that prevailed in EU decision-making before and after the 5th and 6th enlargements, and the extent to which political science participated in this intellectual climate. Based on a qualitative analysis of EU decision-making in the early 21st Century and a quantitative analysis of 500 randomly-sampled papers published between 2000-2015 we find that both policy makers and the most influential research in political science shared a bias towards optimism structured by common assumptions: a procedural understanding of democracy, a rational institutionalist belief in the EU’s capacity to bring these procedures about with the use of incentives and the related assumption that socio-cultural dimensions of democracy would eventually follow institutions. We argue that these common assumptions help to explain both the EU’s failure to pre-empt and respond proportionately to democratic erosion, and the failure of our discipline to check that optimism.

ProviderCentre for European Studies

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