Democracy, Inequality, and Representation in Europe
By Zoe Lefkofridi, Max Weber Fellow, SPS, 2013-2014
I am interested in democracy and representation in Europe with a special focus on inequality. My work aims to juxtapose normative democratic theory and models of political representation and participation with the empirical reality of the European Union (EU). In particular, my focus is on how European integration challenges democracy and citizens’ representation via political parties. This project stems from my previous work on party behaviour towards the process of European integration and the (de/re) politicization of policy areas in European elections. My latest research is the first to tackle the issue of representation in the European Parliament as a multilevel phenomenon, focusing on its split-level structure and potential gaps across levels of interest aggregation.
My inquiry about representation and policy congruence goes beyond the classic Left-Right dimension and brings issues of European unification and of a socio-cultural nature into the debate. The simultaneous study of the socioeconomic and sociocultural dimensions offers insights into the rise of extremism in Europe on both sides of the political spectrum. Such an approach also helps us to understand the political behaviour of the so-called “left-authoritarians”, namely those citizens who hold leftist views on socioeconomic issues and rightist views on sociocultural issues.
During my stay as a Max Weber Fellow at the EUI, I am expanding my research to non-electoral forms of democracy with a special focus on the European Citizen Initiative/ECI (see official website: http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/initiatives/ongoing). The ECI (Art. 11.4 Treaty on the EU) is an input-oriented democratic tool introduced by the Lisbon Treaty (Trechsel and Hien 2013) that aims to engage citizens with legislative agenda setting. EU citizens can propose legislation to the Commission on a specific topic provided that it concerns the implementation (and not amendment) of the treaties and falls within the framework of the Commission’s powers. ECIs can be launched by committees of individual citizens but not organizations or parties in the European Parliament; however, the latter can help promote the initiative through their networks (Conrad 2013). In essence, the study of such pioneering ECIs will shed light on several issues; first, it exposes the feasibility of trans border organization, mobilization and communication of citizens; second, it examines whether ECIs (re-) produce, exacerbate/alleviate social and political inequalities of citizens’ involvement in agenda setting; and finally it uncovers the participants’ attitudes and beliefs towards democracy and the construction of Europe. My research thus focuses on who gets involved, how and why in such an initiative, which is far from static. Considering its evolving nature, these questions talk directly to social science research for public knowledge, namely research directly responsive to public issues that are already subjects of public debate or policymaking (Calhoun 2008).
Calhoun, Craig (2008) Social Science for Public Knowledge. In Sven Eliaeson and Ragnvald Kalleberg (eds.) Academics as Public Intellectuals London: Palgrave, 299-317.
Conrad, Maximilian (2013). Bridging the Gap? European Citizens’ Initiatives as the Missing Link between “the EU” and its Citizens. Paper presented for the 2013 ECPR General Conference, Panel 324 “The European Citizens’ Initiative: Strengthening European Democracy?”. Bordeaux, Sept. 2013.
Trechsel, A. H. and Hien, J. (2013) Direkte Demokratie: Herausforderungen zwischen Politik & Recht- Festschrift für Andreas Auer. Bern: Stämpfli Verlag.