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Militant democracy in Europe

April 4, 2022 @ 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

Speaker: Tom Theuns (University of Leiden) and Gizem Kaftan (Boston University)

The relationship between populism and democracy has received substantial scrutiny among populism scholars. While the arguments and evidence usually suggest that populists in government undermine democracy, democratic consolidation has often been named as a core mitigating factor. Despite the EU’s efforts to champion liberal democracy, at least two populist governments have actively confronted these efforts with illiberal policies. Our two speakers for this session seek to understand whether the European Union should react to these challenges and why this is not an easy task.


Tom Theuns (University of Leiden) — Against EU Militant Democracy

There has been much recent debate over whether the EU is or should be or become a ‘militant democratic’ actor in order to respond to democratic backsliding in EU member states (Larsen 2021; Müller 2014, 2015; Olsen 2019; Theuns 2021; Walter 2018; Wagrandl 2018). This article argues that it should not. I first develop a definition of militant democracy that focuses on the militant democratic paradox (Kirshner 2014, 25)—specifically the definitional tension between militant democratic actions and democratic values. Next, I analyze four ways the EU has been said to be empowered to act in a militant democratic fashion to combat democratic backsliding in EU member states—the possibility of ‘systemic’ infringement actions against backsliding member states, the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation allowing the Commission to propose suspensions or reductions in EU funding to a backsliding member state, the procedure for deregistering European political parties and foundations for violating EU fundamental values, and the possibility under Article 7 TEU to disenfranchise a backsliding member state in the Council. I show how some but not all of these warrant the label ‘militant democracy’. Moving from the descriptive to the normative analysis, I then argue that the question of whether the EU as a trans/supra-national institution can act in a militant democratic fashion is a normatively distinct question from whether democratic states can be justified in acting militantly. Arguments in support of national militant democracy do not carry easily to the transnational, EU-level. I argue that most EU institutions are never warranted in acting militantly, largely because of the necessity condition for militant democratic action cannot be met in a supranational context.


Gizem Kaftan (Boston University) — Challenging European Norms from Inside

This paper explains the puzzling behavior of the EU institutions when dealing with challenges to its liberal values by focusing on the rule of law. I use process tracing and content analysis to show how EU institutions created a permissive environment for illiberal governments. I focus on Poland and Hungary, which faced different treatments from the EU institutions even though their offenses were similar. I offer two explanations for the EU’s permissive behavior and differential treatment. Firstly, the fragmentation of EU institutions and available tools for these show significant differences between supranational and intergovernmental organizations. Secondly, Hungarian and Polish officials’ leadership capabilities are different. Hungarian officials are better at gaming the system than Polish officials, which helped Hungary violate the rule of law with impunity longer than Poland.





April 4, 2022
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm
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