Democracy is under pressure. In the aftermath of the financial and social crisis, distrust in political institutions and governing elites has paved the way for the rise of ‘anti-establishment’ discourses and populism. Furthermore, the recent flow of migrants into Europe and the heightened security concerns have added complexity to this picture while, at the same time, tackling the effects of climate change, responding to international security threats, and reducing inequalities in an interconnected world and economy require strong and legitimate institutions. Additionally, the wide use of ICT and social media has also altered the way citizens (inter)act with one another and democratic institutions, and participate in a democratic society. Consequently, there is a widespread perception that democracy is in need of reshaping with an emphasis on participation, engagement, transparency, responsiveness, accountability and effectiveness. It is crucial to understand whether or not the facts bear out a structural crisis for democracy. There are, indeed, a number of questions which must be addressed.What is the perception and attachment of citizens towards democratic institutions? And how do they experience democracy and what accounts for their ‘democratic disappointment’?What can be done to fight citizens’ political alienation and distrust? Is deliberative democracy or greater public participation the answer or do we need to think beyond current practices?
Do political leaders and politicians play a role in the erosion of democracy?
How can democratic leaders respond to the re-emergence of phenomena like nationalism, protectionism and xenophobia in an interconnected world? And how can their claims be addressed by democratic institutions while preserving core democratic values, such as equality?
What economic and integration policies are needed to address these challenges? What impact will these phenomena have on communities and citizenry?
What is the role of the EU in supporting democracy in Europe? How can the EU overcome the democratic deficit it is often accused of having and help address these issues? What concrete actions are needed? What is an appropriate degree of action?
With Europe and the EU now at a crossroads, the path to be chosen will determine the future of subsequent generations and is inextricably linked to these questions. Interdisciplinary research and public debate are fundamental in answering these challenges while building more inclusive, open, and democratic societies. The social sciences and humanities have a key role to play in this process, by informing and shaping decisions on democratic pathways and choices.
This conference offers a unique opportunity to bring together academics, representatives of civil society, and policy-makers to address these questions. The conference will bring together perspectives that look at the past, tackle present challenges and look into the future of democracy in Europe and beyond. This encounter of multiple perspectives is of utmost importance for tracing the contours of democratic progress.