The Quality of Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe

Contribution to “Democracy under Stress“, ed. by. P. Guasti and Z. Mansfeldová, Institute of Sociology, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague 2018, 31-53.


The young democracies in East-Central and Southeast Europe have been particularly susceptible to the wave of populist, anti-establishment and extremist political forces that now challenge liberal democracy across the globe. These challengers claim to represent the opinion of the ordinary people against a political establishment that is portrayed as corrupt, elitist and controlled by foreign interests. Their polarizing and anti-pluralist ideological stances have contributed to a more confrontational political competition. Several countries have also seen “democratic backsliding”,  an erosion of the institutions and mechanisms that constrain and scrutinize the exercise of executive authority. Illiberal policies have targeted opposition parties, parliaments, independent public watchdog institutions, judiciaries, local and regional self-government, mass media, civil society organizations, private business and minority communities. Incumbent elites have justified these policies as measures to strengthen popular democracy and to fulfill the promises of the post-1989 democratic transitions. read more

Potentials and Constraints of a Visegrád Cooperation

Chapter forthcoming in “The New European Union and its Global Strategy: From Brexit to PESCO”, ed. by. V. Naumescu, Newcastle.

At the European Council of 28 June 2018, the Visegrád states successfully convinced the other European Union member states to refrain from a mandatory relocation of persons in need of international protection. The EU agreed to organize the relocation and resettlement of refugees and other recognized asylum seekers on a voluntary basis. This decision implied the abandoning of plans to reintroduce a mandatory relocation scheme similar to the temporary mechanism that had been adopted against the votes of the East-Central European EU member states in September 2015. read more

Can Responsiveness Substitute Accountability?

Lessons from the Central and East European Laboratory of Populist Democracy. A paper presented at the conference ” Totalitarian Reverberations in East-Central Europe”, Faculty of European Studies, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, 26 October 2018.

Responsiveness characterizes a democratic process that „ induces the government to form and implement policies that the citizens want” (G. B. Powell). Populist parties advocate public policies that reflect the preferences of ordinary citizens, and their electoral success indicates that people believe their claims. Governing populist parties in Hungary, Poland and other Central and East European countries have systematically eroded institutions of democratic accountability, justifying these policies as measures to strengthen popular democracy and to fulfill the promises of the post-1989 democratic transitions. Although this erosion has been criticized as democratic backsliding and illiberal drift by scholars and international institutions, significant shares of voters continue to view it as steps towards a more responsive democracy. read more

Herausforderungen der Europäischen Union

Internationales Doktorandenkolloquium der Andrássy Universität Budapest, Babeș-Bolyai Universität Cluj-Napoca und der Universität Passau, 13.-15.9.2018, Budapest

Andrássy Universität Budapest

Die Rechtsstaatsprobleme in Ungarn und Polen sowie die Interventionsmöglichkeiten der EU waren ein zentrales Thema des internationalen Doktorandenkolloquiums am 13.-15.9.2018 in Budapest. Diese von den Europastudiengängen der Babeș-Bolyai, der Budapester Andrássy und Passauer Universität gemeinsam veranstaltete Tagung diente dazu, geplante, laufende und vor kurzem abgeschlossene Dissertationsprojekte vorzustellen und zu diskutieren. read more

Patterns of Democratic Backsliding

A paper for the ECPR General Conference, Hamburg, 25 August 2018, Panel 408: Same ingredients, different recipes: EU leverage and democratic backsliding in new member states and candidate countries

The subsequent economic and refugee crises have weakened the credibility of mainstream political parties in East-Central and Southeast Europe (ECSE) since prosperity and security no longer appear to be guaranteed consequences of European integration. The declining legitimacy of incumbents has provided opportunities for populist and anti-establishment mobilization. While these crisis-induced influences have been similar in all ECSE countries, the extent to which populist challengers have been able to win elections and form governments has varied significantly across countries. To explore these differences and assess the likelihood of populist electoral victories and subsequent illiberal policies in ECSE, the paper combines case studies of Hungary, Macedonia and Poland with a multivariate analysis of party systems, issue dimensions and cleavage configurations. It is argued that populist parties have attained political majorities through bipolar party competition, facilitated by congruent cleavages, particularly the congruence between sociocultural and EU-related cleavages. Based upon a comparison of the country cases, the paper discusses conditions that could constrain the illiberal erosion of democracy in ECSE.

Graduates and their Research Topics

On 5 July 2018, our thesis committee held a marathon session to assess 19 BA theses prepared by  this year’s graduates from the German-language program in European Studies at Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca. The disputations constitute the final step of three intense years of studying, the highlight of an extended graduation procedure and the basis for advanced studies or a straight-forward professional engagement.

The following abstracts show the range of topics students have investigated under my supervision.

Die Beitrittsverhandlungen zwischen der Europäischen Union und den Balkanstaaten (Paul Bucur)

Die vorliegende Arbeit untersucht, wie die EU auf dem Hintergrund früherer Erweiterungen mit Serbien über den Beitritt verhandelt und inwieweit die Beitrittsverhandlungen zu innerstaatlichen Reformen in verschiedenen Politikbereichen (Justiz, Wirtschaft, Grundrechtsschutz, Medien, Verwaltung, Migration) beitragen. Die von der EU formulierten Erwartungen und die nationalen Umsetzungsmaßnahmen werden im Detail für die Schlüsselkapitel 23 (Judikative und Grundrechte) und 24 (Justiz, Freiheit und Sicherheit) in den Beitrittsverhandlungen erörtert. Insgesamt stellt der Autor fest, dass die EU einerseits durch eine besser an die Probleme der Balkanstaaten angepasste Verhandlungsstrategie die Region stabilisiert und zu ihrer politisch-ökonomischen Modernisierung beigetragen hat, andererseits jedoch nicht die wachsenden Spannungen zwischen Serbien und Kosovo sowie die Beeinträchtigungen der Medienfreiheit in Serbien verhindern konnte.


Die EU-Beitrittsperspektive für die Türkei (Daniela Andreea Dogaru)

Diese Arbeit analysiert den in der EU stattfindenden politischen Diskurs zum EU-Beitritt der Türkei. Nach einem kurzen Überblick zur Entwicklung der EU/EG-Türkei-Beziehungen seit 1949 skizziert die Autorin zunächst die Positionen ausgewählter EU-Mitgliedstaaten zu einem Türkei-Beitritt und unterscheidet dabei geostrategische, sicherheitspolitische, integrations- und demokratiebezogene, ökonomische und kulturelle Argumente. Dann analysiert sie die von den verschiedenen Fraktionen im Europäischen Parlament in drei zentralen Debatten (2004, 2007 und 2012) vertretenen Standpunkte. Auf dieser Basis kann sie dominante Argumentationsmuster der politischen Akteure identifizieren und zeigen, dass sich der Schwerpunkt der Türkei-Debatte im betrachteten Zeitraum von kulturell-identitätsbezogenen zu demokratie- und sicherheitspolitischen Argumenten verlagert hat.


The European Union and the Post-2009 Crisis of Moldova (Luminița Karin Dürr)

This thesis describes the political development and crisis of Moldova since 2009 against the backdrop of the Eastern Partnership policy initiated by the EU. A particular focus is placed on the public political discourse and the situation of the media in Moldova. A key finding of the thesis is that Moldova does not constitute a failed state, but may be characterized as a “captive state” that is stuck between two paths of development: closer integration with the EU versus accession to the Eurasian Economic Union established by Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia in 2015. Due to its significant deficits of democracy and the rule of law, Moldova does not fulfill the EU’s political condition for becoming an EU member state.


Die Implementation grenzüberschreitender Projekte zwischen Rumänien und der Ukraine (Hannelore Kadar)

Die Arbeit beschreibt ein vom Kreismuseum Satu Mare gemeinsam mit der Staatlichen Universität Transkarpatien Ujhorod 2011-12 realisiertes Projekt zur Erforschung und Erhaltung des grenzüberschreitenden Kulturerbes. Dieses Projekt wurde als Fallstudie für den Zustand und die Entwicklung der rumänisch-ukrainischen Beziehungen ausgewählt. Außerdem wird ein Überblick zur Kohäsionspolitik der EU und zum European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument gegeben, das die EU eingerichtet hat, um unter anderem die Länder der Östlichen Partnerschaft finanziell zu unterstützen.


Die sicherheitspolitische Dimension des Transnistrien-Konfliktes (Carmen-Alexandra Mako)

Die vorliegende Arbeit fragt, inwieweit die existierenden Institutionen und Politiken zur Regelung des Transnistrien-Konfliktes die von diesem Konflikt ausgehenden drei zentralen Sicherheitsrisiken für Moldova, die Region und die EU wirksam einschränken. Diese Risiken bestehen in einer erneuten militärischen Eskalation, unterschiedlichen Formen grenzüberschreitender organisierter Kriminalität (Schmuggel, Menschenhandel) sowie in einer „state capture“ durch einflussreiche ökonomisch-politische Akteure („Oligarchen“). Zur Verringerung dieser Risiken wurden unter anderem bereits unmittelbar nach dem bewaffneten Konflikt 1992 eine Gemeinsame Kontrollkommission und 2005 die EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine gegründet. Die EU hat Transnistrien in das 2014 mit Moldova unterzeichnete Assoziierungsabkommen einbezogen. Die Arbeit zeigt jedoch, dass die existierenden Präventionsansätze keinen dauerhaften Schutz gegen die Sicherheitsrisiken bieten und daher durch ein stärkeres Engagement der EU in der Konfliktbeilegung ergänzt werden sollten.


Poland’s Policy Towards the European Union (Rareș Vlad Neagu)
read more

Advising Regional and Federal Studies

In June 2018, I was invited to join the Editorial Advisory Board of Regional and Federal Studies, one of the leading journals exploring territorial politics, federalism and regionalism. The journal carefully reviews, selects and publishes high-quality articles dealing with various aspects of regionalism and federalism crossing substantive, thematic, geographical, theoretical, and methodological boundaries.

The journal’s content spans federalism and multi-level government, decentralization in the developing world, post-conflict federal power-sharing arrangements, minority nationalist movements, and many other topics dealing with divided political authority and territorial diversity. Although the journal’s roots are in the study of Western European multi-level government, RFS has expanded its profile to incorporate regionalism, federalism and decentralization in the developing world and in the Americas. 

I have always appreciated this journal and look forward to strengthening the expertise available to RFS editors, providing strategic guidance and promoting the journal further.

Legitimation Functions and Legitimacy Resources

A typology for the analysis of post-Soviet countries, presented at the Joint Bavarian-Russian Conference on Interdisciplinary Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Bayreuth, 7-8 June 2018

Recent studies of legitimation patterns in authoritarian and democratic regimes have used a variety of classifications. Reviewing these approaches, I presented an integrative typology of legitimation functions and legitimacy resources based on David Beetham’s concept of political legitimacy.  According to Beetham, the legitimate exercise of power must conform to established rules, the rules need to be justifiable by reference to shared beliefs, and the given relations of power require the express consent of subordinates.

To meet these criteria, my paper claims that ruling elites must demonstrate their ability and will to enforce rules, respond to the preferences of citizens and stage public manifestations of popular approval. Drawing on empirical examples from post-Soviet countries, the paper argues that insufficient and problematic rational-legal, ideological and electoral resources of legitimacy have made post-Soviet political regimes particularly dependent on their capacities to provide mass prosperity, public security and other public goods. Weaker socioeconomic performance has eroded these capacities and contributed to the activation of nationalist frames.

Organized by Rudolf Schuessler, University of Bayreuth, and BAYHOST, the conference was a prime occasion to present the state of the art at the intersection of philosophy, economics and political science. Russian participants included scholars from the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Download the conference program: Bayreuth_Programme

See also: Politische Legitimität

Politics and Legitimacy in Post-Soviet Eurasia

Content and Discourse Analysis

Online Lecture at American Space, Almaty, 2nd April 2018

Content and discourse analysis belong to the standard toolbox of qualitative research in the social sciences. They enable scholars to analyze the structures and practices of public communication. Rooted in the positivist epistemological tradition, qualitative content analysis is aimed at the systematic mapping and classification of textual data. Researchers formulate hypotheses and construct a coding frame of categories to structure the data and detect underlying patterns or trends. In contrast, discourse analysis is embedded in the constructivist and hermeneutic traditions of the social sciences. The key aim of this method is to interpret the implicit meaning of discourse fragments and situate them in the context of larger frames, discourses or narratives.

My online lecture was organized by the “Art of Research Lab”, a group of young researchers and scholars committed to improve the quality of social research. The event continued a fruitful cooperation with young researchers from Kazakh National University, Almaty. I discussed exemplary applications  of content and discourse analysis in order to facilitate their use in Kazakhstan’s growing community of social scientists.

Illiberal Drift and Proliferation

A comparative study on the state of democracy and market economy in East-Central and Southeast Europe

In recent years, the illiberal tendencies characteristic of several East-Central and Southeast European countries have taken their toll on nearly all segments of society, from opposition parties to parliaments and judiciaries, to oversight institutions, local and regional self-governing administrative organs, the media, NGOs, the private sector and minority groups as well. This process can best be described as “illiberal drift,” because key democratic institutions – free and competitive elections, political participation rights and individual liberties, separation of powers and rule of law – are not abolished or fundamentally questioned. Rather these institutions are, over time, re-interpreted and subject to changes that pull them increasingly further away from the understanding that led the democratization processes of the 1990s and the enlargement of the EU in the 2000s. In recent years, the dismantling and erosion processes in Hungary and Poland have raised particular international attention. However, illiberal thinking and acting have meanwhile proliferated to numerous states of East-Central and Southeast Europe.

My regional report is part of the Transformation Index project, a global comparison and expert survey on democracy, market economy and governance in developing and postsocialist countries.