Populism and Democratic Defence in Europe

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Tore Vincents Olsen


DKK 7,458,924




Strategic Grants


Populist parties can function as a ‘correction’ to liberal democracy by highlighting popular grievances and lack of elite responsiveness, but they often put liberal democracy under pressure due to a problematic relationship with key liberal democratic principles and institutions. The aim of the project is thus to investigate how liberal democracies can respond to populist pressures in an effective and legitimate manner. We evaluate effectiveness of legal, cultural and political responses to populist parties in seven European countries – Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Poland – and apply normative political theories to the specific challenges of populism.


The agendas and policies of populists, who have gained more support and power in recent years, put liberal democracy under pressure both at the national and at the European level. Attacks on liberal democratic institutions at the national level are not just of national concern since they impact the rights of all European citizens and not least the democratic preconditions of European politics overall. At the level of supranational European politics, the growing self-confidence of populists, such as the alliance of right wing populists in Europe of Nations and Freedom may signal a new era. Populist parties thus constitute a European challenge for those concerned with the protection of liberal democracy and call for democratic defence measures at both levels.


The research will be carried out by a 12-person consortium of researchers working under the joint coordination of 5 Principal Investigators situated at the universities in Wroclaw, Warsaw, Lund, Roskilde and Aarhus. In practice, the research questions are examined through three integrated thematic modules. Module I addresses the laws, political alliances, policies, etc. undertaken by domestic actors in response to populism. Module II shares the goals of Module I – mapping and evaluating the effectiveness of responses – but focuses on the trans- and supranational level. Module III evaluates the normative legitimacy of national, trans- and supranational responses to populism.

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