Project Description


The three-year project on ‘Transnational Populism and European Democracy‘ (TRAPPED) (Standard Project, Czech Science Foundation, 2018-20) researches the constitutional mobilization and claims by Trans-European Social Movements.

For a more comprehensive description, see: Transnational Populism and European Democracy short

The political crisis in Europe indicates: (1) an ever larger distance between formal politics and European society, and, (2) an increasing politicization of European integration, i.e., increased attention to EU issues in public debate. Social-scientific research and public debate focus on negative implications for European integration, in terms of ethno-nationalism/populism and Euroscepticism, while alternative narratives of European integration are frequently dismissed as radical, anti-political, and populist. Research hardly addresses positive political capacities, imagination, innovative, and institutional responses of Trans-European Movements (TEMs) to the crisis, which include views on the EU’s future.

Focusing on a number of transnational networks, including DiEM25 and European Alternatives, the project fills the knowledge gap by:

(a) systematically analyzing TEMs comprehensive, constructive ideas regarding the future of the European polity, including claims with a constitutional nature,

(b) evaluating the radical, legal, and populist nature of ideas, and,

(c) researching the visibility and resonance of movements’ political claims in the European public sphere.

The main research questions of the project are:

1) what substantive/ideational contribution do TEMs make to the democratization of the EU (what critiques are articulated, what demos/people is constructed; how radical/innovative are the proposals, what is the institutional feasibility of the proposals; can the proposals be characterized as populist)?; and

2) how visible, resonant, and legitimate are these proposals in the European public sphere as well as in (selected) national spheres?

In this, the project has two major objectives:

  1. A systematic political discourse analysis of the public narratives of TEMs, regarding democracy, constructions of commonality, and views of institutionalization, and the populist dimension of discourse;
  2. A systematic contribution to the analysis of the visibility, resonance, and legitimacy of TEM claims and their role in the politicization of the EU, through a political claim-analysis of TEM statements in the mass media, focussing on three case-studies: the transnational public sphere, the Czech Republic, and Italy.

Objective 1: Transnational democratic discourses, constructions of commonality, and democratic-populism

A first objective is the systematic analysis of how transnational political discourses articulate (alternative) ways of imagining the European polity, democratic engagement, and forms of commonality (what binds European citizens to the European project?) and peoplehood (how is a European people understood?). To the extent that these discourses defend European citizens and marginalized groups, in defiance of EU institutions and elites, and construct distinctive views of European commonality and peoplehood, the dimension of populism becomes significant. The project will research to what extent populist dimensions are present, and what distinctive form(-s) of (leftwing) populism can be identified.

Objective 2: Transnational democratic claims and the European public sphere

The politicization of the European integration project has become prominent, first, with the (failed) European Constitution in the early 2000s, and subsequently with the economic crisis in Europe from 2008 onwards. The process of politicization means the increasing visibility of European decisions in public debates in the mass media as well as the increasing contested nature of the EU in national politics (Koopmans and Statham 2010; Statham and Trenz 2013: 1). In current research, the analysis of the politicization of the EU tends to highlight resistance to the European integration process (Statham and Trenz 2015: 288), in particular through the (re-)emergence of nationalism, Euroscepticism, and populism, and a decline of public trust in European institutions. The politicization of the EU clearly involves a significant skeptical and negative dimension, reflecting the difficult socio-economic situation in Europe. But the crisis has equally seen a positive dimension, that is, it has stimulated political imagination of European civil society, resulting in a wide range of different claims and proposals for the European future, which contain a critique of the status quo, but equally constructively propose alternative views of the European project (cf. Plehwe et al. 2016).

But how visible are the positive discourses on Europe, how much do they stimulate public debate, and to what extent do they find positive support? A second objective of the project is to research these dimensions. Public demands and claims of TEMs regarding a European political union are made in various ways and distinct contexts, ranging from litigation, protests, to public debates, to media statements. The research will focus on claim-making in public debate and in the media, and will use justification analysis (JA) (related to justification theory) and political claims analysis (PCA). The objectives are, first, to analyze to what extent claims for a different, democratic European project are visible in the mass media in a significant number of EU member states, i.e., the number of communicative channels in which a claim is included and the prominence of such an inclusion (the more visible such claims are, the more citizens have an opportunity to be informed by alternative views and also the more informed public debate may influence formal European politics and provide bottom-up input). A second objective is, to what extent do such claims have resonance in European public debates, i.e., to what extent claims are provoking reactions from other actors (e.g. other movements or institutions)  (Koopmans 2004)? The TEM claims are, in this, related to the views and claims put forward by (EU) political elites. Greater visibility of a variety of claims in the mass media indicates specific ‘discursive windows of opportunity’. In a general sense, the profound economic and political crises of the EU enhance discursive opportunities for claims of an alternative European, democratic order. A third objective is, what is the legitimacy of claims, i.e., what is the degree of positive support by third actors in the public sphere?