In the Journal

Decolonial teaching means giving up on the myth of objectivity

Teaching about Middle Eastern and North African issues in politics or international relations courses is challenged by negative stereotypes about the histories, countries, and people of the so-called MENA region. This often manifests itself in the way students imagine individual subjects, states and their political regimes, or broad themes such as development, social change, or political ideologies. An example of the former can be found in the widely shared imaginaries of women there, whom are very often seen only under the Muslim veil. In relation to the second, we can say that the idea that authoritarianism is a “natural” phenomenon in this cultural environment and alien to the economic-political structures that shape North-South relations is widely established. As an example of the third point, it can be underlined that students find it difficult to envision men and women in the Middle East and North Africa as rational political actors. Research shows that, while the roots of these one-sided imaginaries run deep, perceptions of Muslims or Arabs’ otherness have been heightened in the West in the aftermath of 9/11.

Our recent article in Politics addresses the problem of teacher credibility in teaching contexts where controversies arise. The literature suggests that controversies are related to the “cognitive dissonance” experienced by some students when they are exposed to information that contravenes their deeply held beliefs or ways of thinking about any given issue. In turn, the literature indicates that teacher credibility depends on three variables: expertise, objectivity, and care for the learning environment.

This paper published by Politics evaluates two experiences in undergraduate courses on the Middle East and International Relations. In these courses, students must use tools from postcolonial analysis (especially Said’s theory of Orientalism) to examine the film ARGO and the analysis of the Arab Springs, respectively. The paper specifically assesses which elements of the design of activities aimed at “uncovering Orientalism” are responsible for the perception that, by being prompted to think critically about the representation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and post-revolution US-Iran relations or about the differences between a culturalist vs structuralist analysis of the Arab Springs, the classroom ceases to be a space for political and neutral reflection. The article shares the idea that the essence of postcolonial analysis is to expose students to realities such as colonialism-driven structural inequalities, racism, Islamophobia and, more generally, to the operations of modern thought which perpetuate the difference between “us” and “them”.  Therefore, the piece urges to question the compatibility of decolonial efforts in International Relations and the observed relationship between teacher objectivity and credibility. The conclusion to the article is that decolonial teaching is needed to match the broader efforts done to decolonise International Relations. However, decolonial teaching cannot afford to make teachers’ credibility bear upon objectivity insofar as the mission of post- and decolonial developments in IR is to render visible our constitution as subjects (teachers, students, and beyond) of global politics.

When do parties put Europe in the centre? Evidence from the 2019 European Parliament election campaign

Competition lies at the heart of democratic elections. Normative conceptions posit democratic electoral competition as being centred on rival substantive policy platforms, on which parties and/or candidates campaign, and from which voters choose depending on their positions on different issues. But what happens if parties downplay or even silence the issues that should be relevant in the campaigns? This question has been at the heart of research on campaigns for European Parliament (EP) elections for about 30 years now: European election campaigns have been characterized as so called “second-order elections”, meaning that not European issues but national topics have shaped the campaign agendas. Especially mainstream parties, i.e. parties which dominated electoral competition and government formation, seemingly had little interest in giving salience to EU issues for strategic reasons.

However, findings from the 2009 and 2014 EP elections suggest that things seem to change. So-called “challenger parties”, i.e. parties which had not been included in governments so far, acted as political entrepreneurs and put EU issues on the campaign agendas to build their own reputation and at the same time to challenge government parties which still tried to keep silent. Thus, the question which we try to answer in our article in Politics is whether challenger parties again showed such strategic behaviour in the up-run to the 2019 EP election and whether this eventually forced mainstream parties to also incorporate EU issues in their campaigns.

However, we are not only interested in the question whether or not the different parties campaigned on EU issues in 2019, but we also analyse which strategic factors drove parties to bring up EU issues in their campaigns, and which factors hindered them from doing so. Our theoretical model is an integrated model of strategic campaign communication which we’ve built on two approaches: First, the so-called “selective emphasis approach” which primarily looks at party-internal factors, and second the so-called “co-orientation approach” which takes into account how parties interact in their strategic decisions. The relevance of factors from both approaches has already been tested in other studies, sometimes individually, sometimes in combination of several variables. However, as the number of cases (i.e. countries and parties) included in the analyses was often limited, it has not been possible to analyse all potentially relevant variables in an integrated model and for all European countries at the same time.

As we are using a new data source for this paper, i.e. the 2019 European Parliament Election Expert Survey dataset (EPEES_19), we can analyse the campaign strategies of 191 parties across all 28 EU member states. Our results show that the traditional expectation of especially government parties silence EU issues does not hold anymore. On an 11-point scale from 0 “campaign solely focused on national/regional issues” to 10 “campaign solely focused on European issues”, government parties on average reached a mean of  5.2, while opposition parties showed a mean value of  4.8. So, for both party types, the campaigns were a mix of European and domestic issues and on the aggregate level, there was no significant difference between them. The strongest predictors for an individual party’s decision to campaign on EU issues are the co-orientation toward the campaign agendas of competing parties, and the party’s EU position, i.e. if the party was known for its positive stance toward the EU, the likelihood was higher that it gave EU-topics a higher salience its EP campaign.

Exploring Public Opinion and Why It Matters to Political Actors

It is common for references to ‘the public’, and public opinion, to be used by political actors such as politicians, policymakers and activists to justify and add legitimacy to legislature and policy changes. The difficulty, however, faced by political actors is understanding what ‘the public’ is and why it matters. Acknowledging these varying perspectives matters because it is common for references to ‘the public’ and subsequently public opinion, to be used when demonstrating the legitimacy of conflicting views. Using semi- structured interviews, our recent paper in Politics developed a multi-level framework to further our understanding of why political actors value public opinion and subsequently, how this value then influences the way in which they apply public opinion.

In our study, we define political actors as those who hold political authority (formally or informally) to influence decisions, policies and outcomes. We then categorised these actors into three tiers:

  1. Top Tier – Those who are formally elected to serve and represent the public, as it is these political actors whose interpretations of the public inform decision-making on behalf of the public. Examples of these include Members of Parliament and local councillors.
  2. Middle Tier – those who are a part of an established organisation whose role includes producing and promoting public opinion in order to feed this into their work, such as researchers from polling organisations or think tank organisations.
  3. Bottom Tier – Members of the public who try to encapsulate public opinion via their own work. These are individuals who attempt to construct a political narrative through their own activism and interpretations. These include grassroots activists and community artists.

 Building upon S. Herbst’s (1998) concept of ‘reified public opinion’, our three-tiered framework furthers our understanding of how political elites interpret public opinion, and how public opinion is used and moved through political actors to eventually affect policy and legislature change.

 In adopting this approach, our findings suggest that the use and value of public opinion differed according to which tier the political actor belonged to. In the top tier, political actors were unsurprisingly concerned how the public and their views affected their re-election, and so influenced how they applied public views. Often, these political actors were more confident and willing to use their own judgement, or that of experts, to override public views. The middle tier aimed to fairly represent all views and then summarise them clearly for the tier above, playing the role of ‘conduit’. Our study found that minority views were especially important to the bottom tier and this aim was especially apparent with issues of class, race and LGTBQ+.

Our interviews demonstrated that public opinion moved through these levels of political actors to inform policy and legislature, where the middle tier often functioned as a conduit for the public and bottom tier for the top tier of political elites. We also found that the middle and lower tier played a crucial role to the public, in that the public at times desires to engage with these types of political actors rather than with political elites directly. Notably, all three levels of political actors were vocal in their support of minority views, and understood that the loudest voices do not necessarily constitute the majority.

 Our study and three-tiered framework allows us to conceptualise and understand a more nuanced way of examining the ways in which public opinion is interpreted, offering an innovative approach for future studies.

Are the (Czech) Pirates Populists?

In 2017, the Czech Pirate Party got nearly 11% of votes during the elections to the Chamber of Deputies, thus becoming the third strongest party in the country. As a result of these elections, the Czech Pirate Party became one of the most successful pirate parties in Europe. Now, a few months before the next parliamentary elections, their poll numbers are even better. According to the relevant poll surveys, the announced coalition of the Pirates and the Mayors and Independents is the strongest actor in the Czech party system.

However, who are the (Czech or other) Pirates? Although pirate parties have been part of European party systems for almost fifteen years, their research is still underdeveloped and a deeper analysis of their rhetoric and political communication is still missing. Pirate parties draw from sources of support (i.e. distrust and disappointment) that are similar to those of populist parties and movements. Pirates and populists are connected by a strong anti-corruption and anti-establishment rhetoric, which was also apparent in the Czech case. In any case, there are different views on whether pirate parties can be considered populist (for example, see here, here and here). However, the existing work addresses the issue only marginally and without clear theoretical specification, rigorous methodological approach, or empirical robustness.

In my recent article in Politics, I analysed the communication of the Czech Pirate Party on the social media and compared it to the communication of other Czech parties which are commonly understood as populist ones (i.e. right-wing populist Freedom and Direct Democracy and centrist/technocratic populist ANO led by contemporary prime minister and one of the richest entrepreneurs in the country Andrej Babiš), which showed a negligible level of the Pirates’ populism. Since it can be agreed that most politicians make occasional statements that can be classified as populist, the Pirates do not drift from the mainstream in this regard.

Pirates’ communication transformed significantly after the 2017 elections, when they became a parliamentary party. They seemed to at least rhetorically accommodate to the system of the parties that they had labelled as corrupt before the elections. The pre-election communication of the Pirates was predominantly anti-establishment, but even that does not allow us to classify their communication as populist. The anti-establishment appeal is a necessary but not a sufficient feature of populism. Not every anti-establishment party needs to show a high level of populist communication and not every vote for an anti-establishment party, which enters the system of traditional parties criticized as corrupt, is a vote for populist actors.

If we cannot classify the Czech Pirates as a populist party, what does this finding tell us about other pirate parties? Taking the shared characteristics into account, we can consider them as a party family. A similar conclusion can therefore be (with certain limits) expected for the pirate parties as such.

The result of my analysis better defines the boundary between pirate and populist parties. Although both categories have much in common, the differences appear to prevail. The pirates lack, among other things, the stylization into the role of the speaker of all people viewed as a homogeneous group. They also refrain from attacking other types of elites than political parties (for example, journalists as representatives of the cultural elite). The following research could focus on clarifying this boundary.

Must Good Samaritans Vote?

Most Westerners believe there is a moral obligation to vote, but it is difficult to justify this widespread moral judgment. Arguments for a duty to vote typically don’t overcome the “particularity problem”:  the reasons theorists offer usually fail to show there is a duty to vote in particular. At best, they show that voting is one of many possible ways to discharge some underlying obligation, such as a duty to exercise civic virtue, contribute to others’ welfare, avoid free-riding, or avoid complicity with injustice. For instance, if one is obligated to avoid complicity with injustice, then one might engage in activism instead of voting. Indeed, voting is often a relatively poor means of discharging these underlying obligations.

Julia Maskivker’s recent work represents the most important attempt to overcome the particularity problem. Further, Maskivker attempts to defend a widespread duty to vote despite conceding that the typical vote has little individual significance. Her argument rests on a duty of Good Samaritanism. We ought to provide help to others when we can do so at a reasonable cost to ourselves. Since many citizens can vote well at a low cost, and voting well contributes to a collective activity that helps people, we ought to vote.

Maskivker argues that citizens should both vote and perform other low-cost acts of altruism—doing activism on Monday does not relieve one of the duty to vote on Tuesday. She responds to the particularity problem by saying, in effect, “Why not both?”

Our recent paper in Politics shows that the particularity problem re-emerges. The particularity problem says, “If the goal is to promote the common good, exhibit civic virtue, or fight for justice, why not do some other action (such as volunteering, activism, or helping to invent a vaccine) other than voting?” Maskivker responds, “Why not both?” We respond, “Instead of both voting and performing some other action, why not do two of those other actions?” If Maskivker responds, “Why not voting plus those other two actions?,” we can respond, “Why not three of the other kind?” And so on.

The problem is that if, as Maskivker concedes, individual votes rarely matter much, then a civic-minded citizen concerned to fight injustice, promote the common good, or exercise civic virtue will almost always have some better alternative than voting. A half hour spent casting a low-value vote could instead be spent doing something higher value, such as picking up litter or volunteering at a soup kitchen. We might not be obligated to perform this higher value action, but we are at least permitted to do so instead of voting.

What Maskivker and others need to do, then, is find some feature that is unique or special to voting which intuitively and plausibly explains why voting in particular is obligatory. Maskivker tries to identify some such features—such as that voting is public, elections are occasional, voting promotes political goods, and so on—but in the paper, we respond by identifying other actions (besides voting) which have these same features, but which no reader would think are obligatory.

Accordingly, Maskivker’s attempt to defend a duty to vote is unsuccessful. Voting well is at best one of many possible ways to be a good Samaritan, and not even a particularly good way at that.

The Problem of Asymmetric Representation of Roma in Slovenia

The UK government’s plans to restrict nomadic lifestyles via The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has highlighted the difficulties facing Traveller and Roma communities in this country and has resulted in campaigns for the right to Roma/Traveller cultural heritage and lifestyle.  The ‘othering’ of Roma is so acceptable that one MP’s remark that if made Prime Minister for 24 hours he would use the opportunity to ‘see tougher enforcement against Gypsy Travellers’ didn’t prevent him from becoming the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

The UK Government’s racial disparity audit reveals stark discrimination of Roma/Gypsy communities. In England for example Gypsy/Roma schoolchildren were the most likely of all ethnic group categories to be either temporarily or permanently excluded. As the UK tightens the restrictions on Roma lifestyles it is worth noting that Roma face familiar prejudices globally. Indeed, racism, discrimination and structural disadvantage is endemic to the life-experiences of Roma/Traveller communities across Europe. In an attempt to address the unequal status in 1990 the OSCE set international standards for minority protection and explicitly drew Roma and Gypsy communities into the framework. By 1993 the Council of Europe identified Roma as a true European minority, “one that does not fit into the definitions of national or linguistic minorities” (Recommendation 1203).

Our study of Slovenia, a nation with a famously liberal constitution demonstrates that regardless of the intentions of the architects of democracy Roma populations continually fail to receive equal treatment. Slovenian Roma – a group with a long history of settlement and identity in the Slovenian territory – continue to be marginalized, racialized and routinely categorized as undeserving of equal rights.

Analyzing how Roma were spoken about in the minutes of the Commission for the Constitutional Questions (CCQ) which led to the 1991 independence constitution, we demonstrate how the discourse leading to the design of the constitution racialised Roma as undeserving. They often describe Roma as organisationally incompetent and politically adolescent. They applied “majority gaze” to determine Roma’s right to equal political representation. This outlook persists institutionally as “Roma rights” remain inferior to the rights of other minorities and socially as Roma continue to be racialized as a problem for the law-abiding, tax-paying, Slovenian-speaking non-Roma majority.

Slovenian Roma were not given a visible role in the new Republic. The 1991 Slovenia Constitution recognized Roma as a minority in need of protection alongside two other national minorities – Hungarian and Italian. Nevertheless with no foreign government to lobby on their behalf it is perhaps not surprising that of the three minorities Roma are the least protected and represented. An asymmetric representation resulted from the lack of leverage that Roma had; they were denied the status of a national community because they did not have a mother state. The CCQ “gradated” minority rights – Hungarian and Italian communities were afforded full protection while autochthonous Roma were to be protected by a special law which took a further decade to write and is hardly fit for purpose. While Hungarians and Italians are granted their own MP in the National Parliament and on the municipal level (with an Iris Marion Young style veto over policies affecting their community), Slovenian Roma are not. Their representation is limited to local politics to 20 out of 212 municipalities, without the veto or resources afforded to the other minorities’ reserved councillors.

Further drawing on a framework of marginalization and racialization derived from Cohen and Shilliam, we find that the political structure constructed for the Slovenian Roma racialises the group internally and externally. Externally the group is infantilized and patronized by a relatively benign political class and by the liberal engineers of the Slovenian Republic. Internally, the political structure gives some rights to only a portion of Slovenian Roma (the autochthonous group) rendering it more deserving of resources than other groups. Further we argue that the consistent categorization of Roma as not quite equal, not quite deserving of particular protections and representational rights, and insufficiently grateful for the limited protections the state has provided, resonates loudly with the work of Shilliam helping us explain why Roma were excluded from full acceptance into the Slovenian polity in 1991 and continue to be stigmatized and discriminated against today.

Taking Stock of the Field of Populism Research

Recent years have seen a veritable boom in the study of populism.  In the process, there has been a growing crystallization of different “schools” of populism research.  The lines of demarcation between them can be seen, on one level, in terms of the conceptual status ascribed to populism as a discourse, frame, ideology, strategy, or style.  Beyond this, however, recent debates have centered on the conceptual and normative presuppositions underlying the various definitional approaches.  This can be seen in exemplary fashion with two of the most influential approaches in the literature: namely, the ideational and the post-foundational discursive approaches to populism, based on the paradigmatic contributions of Cas Mudde and Ernesto Laclau, respectively.

My recent article in Politics sets out to examine two claims that have increasingly come to define the dividing lines between the ideational and the post-foundational discursive approaches: namely, that the former is moralistic and the latter is normative in orientation.  The article considers the conceptual merits of both critiques while using them as a springboard to further examine some of the implicit assumptions and pitfalls within Mudde’s and Laclau’s theories.  My argument here is twofold: on the one hand, ideational scholars’ attribution of a moralistic particularity to populism runs the risk of pathologizing the latter for characteristics that are arguably constitutive of all politics, such as the dualistic opposition between an “us” and a “them”.  On the other hand, the danger of a certain crypto-normativity can be seen in Laclau’s tendency to equate populism with the political and simultaneously emphasize its emancipatory effects – a slippage that can be traced back to the way in which he builds up his theory around the category of “demand”.

Ultimately, I argue that the ideational and post-foundational approaches have much in common.  The ideational turn in populism research, in a broad sense, entails a shift in how we think about populism: populist phenomena cannot be reduced to expressions of objective underlying socio-structural group categories such as “the peasantry”; rather, populism is about constructing a notion of “the people” (against “the elite”), which can give rise to a wide variety of populist phenomena – from left-wing to right-wing, agrarian to urban, democratic to autocratic, progressive to reactionary.  Both Mudde and Laclau have made paradigmatic contributions to this literature by explicitly and systematically grounding their definitions of populism with social-constructionist theoretical underpinnings.  The key difference between the two approaches arguably resides in the location that they assign to populism within the wider topography of politics itself: namely, whether populism is understood as a distinctly moralistic phenomenon that falls short of a full-fledged political ideology, or as a quintessentially political logic that points to features inherent to all politics.  My article highlights the need for both approaches to clarify their baseline understandings of politics so as to avoid conceptual pitfalls – such as equating populism with the political as such or, at the other extreme, pathologizing populism for features that no politics can do without, such as the construction of an “us” vs. “them” divide.

Explaining youth radicalism as a positioning of the self at opposite extremes

The concept of ‘young radicals’ has become popular when media, politicians and even the general public talk about young people. However, we know little about those young people who hold radical attitudes. Our recent article in Politics focuses particularly on the young people who place themselves on the extreme ends of the left-right ideological scale.

By using survey data from nine European countries (France, Greece, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK), and focusing only on people at age of 18 to 35, we analysed which kind of characteristics, that are usually used for studying violent behaviour, are common for young people who hold radical attitudes. We also asked how those with radical right attitudes differ from those with radical left ones.

Our results demonstrate that ‘radicalness’ of young people is strongly related to experiencing economic difficulties and participation in more contentious political activism. The data does not allow us to say which come first – whether young people choose ’radical’ attitudes before or after experiencing economically hard times or participation in protests like house occupations or riots, but it is clear that in this respect there is no difference between those opting for left or right.

The difference between the ‘young radicals’ on the right and left are, instead, defined by gender and adherence to authoritarian values. Young men are more likely to hold radical right rather than radical left attitudes – a result which is similar to prior studies focusing on the participation in radical right movements. Radical right attitudes also relate strongly with authoritarian values such as thinking that children should obey their parents or that there is need for stiffer sentences for those who have committed certain crimes. Even support for democracy is lower among those young people who hold radical right rather than radical left attitudes. Other factors, for example the socio-economic background, specific personality traits or the country of residence, do not play any substantial role here.

Our results show that the use of a general term ‘young radicals’ is misleading as there are important intra-group differences. Moreover, in the context of rising economic difficulties, it would be important to pay particular attention to young people and investigate further the reasons why experienced hard times strongly relate to radical attitudes.

How European were the 2019 elections to the European Parliament?

Although elections to the European Parliament are widely known as second-order national elections, recent developments indicate that these elections start to become more European contests. The EP has become more powerful with the Maastricht Treaty and subsequent treaty changes, and with the introduction of the Spitzenkandidaten (‘lead candidate’) system in 2014, elections to the EP are supposed to become more consequential, too. Moreover, in light of the empirical evidence on the increasing politicization of Europe, it seems to be interesting to finally study how European these contests at the European level of governance actually are. Such an enquiry is even more interesting in view of the fact that the 2019 EP electoral contests were widely framed as “a battle over Europe’s future”.

My recent article in Politics investigates precisely this growing relevance of Europe and European issues for the case of the 2019 EP elections. The ultimate contribution of this article is an examination the Europeanness of the 2019 EP elections from the perspective of the demand and the supply side of political competition. In doing this, I draw on a new data set covering the election campaigns and the mobilization potential of Europeanness in five north-west European countries (Austria, France, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom).

On the one hand, the findings indicate that the elections to the EP were more European contests than ever before in the history of these elections – yet this is not true in the same way for all of the countries under consideration. A clear sense of Europeanness especially exists in those countries where European issues dominated the general (i.e. national) political debate and not only the EP election campaign. On the other hand, the Europeanness of electorates matters for electoral participation. The European electorate’s orientations towards EU politics have an impact on people’s decision to cast a ballot in EP elections. The genuine interest of European citizens in EU politics as well as their unbiased attachment to the EU are important predictors for turnout. Finally, the double perspective on political campaigns and the electorate brought to light that in the two countries, where the debate over European issues was extensive (France and the UK), genuine interest in EU politics was also a mobilizing factor for respondents – but, interestingly, this was also the case in the two countries that saw less (Austria) or even very little significant debate over European issues (Germany).

Altogether, the findings of my paper illustrate that while Europeanness is unequivocally relevant in EP elections – European issues shape the public debate around these contests and genuine European orientations have the power to mobilize citizens – national factors still play an important role in these elections.

A Critical Evaluation of Ireland’s Citizens’ Dialogues on the Future of Europe

Citizens dialogues on the future of Europe are taking place across Europe since 2018. These calibres of mini public were organised with the intent of fulfilling elite commitments made in the Rome declaration in March 2017. The Rome declaration commits to incorporating EU citizens into the conversation on Europe and to provide them with opportunities to shape their countries national positions on Europe’s future form and functioning in key policy areas. My recent paper in Politics explores Ireland’s set of citizens’ dialogues – which have since been deemed a model of best practice – and evaluates the effectiveness of these dialogues in empowering Irish citizens to shape the national position on Europe. The paper argues that although the dialogues were worthy exercises in communicating Europe to citizens at a time when Europe was at political crossroads, the design of the dialogues hindered their full democratic potential.

Funded by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFaT) and organised by European Movement Ireland (EMI), Ireland’s citizens’ dialogues were relatively more systematic and participatory in approach compared to other dialogues across Europe. However, this so-called best practice approach was not without its shortcomings. These dialogues were not intended to empower citizens to be prescriptive in their recommendations, nor bind policymakers to citizens’ preferences on Europe. Evidence suggests that these dialogues resembled a government PR exercise. Public representatives fulfilled a commitment to communicate Europe to Irish citizens but subsequently designed the events in such a way that government policy positions and long-term preference bargaining opportunities would not be constrained by public opinion.

Good mini publics seek to empower citizens to affect policy change. This requires a representative sample of the population (adequate diversity), applied mechanisms to induce deliberation (as opposed to casual debate), adequate time allocation for discussion and a general desire for participants to reach consensus on key critical issues. Ireland’s dialogues lacked these characteristics. In turn, the quality of the dialogues was poor, and this is reflected Ireland’s national report on the Future of Europe. A summary of each shortcoming is as follows:

  1. Participants were recruited through a self-selection procedure which hindered the full potential for a diversity in participant make-up. Those who attended were predominantly white-Irish, relatively educated and had an overwhelming pro-EU outlook. Due to self-selection, there was also some evidence of a snowball effect in that some participants arrived with friends/relatives who may or may have not shared similar backgrounds and attitudes on key issues. Thus, there was a risk that group homogeneity was increased.
  2. Discussion-based questions were rather wordy and were somewhat difficult for participants to comprehend. More importantly, the questions did not clearly pertain to the future direction of EU integration and governance in key policy areas. Due to the self-selection process (and time restrictions), adequately briefing participants in advance of the events was not feasible. Although participants received a briefing document on arrival, it was clear that there were few adequate measures taken to ensure that participants had basic knowledge of the EU prior to discussing important and complex policy issues. This made it difficult for participants to offer well-thought-out and prescriptive recommendations to their public representatives. One argues that prescriptive recommendations are important if one expects such recommendations to hold informative weight that can go some way to holding policymakers to account for public preferences.
  3. Time allocation was quite limited during these events and this significantly hindered any potential for the development of well informed, critically engaged, and meaningful discussion and recommendations. Each event lasted approximately 2.5 hours in total. Thus, participants were required to discuss five policy topics with only a mere 10 minutes per topic. Such strict time allowances could not allow for an adequate process of critical debate, let alone deliberation.

It is suggested by the design that Ireland’s dialogues were not intended to empower citizens to generate critically deduced, prescriptive recommendations on the future of Europe to national policymakers; for doing so would likely bind policymakers to citizens preferences which could affect intergovernmental bargaining at a later stage. Ireland’s national report on the citizens dialogues shows that citizens’ suggestions were broad and vague in essence and do not reflect clear preferences for European integration in terms of form and functioning. Whilst there is no doubt that the Irish government tried to modernise citizens’ dialogues to fulfil commitments made in Rome, research data suggests that Ireland’s dialogues resembled a government PR exercise rather than a genuine willingness to empower citizens to shape the national position. Thus, despite the inherent democratic potential of the dialogues, these mini publics were fundamentally ineffective in truly empowering citizens to shape the future form and functioning of the EU.