Populism and Democratic Backslide in Central and Eastern Europe: The Role of Regional Organizations

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Anatomy - Large LT (University of Glasgow)
Anna Meyerrose , Department of Political Science, The Ohio State University
Far and even center right populist parties, which adopt nationalist and often exclusionary policies, are enjoying unprecedented electoral success throughout post-communist Europe. What accounts for this wave of liberal democratic backslide within the European Union (EU), an organization noted for its strong commitment to liberal democracy? This paper re-examines the role of regional organizations as vehicles for democracy promotion.  

The literature on the democratizing capabilities of regional organizations has remained largely positive. For example, the EU’s involvement with democratization in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is often cited as the most successful example of democracy promotion by international actors. However, more recently, a number of these countries have evidenced democratic backslide undertaken by unopposed center-right populist parties. These blatant cases of democratic backslide are particularly surprising given the amount of support these states received from the EU during their democratization process, and also the fact that they are now members of the EU.

This paper seeks to answer the following: what are the effects of democracy promotion by regional organizations on the long-term prospects for democratic quality and survival in new democracies? It argues that regional organizations such as the EU can unintentionally create conditions conducive to democratic backslide in new democracies. They do so by both stunting the development of representative institutions through top-down democratization measures, and also by altering the structure of and power relations in domestic politics once these states become members of the organization.