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Oleart, Alvaro, and Tom Theuns. “‘Democracy without Politics’ in the European Commission’s Response to Democratic Backsliding: From Technocratic Legalism to Democratic Pluralism.” JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies (2022).


The debate on EU responses to democratic backsliding in EU member states has mostly been anchored on technocratic appeals to the rule of law and judicial independence, and on Poland and Hungary. In this article, we ask: What understandings of democracy have shaped the European Commission’s response to democratic backsliding in recent years? After developing an understanding of pluralist democracy, we uncover the way in which the European Commission conceives of democracy through a discourse analysis of European Commissioners’ speeches (2018–21) and a normative-theoretical analysis. We identify the Commission’s conception as a form of ‘democracy without politics’, and argue that it matches the EU’s policy choices in regard to democratic backsliding. We argue that a fuller, healthier and normatively more attractive conception of democracy encompasses more attention to political pluralism, agonistic contestation and the vibrancy of civil society.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.