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Referenda and Populism: lecture Matt Qvortrup

Tuesday 2 October 2018
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden
Law Room (Faculteitskamer Rechtsgeleerdheid)

Referenda seem to be en vogue in Western democracies. By now, the Netherlands have seen three nation-wide referenda: one in 2005 about the Constitutional Treaty of the EU, another in 2016 about the EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine, and the last one in 2018 about the Intelligence and Security Services Act (2018). In all three cases, a majority of the voters went against the wishes of the mainstream political elite. In response, the current government has decided to abolish citizen-initiated, consultative referenda. This means there is now effectively no possibility to have national referenda in the Netherlands.

Undoubtedly, the subject will continue to engage many Dutch citizens, politicians, and academics. A number of broader questions arise e.g. what makes referenda so popular? Do referenda undermine representative democracy or strengthen it? What effect does the possibility of referenda have on political compromise-making and consensus-seeking? Are citizens sufficiently qualified for participating in them? Which subjects – if any – are (un)suitable for different types of referenda? What is the effect of referenda on the quality of policies and laws? To what extent are national referenda compatible with international political cooperation? These are questions of immediate academic and civic importance that we intend to address in the seminar.

Matt Qvortrup

The main speaker will be prof. dr. Matt Qvortrup, who is Professor of Applied Political Science and International Relations at Coventry University (United Kingdom), has published extensively on referenda around the world. He is one of the most prominent empirical researcher on the topic, but has also studied the theoretical and philosophical arguments for and against referenda, as well as the societal consequences.

Other speakers

  • Prof. dr. Annelien de Dijn (response) – Professor of Modern Political History, Universiteit Utrecht
  • Stephen Khan (lecture on countering "fake news") – Editor at The Conversation (UK)
  • Dr. Geerten Waling (chair) – Postdoc researcher on Political Legitimacy, Universiteit Leiden


This seminar is organised by the Leiden University research profile area "Political Legitimacy", in collaboration with the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF). It is part of a two day-event together with the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. Download the full programme here (pdf).

Registration (free)

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