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Protecting democracy in Europe

Political scientist Tom Theuns (Leiden University) has been awarded a Veni grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO). This means that he is recognised as a promising researcher and that he will receive support to develop his ideas further for a period of three years. Theuns will focus on the role the EU can play in responding to democratic backsliding in EU member states.

Democratic backsliding in the EU

According to Tom Theuns, ‘it can no longer be taken for granted that EU member states are stable democracies.’ In the 2019 edition of the Freedom in the World Index, Hungary was the first ever to drop below the threshold democratic indicators required for being categorized ‘Free’ to be categorised a ‘Partly Free’ country. Other EU countries (e.g. Poland) are following suit, despite the EU professing a fundamental commitment to democracy and the rule of law. As a political theorist specialised in democratic legitimacy and European politics, this leads Theuns to ask: ‘What should the EU do to protect democracy given increasing democratic backsliding in some member states?’

Theuns’ Veni project, ‘Protecting democracy in Europe’, will proceed in three steps. First, he will analyse the existing rule of law framework in EU law for normative and expressive coherence. Here he will draw on methodological tools he developed with Leiden colleague Andrei Poama, published in the American Political Science Review. Second, he will assess past successes and failures of EU democracy protection. He explains: ‘A historical lens will expose links between EU enlargement policies and subsequent backsliding. We have to take seriously the EU’s own democratic deficit and policy failures to avoid repeating past mistakes.’ The final step of research is constructive, looking at how policies should be reformed to better protect democracy in Europe.

‘For adventurous, talented, pioneering researchers’

The Veni grant, part of the Dutch Research Council’s (NWO) Talent Programme, allows researchers who have recently obtained their PhD to conduct independent research and develop their ideas for a period of three years. Providing creative opportunities for adventurous, talented, pioneering researchers to do research of their own choice and to encourage them to make a permanent career of academic research are key aims of the NWO Talent Programme.

In the 2019 round, NWO received 1176 applications, of which 161 were awarded a grant (14%). The Veni grant is worth € 250.000.

‘A huge privilege’

Theuns: ‘It is a huge privilege to win this Veni grant and it would not have been possible without the help and support of my colleagues at the Institute of Political Science. I look forward to using the grant to think through one of the most fundamental challenges to European integration.’

You can follow Theuns on Twitter, @TomTheuns, for updates on his research project.

More Leiden laurates

Besides Political Scientist Tom Theuns, 10 other Leiden University researchers have been successful in this year’s Veni round. You can read about their projects here:

NWO Veni grant for eleven Leiden researchers

The Institute of Political Science achieved another success in the 2019 round: Wouter Veenendaal was awarded a Vidi.

The democratic consquences of decentralisation

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