Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

ECPR General Conference 2020, University of Innsbruck

Challenges to Democracy in Southern Europe

Civil Society
Comparative Politics
European Politics
Political Participation
Social Movements
Section Number
Section Chairs
Myrto Tsakatika
University of Glasgow
Evren Çelik Wiltse
University of South Dakota
Susannah Verney
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
Section Co-Chair

To say that democratic progress in Southern Europe has followed a fluctuating path is an understatement. Since the mid-20th Century, the region has witnessed a variety of regimes including brutal dictatorships, military rule and flourishing pluralist multi-party democracies. During the 1970s, from Spain and Portugal to Greece and Turkey, all across the region the military-authoritarian regimes seemed to run out of steam. There was a significant surge of democratic politics, wherein the old guard receded and new actors with more cosmopolitan agendas took power. Various forms of democratic government were implemented during this era, most times as part and parcel of the European Union accession process.

The next couple of decades in Southern Europe were marked by Europeanization, which resulted in critical socio-economic and political transformations. Overall, there was a significant rise in economic prosperity, as well as progressive expansion of political rights and civil liberties. Even for countries that could not directly join the Union, the accession process proved to be decisive. In the case of Turkey, closer ties to Europe meant integration of the Turkish economy with the EU, as Germany became Turkey’s largest trading partner. The harmonization process of Turkish politics with the European legal and normative framework yielded tangible democratic results, such as the elimination of capital punishment in Turkey.

Since the protracted recession of 2008, however, the democracy tide seems to have reversed. As Europe began to experience a severe economic crisis, its repercussions were acutely felt in Southern Europe as well. These new political and socio-economic challenges are taxing even for the most established democratic welfare regimes. Increasing unemployment and underemployment, growing disenchantment with conventional politics and the rising electoral success of anti-immigrant, anti-systemic parties are all worrisome signals that keep political scientists busy.

The panels in this section try to address some of the pending issues in the region that cast a long shadow on democratic politics in Southern Europe. A non-inclusive list of possible themes for panels could include:

1. DEMOCRACY AND USE OF FORCE: What do we mean by democratic civil-military relations and democratic policing in 21st Century? Papers addressing the issues of civil-military relations, democratic control of armed forces, new security challenges that straddle multiple domains (including NATO), policing, surveillance and intelligence gathering in open-democratic societies, and the new challenges these pose in the Southern European context could be included under this subtitle.

2. DEMOCRACY AND MARKETS: What are the consequences of the extended 2008 recession for Southern European democracies? Is the welfare state as we know it now dead? Or could there be sustainable and creative ways to main it? Papers addressing the consequences of the Eurozone crisis in Southern Europe, challenges on social policies, unemployment and corruption would fit very well under this subtitle. Also important to address are cases wherein social policy is used/abused, and has evolved into neo-patronage systems.

3. DEMOCRACY AND VOTERS: Does the rise of extremist political views and anti-systemic parties pose detrimental challenges to democracy in Southern Europe? Both surveys and elections indicate the progressively increasing appeal of nationalist, extreme-right wing, anti-immigrant and populist parties among the electorate. Scholars who work on elections, party systems, anti-system parties, voting behavior and populism are welcome under this theme.

4. DEMOCRACY, RULE OF LAW, AND RELIGION: How does the legal-institutional framework accommodate recent challenges to church-state division? Both in established democracies in Southern Europe, as well as in democratizing cases, such as Turkey, the question of state and religion is becoming increasingly more contested. How could secularism and freedom of religious expression questions be reconciled in majority Muslim cases, or when Muslims are in the minority? Papers trying to tackle the questions of religiosity, secularism, and democratic constitutional rights are welcome in this section.

5. DEMOCRACY, CIVIL SOCIETY AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS: The last few years have also witnessed a surge of citizen activism globally, as well as in Southern Europe. What is new in this “new” grass roots activism? Are the forces it mobilises always progressive? How does the state respond to these new and unconventional forms of citizen activism? Papers that tackle these questions are welcome in this part.

6. DEMOCRACY AND FOREIGN POLICY: A first theme here focuses on the domestic impact, concerning the ways in which the fluctuating processes of democratisation in the region have influenced the shaping and content of national foreign policies. A second theme concerns external output with regard to “democracy promotion”, “model countries”, and international factors that influence democratic progress. Since the Arab Spring, Southern Europe and especially Turkey were frequently mentioned as a “model” for the aspiring Arab democracies. Is this still the case? What role have the South European countries actually played in democracy promotion in the broader region? Papers that try to uncover the international dimensions of democracy and democratic progress in the current context in Southern Europe are welcome in this section.

The Section offers a forum for innovative empirical research and encourages a range of disciplinary perspectives and methodological approaches. Regarding geographical scope, the Section accepts country case studies of Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Cyprus and Malta. Intra-South European comparative studies are particularly welcome.

The Section is proposed on behalf of the ECPR Standing Group in Southern European Politics and welcomes proposals for panels and papers from members and non-members of the Group.

Panel List

Code Title Details
P043Challenges to Democracy and Governance in Southern Europe View Panel Details
P046Changing Party Landscapes and the Populist Backlash in Crisis Era Southern Europe View Panel Details
P081Democracy in Hard Times: The Economic Aspects of Democratic Challenges in Southern Europe View Panel Details
P222Making or Breaking Greek Democracy View Panel Details
P345Rocking the Boat: Changes in Political Participation in Crisis Era Southern Europe View Panel Details
P395Toleration, Minorities and Memory in Southern Europe View Panel Details
Share this page

Back to top