New Democracy #41 – Populism and democracy: Friends or foes?

How to understand the role and influence of populism in our democratic system?

Political systems in Europe are in turmoil. Long-established parties see their electoral support decline. At the same time, new parties, often labelled as ‘populist’, have come to the fore. Do these parties bring new vitality to the democratic system or do they threaten to undermine it? In this event we discuss the different experiences across Europe.


We open the program with a talk by Ben Crum, Professor of Political Science at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He is also work package leader in the interdisciplinary Horizon2020 RECONNECT project. It explores the potential of populism for our democracy in five European countries: is populism a threat, or a form of democratic innovation?

Taking this question as our focus of the night, the first panel discusses whether populism poses a threat to our democracy:

– Barbara Grabowska-Moroz is a postdoc researcher at the University of Groningen. Her expertise is in the functioning of the justice system, implementation of the right to a fair trial, rule of law and the functioning of prosecutors and security services in Poland.
Judith Sargentini is a former member of the European Parliament for the Dutch Green Party. During her ten years as a MEP she was active in various files concerning Home Affairs such as Rule of Law, Fundamental Rights, asylum and migration, dataprotection and security. She is the author of the Article 7(1) TEU report on the state of Rule of Law and democracy in Hungary.

The second panel, on the other hand, discusses whether populism is rather a form of democratic innovation:

Paul Blokker is associate professor in political sociology at the Department of Sociology and Business Law, University of Bologna; and is research coordinator at the Institute of Sociological Studies, Charles University Prague. His research focusses on populism, a sociology of constitutions, constitutional politics, and democratic participation.
Lucia Barcena is a researcher at the Transnational Institute, working on EU trade and investment policies. Before joining TNI she was the Stop TTIP and CETA campaign coordinator for Spain, working for grassroots organization Ecologistas en Acción. She has also researched trade related issues for the GUE/NGL and the Transform Europe network.
Niesco Dubbelboer is coördinator of Meer Democratie, an organisation working for more direct democracy; and director of Agora Europe, a foundation for participatory democracy. He previously was PvdA member for the House of Representatives, working on democratic issues and democratisation.

We reflect upon the evening with Sarah L. de Lange, Professor by special appointment at the Department of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam, where she holds the Dr. J.M. Den Uyl chair.


This evening is organised by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the context of the RECONNECT-project. RECONNECT is a four-year multidisciplinary research project on ‘Reconciling Europe with its Citizens through Democracy and the Rule of Law’, aimed at understanding and providing solutions to the recent challenges to politics in the European Union (EU). With a focus on strengthening the legitimacy of EU politics through the core values of democracy and the rule of law, RECONNECT seeks to build a new narrative for Europe, enabling the EU to become more attuned to the expectations of its citizens. RECONNECT brings together 18 academic partner institutions from 14 countries.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement no 770142.

Further reading:

Blog: Democratic Backsliding and Democratic Renewal

Evenement gegevens

Event details


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    Pakhuis de Zwijger, Piet Heinkade 179 Amsterdam


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    Pakhuis de Zwijger, Piet Heinkade 179 Amsterdam


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