Workshop

Expert Workshop on Democratic Resilience and Renewal

Convened by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy, IDC (Herzliya), and the Horizon 2020 multidisciplinary research project ‘Reconciling Europe with its Citizen through Democracy and the Rule of Law’ (RECONNECT) the Expert Workshop on Democratic Resilience and Renewal took place from October 3rd to 5th at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Conference Centre at Villa la Collina, Cadenabbia, Italy.

Details

Focusing on the current “democratic malaise” and its causes, the workshop aimed to contribute to moving the discussion forward by thinking systematically about democratic resilience, adaptation, and renewal in the face of contemporary challenges. Specifically, it aimed to conduct a set of discussions around for main themes: First, taking stock of the current state of (liberal) democracy around the world, identifying trends and trajectories. Second, asking “what went wrong, and how bad is it?” with a focus on the United States, Europe, and the broader international environment’s impact on liberal-democracy. Third, thinking about democratic resilience, how “resilience” should be conceptualized and what degree of protection democratic institutions are able providing and fourth and last, exploring new directions for potential democratic adaption and renewal. The guiding thought of the organizers, that the workshop would assist all the participants to share ideas, identify gaps in knowledge, as well as create opportunities for future collaboration.

The workshop was split up in 8 sessions. Each session included a chair and two discussion leaders, while the whole audience was invited to participate, since the organizers wanted to provide opportunities for informal discussions. Session I focused on ‘The State of Democracy: Concepts and Indicators’ Prof. Wolfgang Merkel, one of this session’s discussion leaders, spoke about embedded democracy and started his remarks talking about the loss of power of parliaments and the major attacks on power to govern. After discussing the most advanced democracies and the different rates of decline, he emphasized the topic of crisis and stresses two points: the meanings of crisis (acute and slow declining) as well as the types of crisis (legitimacy crisis, overload crisis, post-democratic crisis and crisis of the political community). Regarding analysis of democracy Merkel argued, that three levels need to be linked: macro regimes, micro individuals, and meso collective actors. The second discussion leader Dr. Anna Lührmann spoke about the varieties of democracy, such as liberal and electoral. She emphasized that actually there is no crisis in democracy; moreover democracy is at its all time high. Lührmann explained that more countries are improving regarding voter’s registry and also international actors are very active getting better voter registries. But, that the climate of public debate has shifted greatly. She concluded saying that autocratization is on the rise and elections are still the norm, but less meaningful. One of the main questions in the following discussion regarded Lührmann’s remarks on autocratization. She was asked to give a definition for the term, which she replied to saying it’s a gradual decline to democratic regime attributes. Merkel added to her definition the aspect of rule of law, which is obviated by governments tending in the direction of autocracies such as Hungary.

Session II dealt with the topic “Democracy in America: What went wrong and how bad is it?”. Dr. Amnon Cavari and Michael Allen were the speaking discussion leaders and emphasized as one of the main problems identity politics, which divide the US population and on the same time reflects the historical tensions in the US. What won is the feeling of the working class white men being left behind, said Michael Allen and further explained that dysfunctional social media and regular media have introduced a new level of toxicity to American politics. Dr. Cavari added the increasing polarization of the Democratic and Republican as a factor deepening the crisis situation. He also named Gerrymandering as a strong effect on American politics.

Session III dealt with the status of democracy in Europa. Dr. Corina Stratulat pinpointed the rise of populism as central phenomenon and as the fastest growing form of ideology within Europe, which works and brings along anti-democratic tensions. These are often mixed with identical terms such as populism, anti-institutionalism, anti-liberalization and more. In her eyes contemporary challenges are audiences, which tend to support radical ideologies. These audiences support populists due to resentment of economic inequality. Stratulat argued that threat perceptions should be seen as a key to understand dissatisfaction and anti-establishment sentiments. Prof. Michael Wohlgemuth added voter characteristics for populist parties show less educated, male and poorer voters. In the following debate it was discussed if populism is the problem or a symptom of the problem. But there are other factors that are critical, such as anxiety, fear and threat, noted Dr. Sivan Hirsch-Hoefler.

Session IV looked at the topc ‘Politics Follows Geopolitics? The Contemporary Global System and Democracy’. One main aspect was the uncertain future of transatlantic cooperation. Trump’s view that each particular state should protect itself from threats from global governments was just one example.

Session V highlighted ‘Thinking about democratic resilience’ itself. The next session stressed the topic of ‘Democratic Renewal in the Age of Complexity’. Corina Stratulat pointed out, that crisis of democracy is the voice of the frustration of the empowered and asked the question, if the democratic political systems can become responsive systems and what cost this would take. At the end it is necessary to know what the changers want, what they are willing to sacrifice and where red lines are, she added. Dr. Amichai Magen joined Stratulat in asking, what kind of innovations can be made to come to a new societal contract in order to deliberate and have a discussion. Merkel argued the importance of having referenda to produce democratic legitimacy. On the same side he emphasized the need to preserve the liberal core within society and parties and pointed out, that the parties themselves are in crisis with new problems such as funding, new regulations and laws. He summed up saying ‘It has become harder for political parties to do their job.’

In Session VII: Rethinking Democratic Norms, Processes and Institutions’ and one main aspect focused on the more interconnected society or the feeling of people being more interconnected than ever, which is seen as a factor for people thinking that democratic norms are outdated. An answer to this problem suggests the need to build new democratic institutions which ask more of people.

The final session served as summary and wrap up and was hosted by Prof. Joao Carlos Espada. Prof. Merkel starting by saying that the people present at the workshop think of democratic innovation needs strengthening and also an opening of political space for political participation. He recommended taking a further look at core representative institutions, specifically the role of the state. Prof. Joao pointed out that liberal democracy is about a set of rules which enable people to engage in free conversations. In his eyes this real variety of views is what is needed and what liberal democracy is about. Dr. Amichai addressed two themes, the reflection of culture and culture affirming. He pled for a stronger engagement towards other audiences even with disagreement to assure the continuance of the interaction between processes and institutions.

Focusing on the current “democratic malaise” and its causes, the workshop aimed to contribute to moving the discussion forward by thinking systematically about democratic resilience, adaptation, and renewal in the face of contemporary challenges. Specifically, it aimed to conduct a set of discussions around for main themes: First, taking stock of the current state of (liberal) democracy around the world, identifying trends and trajectories. Second, asking “what went wrong, and how bad is it?” with a focus on the United States, Europe, and the broader international environment’s impact on liberal-democracy. Third, thinking about democratic resilience, how “resilience” should be conceptualized and what degree of protection democratic institutions are able providing and fourth and last, exploring new directions for potential democratic adaption and renewal. The guiding thought of the organizers, that the workshop would assist all the participants to share ideas, identify gaps in knowledge, as well as create opportunities for future collaboration.

The workshop was split up in 8 sessions. Each session included a chair and two discussion leaders, while the whole audience was invited to participate, since the organizers wanted to provide opportunities for informal discussions. Session I focused on ‘The State of Democracy: Concepts and Indicators’ Prof. Wolfgang Merkel, one of this session’s discussion leaders, spoke about embedded democracy and started his remarks talking about the loss of power of parliaments and the major attacks on power to govern. After discussing the most advanced democracies and the different rates of decline, he emphasized the topic of crisis and stresses two points: the meanings of crisis (acute and slow declining) as well as the types of crisis (legitimacy crisis, overload crisis, post-democratic crisis and crisis of the political community). Regarding analysis of democracy Merkel argued, that three levels need to be linked: macro regimes, micro individuals, and meso collective actors. The second discussion leader Dr. Anna Lührmann spoke about the varieties of democracy, such as liberal and electoral. She emphasized that actually there is no crisis in democracy; moreover democracy is at its all time high. Lührmann explained that more countries are improving regarding voter’s registry and also international actors are very active getting better voter registries. But, that the climate of public debate has shifted greatly. She concluded saying that autocratization is on the rise and elections are still the norm, but less meaningful. One of the main questions in the following discussion regarded Lührmann’s remarks on autocratization. She was asked to give a definition for the term, which she replied to saying it’s a gradual decline to democratic regime attributes. Merkel added to her definition the aspect of rule of law, which is obviated by governments tending in the direction of autocracies such as Hungary.

Session II dealt with the topic “Democracy in America: What went wrong and how bad is it?”. Dr. Amnon Cavari and Michael Allen were the speaking discussion leaders and emphasized as one of the main problems identity politics, which divide the US population and on the same time reflects the historical tensions in the US. What won is the feeling of the working class white men being left behind, said Michael Allen and further explained that dysfunctional social media and regular media have introduced a new level of toxicity to American politics. Dr. Cavari added the increasing polarization of the Democratic and Republican as a factor deepening the crisis situation. He also named Gerrymandering as a strong effect on American politics.

Session III dealt with the status of democracy in Europa. Dr. Corina Stratulat pinpointed the rise of populism as central phenomenon and as the fastest growing form of ideology within Europe, which works and brings along anti-democratic tensions. These are often mixed with identical terms such as populism, anti-institutionalism, anti-liberalization and more. In her eyes contemporary challenges are audiences, which tend to support radical ideologies. These audiences support populists due to resentment of economic inequality. Stratulat argued that threat perceptions should be seen as a key to understand dissatisfaction and anti-establishment sentiments. Prof. Michael Wohlgemuth added voter characteristics for populist parties show less educated, male and poorer voters. In the following debate it was discussed if populism is the problem or a symptom of the problem. But there are other factors that are critical, such as anxiety, fear and threat, noted Dr. Sivan Hirsch-Hoefler.

Session IV looked at the topc ‘Politics Follows Geopolitics? The Contemporary Global System and Democracy’. One main aspect was the uncertain future of transatlantic cooperation. Trump’s view that each particular state should protect itself from threats from global governments was just one example.

Session V highlighted ‘Thinking about democratic resilience’ itself. The next session stressed the topic of ‘Democratic Renewal in the Age of Complexity’. Corina Stratulat pointed out, that crisis of democracy is the voice of the frustration of the empowered and asked the question, if the democratic political systems can become responsive systems and what cost this would take. At the end it is necessary to know what the changers want, what they are willing to sacrifice and where red lines are, she added. Dr. Amichai Magen joined Stratulat in asking, what kind of innovations can be made to come to a new societal contract in order to deliberate and have a discussion. Merkel argued the importance of having referenda to produce democratic legitimacy. On the same side he emphasized the need to preserve the liberal core within society and parties and pointed out, that the parties themselves are in crisis with new problems such as funding, new regulations and laws. He summed up saying ‘It has become harder for political parties to do their job.’

In Session VII: Rethinking Democratic Norms, Processes and Institutions’ and one main aspect focused on the more interconnected society or the feeling of people being more interconnected than ever, which is seen as a factor for people thinking that democratic norms are outdated. An answer to this problem suggests the need to build new democratic institutions which ask more of people.

The final session served as summary and wrap up and was hosted by Prof. Joao Carlos Espada. Prof. Merkel starting by saying that the people present at the workshop think of democratic innovation needs strengthening and also an opening of political space for political participation. He recommended taking a further look at core representative institutions, specifically the role of the state. Prof. Joao pointed out that liberal democracy is about a set of rules which enable people to engage in free conversations. In his eyes this real variety of views is what is needed and what liberal democracy is about. Dr. Amichai addressed two themes, the reflection of culture and culture affirming. He pled for a stronger engagement towards other audiences even with disagreement to assure the continuance of the interaction between processes and institutions.

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