Democratic crisis? Resolving socio-economic and political challenges to reinvigorate democracies

Almost three decades after the End of History essay and debates democracy faces significant challenges. Political developments have been marked by the rise of political forces and discourses promoting populism and nationalism and questioning liberalism. These are often couched in a language of anti-elitism and anti-cosmopolitanism as they seek to profit from citizens’ frustration at their socio-economic situation and political shortcomings of democracies. Social, cultural, economic, technological and political challenges related to the legitimacy, accountability, transparency, levels of engagement and effectiveness of democracies need to be addressed normatively and empirically with a view to averting a fundamental crisis in democratic standards.


The coordination and support action should bring together the relevant research community with representatives of civil society, as well as socio-economic and policy stakeholders (at European, national and sub-national levels). Proposals should adopt a holistic approach and ensure broad geographic coverage. The network should consider the altering capacity of parties, parliaments and executives to represent citizens. At the same time, it should address changes in voting behaviour such as growing abstention, increasing volatility and preference for extreme political discourses and their potential to sap the foundations of democracy. The role of referenda, also in relation to traditional and social media, should be part of the reflection. Moreover, the network should deliberate to what extent higher levels of distrust towards elected bodies and institutions and the political class could be signalling a more deep rooted shift towards a popular preference for outcomes over political participation and rights. Consideration should be given to political processes that may lead to a weakening of the institutions and laws that guarantee checks and balances, civil liberties, human rights and the rule of law. Different democratic traditions and pathways and how they affect policy responses should also be examined. A historical perspective should be adopted in tracing the political and sociological roots of current populist movements and parties.

Attention should be given to the role of supranational institutions and the ways in which they affect democracies. The role of identities, including European identity, for democratic governance could also be considered. Gender aspects should be taken into account. Moreover, the interaction between corporations and democratic institutions, including various forms of lobbying, needs to be better understood normatively and empirically. Additionally, the ways high levels of inequality impact political engagement and disenfranchisement should be part of the reflection and policy answers. Lastly, attention should be paid to the opportunities for participation and openness generated by new technologies and how these could connect to citizens’ movements.

Proposals should adopt a forward-looking perspective. The network should organise dialogues over the long-term dynamics of modern democracies. These dynamics should be examined against the backdrop of technological transformations and their impact on transparency, participation, the media and accountability. Moreover, developments should be considered in relation to the need for greater social and ecologic sustainability. Proposals should equally build on democratic theory and innovation in order to enhance participation and engagement and where appropriate go beyond traditional notions of representative democracy. The network should also synthesise and evaluate the research conducted under the ERA-NET “Renegotiating democratic governance in times of disruptions” (H2020-SC6-GOVERNANCE-14-2018).

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of EUR 1.5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Expected Impact

The network will take stock of research findings and promote wide trans- and interdisciplinary dialogues with a view to re-invigorating, modernising and enhancing democracies. The narratives, discourses and scientifically robust recommendations generated will enhance public policy debates and decision making on democracy. The network will equally propose new research agendas.

Delegation Exception Footnote

This activity directly aimed at supporting the development and implementation of evidence base for R&I policies and supporting various groups of stakeholders is excluded from the delegation to the Research Executive Agency and will be implemented by the Commission services.

Cross-cutting Priorities

  • Gender
  • Socio-economic science and humanities
Application date
Social sciences : Management and Public administration, Political science, Psychology & Cognitive Sciences, Sociology