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Direct Democracy in the EU –The Myth of a Citizens’ Union

The European Union has a democracy problem. The polycrisis that has plagued the EU for years has led to a cacophony of voices calling for fundamental change to the integration project. Yet despite the shock of the Brexit referendum and the electoral upsets caused by nativist parties across the continent, few of the plans for EU reform include concrete proposals to address the perennial democratic deficit.

This book looks at how the relationship between citizens, the state and EU institutions has changed in a multi-layered Union. As such, it focuses more on polity than on populism, and does not engage deeply with policy or output legitimacy. Building on the notion of increasing social, economic and political interdependence across borders, this book asks whether a sense of solidarity and European identity can be rescued from the bottom up by empowering citizens to ‘take back control’ of their Union, and offers insightful conclusions by Richard Youngs.

Direct Democracy in the EU: The Myth of a Citizens’ Union is part of the ‘Towards a Citizens’ Union’ project and is the product of collaboration with 20 of our EPIN partners. This is the first of three publications that will also cover the state of representative democracy in the EU and the accountability of democratic institutions.

The volume opens with a chapter that digs into the existing EU-level mechanisms intended to give European citizens a louder voice and have it heard. The main body of the book (part II) comprises an empirical analysis of local demand and upward mobilisation. In a representative cross-section of half of the EU’s membership (determined along geographical, economic, political, cultural and other lines), 14 country reports provide a bottom-up framework of political change and power contestation in the European Union. Working with the grain of these socio-economic, cultural and political developments across the EU, complemented by a handful of thematic chapters on narrative, procedural and technical aspects of political participation (part III), the book concludes with a chapter that synthesises the research findings, demystifies the myth of the unifying effects of direct democracy and offers recommendations to improve participatory democracy in the European Union.

Each chapter starts with a short summary, and reader-friendly highlights of the key messages appear throughout the book.

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