Let me vote in your country, and I’ll let you vote in mine. A proposal for transnational democracy


Let me vote in your country, and I’ll let you vote in mine. A proposal for transnational democracy

By Joachim Blatter (University of Lucerne)


The Euro was supposed to bring Europeans together, but the common currency turned out to spur what Luciano Bardi (2014) calls “horizontal Euroscepticism:” mistrust among citizens of divergent member states, nurtured and exploited by populists and nationalist parties. The spread of the latter is not only endangering European integration but also representative democracy, “responsible party government” (Bardi, Bartonlini and Trechsel 2014), and political pluralism (Urbinati 2014, Caramani 2017). The Eurozone is only the most prominent example of a more general phenomenon: the growth of bi- and multilateral forms of intergovernmental rule making. These technocratic forms of governance have hollowed out representative democracy within participating nation states; and, in turn, stimulated populist and nationalist reactions. They displaced legislatures as core sites of democratic will-formation and decision-making, undermined the trustworthiness of political parties as core intermediary institutions that link the rulers to the ruled, and offered the people no other means to protect themselves against what they perceive as a threat to their democratic self-determination other than voting for nationalist populists.

In order to avoid the Scylla of technocratic intergovernmentalism and the Charybdis of populist nationalism, we should democratise bi- and multilateral orders by transnationalising national elections, parties and parliaments. After briefly illustrating the general problematique with the example of the Eurozone, I indicate how such a democratisation of bi- and multilateral orders could take place. Next, I address two questions: How can we make sure that national self-determination is not undermined; and how can we motivate nation states to participate? Afterwards, I scrutinise how political parties, parliaments and the people could benefit from the proposal.[1]


The Eurozone: problems of technocratic forms of international governance

The European monetary union was supposed to be an economic, social and political integration project. The easier circulation of financial capital stimulates economic growth. The joint currency simplifies not only travel but makes it easier to spend different stages of a lifetime in different countries. Furthermore, the Euro was supposed to enhance European standing in the global financial system and overcome the hegemonic position of the German Bundesbank in the European financial system. In order to reach these goals, a majority of EU member states gave up their own currencies and thereby lost the leeway to pursue their own monetary policy. Member states pooled most of the competencies of their national banks in the European Central Bank (ECB), and established coordinating mechanisms in the fields of fiscal and economic policies (“European Semester”). Nevertheless, when the financial crisis hit Europe and turned into the Euro crisis, it became clear that the governments of the participating nation states still play the major role in governing the Eurozone. Although the ECB, together with two other technocratic institutions, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission (the “Troika”), were officially in charge of providing a solution for Greece, the media focussed their attention on the European summits, during which heads of governments and ministers of finance tried to find compromises behind closed doors. Governmental negotiators who defended the interests of their own national constituencies and a media system that reported through nationalist lenses contributed to the perception of the Euro crisis as a conflict between German and Greek leaders. The nationalist framing of the Euro crisis and the perceived failure of centrist party governments fuelled the rise of anti-establishment and nationalist parties in many countries. In Greece, the left-wing populist Syriza ended the reign of the two traditional parties and took over government with the help of a right-wing nationalist party. In Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) began as a movement against the Euro, signalling resistance against the technocratic mantra that “there is no alternative” to the policies that have been agreed on in intergovernmental negotiations.

The Euro crisis exemplifies and highlights a more general problem for democracies. In order to deal with cross-border flows and the resulting political (inter)dependencies, states have applied bi- and multilateral approaches much more often than supranational ones. The latter mean that competencies are not pooled in institutions of joint decision-making, as is the case with bi- and multilateralism. Instead, competencies are delegated to institutions that are no longer under the control of nation states. Given the fact that institutions of interest mediation and public deliberation are much less developed on a transnational level in comparison to the national level, this might be not so bad from a democratic point of view.[2] Nevertheless, bi- and multilateral orders are less efficient and have their own democratic deficits. Effective solutions are often out of reach because political will-formation takes place almost exclusively inside the institutions of interest mediation and public deliberation within nation states, which leads to egocentric stances of national negotiators. Democracy suffers because the executive branch of government and technocratic experts dominate the processes of joint decision-making whereas the legislative branch, political parties, and the people are side-lined. Furthermore, there are trade-offs between efficiency and democracy. If states facilitate the creation of common regulations by reducing the unanimity requirement, their citizens are subjected to rules they can no longer control. If states facilitate what Fritz Scharpf (1999) calls “negative integration” by mutually accepting regulations of the other states as equivalent to their own ones, then their citizens are systematically affected by the policies of the other states and have lost the right to protect themselves unilaterally.

In order to address these deficits, I propose to transnationalise national constituencies, elections, parties and parliaments. The proposed transnationalisation of national democracies will make bi- and multilateral orders more efficient and effective by internalising the perspectives and interests of “external others” in domestic processes of will-formation and interest aggregation, which enhances the chances for finding joint and mutually beneficial solutions in intergovernmental negotiations. It will make these orders more democratic by bringing international politics back closer to the people and by helping national parties and parliaments to regain their central place in representative democracies.


How to transnationalise national democracies

First, representatives of nation states sign a “joint declaration of interdependence.” In this declaration, they explicitly recognise the political interdependence of their nation states and express their willingness to democratise the existing bi- and multinational systems of international governance. To support this goal, they form a “consociation[3] of nation states” and reciprocally offer their citizens the status of a “consociated citizen.”

Second, national citizens of the participating states sign – on a voluntary basis – “declarations of interest and identification.” In these they declare that they have a legitimate interest in participating in the will-formation and decision-making processes of the consociated state because they are subjected to the joint regulations and/or systematically affected by the policies of the other state (the “interest part” of the declaration). At the same time, they explicitly recognise that the consociated state has become a legitimate part of their overall system of governance, that they will obey to the rules produced within this interdependent system of governance and feel responsible for the functioning of the system (the “identification part” of the declaration). By signing this declaration, these citizens register as “consociated citizens” in the corresponding consociated state. This status comes with the right to vote and with the right to stand as a candidate in the national election of the consociated state.

Third, the consociated state grants the consociated citizens the right to elect a limited number of special representatives in its national parliament. Existing political parties that nominate candidates for representing national citizens can adjust their programme and expand their list of candidates with nominees for representing consociated citizens. The elected, and thereby directly authorised, “consociated representatives” bring the perspectives and interests of the consociated citizens into the will-formation and decision-making processes of the consociated states.


How can we make sure that national self-determination is not undermined?

The proposed expansion of parliaments of nation states through the incorporation of consociated representatives should happen in a way that carefully balances the goal to include currently excluded perspectives and interests with the right of peoples to democratic self-determination. In order to reach this goal, we first have to overcome entrenched ways of thinking about boundaries. It is often assumed that political inclusion is an “all or nothing” affair: individuals are either a member of a demos or not. The proposed solution overcomes this assumption without assuming that the boundary of the demos has be redrawn for every policy decision. Consociated citizens are subjected to regulations that the consociated state has set up together with their nation state and/or they are systematically affected by the policies of the consociated state. Nevertheless, they are less subjected to the law-making power and less affected by the policies of the consociated state than its national citizens. Therefore, they will be granted only limited rights and responsibilities.

On a practical level, there are two potential pathways to secure a carefully calibrated incorporation of the perspectives and interests of consociated citizens into the will-formation and decision-making process of nation states:

  1. The ratio of consociated representatives to consociated citizens will be lower than the ratio of national representatives to national citizens. This corresponds to the practice of most countries that assign their external citizens special representatives in their national parliaments (see Hutcheson and Arrighi 2015: 898).
  2. Consociated representatives will have limited voting rights in national parliaments. For example, consociated representatives who want to participate in a formal decision-making procedure have to justify their demand by highlighting how their constituency will be subjected to, or affected by the decision. National representatives will decide whether they accept the request. If they deny it, they also must justify their decision.


What could motivate states to set up the transnational voting schema?

Reciprocity is not only a widely accepted normative principle; but it carries a very broad motivational force, thus enhancing the feasibility of the proposal. This is most obvious when we compare the proposed expansion of the demos to its historic precedents. Proponents of the inclusion of lower classes, women, or non-national residents into the demos always argued that this expansion was not just a matter of morality, or only in the interests of the newly included. That is, they tried to convince those who had already been included that granting suffrage to new groups would benefit the entire community and would thus be in their own interest as well (think about J.S. Mill’s argument that politics would profit from the experiences of women). Nevertheless, in all those cases, the strength of the consequentialist argumentation depended upon assumptions that could be challenged. My proposal, in contrast, implies that the current members of national demoi would get a direct and equal return for granting consociated citizens a right to vote in their national elections: they would get the same right to elect parliamentarians who represent their perspectives and interests in the national parliament of the consociated state in direct exchange.

When two or a small number of nation states start to set up the proposed scheme of transnational voting and representation, the principle of reciprocity should be interpreted as “specific” or bilateral reciprocity (on different kinds of reciprocity, see Keohane 1986). This implies that a consociated state reserves the same percentage of seats in its (first chamber of) parliament for the consociated representatives of the other consociated state as the latter does for the consociated representatives of the former state. For example, if state A reserves five seats in its parliament with 500 seats, state B should reserve 3 seats, if its parliament has an overall size of 300 representatives. The rationale behind this rule is that both states should grant their newly included members the same level of political representation and influence.

When a consociation of nation states gets larger, pragmatic reasons will stimulate a drift towards “diffuse” or multilateral reciprocity and adjusted rules for assigning seats for consociated representatives within national parliaments. For example, let us assume that all 19 current member states of the Euro zone sign a “joint declaration of interdependence.” The application of specific reciprocity is no longer possible because the states would have to reserve too many seats for consociated representatives in their national parliaments. A diffuse or multilateral understanding of reciprocity paves the way for a solution insofar as states could agree on rules like the following ones:

  1. their citizens can add only a limited number of consociated citizenships to their national citizenship,
  2. each state sends “consociated representatives only to a limited number of consociated states,
  3. only the largest groups of consociated citizens within each consociated state are entitled to elect consociated representatives.

These rules would leave it up to the national citizens of each state to decide to which consociated states they want to send their representatives. Their act of registration as consociated citizens would be an important first collective decision that reveals the perceived levels and directions of (inter)dependency among consociated states.

These rules guarantee that all involved nations still send consociated representatives to the same number of national parliaments within other states, but they also make it possible and highly likely that some states receive consociated representatives from more nations than other states. For illustration, let us assume that the 19 Eurozone states have agreed that their citizens can select five consociated citizenships and that they can send consociated representatives into the parliaments of five consociated states. The likely result of such a system of transnational voting and representation is that a state that is perceived as powerful will be on the list of the five most selected states in all 18 other states. In consequence, this state has to incorporate the elected representatives of the consociated citizens from 18 other states, but its citizens can send representatives into the parliament of only five consociated states. The citizens of a state perceived as less powerful, in contrast, send consociated representatives into more parliaments of consociated states than their national parliament has to include. In consequence, the rules empower the citizens of the involved states to create new structures of authorisation and accountability according to how they perceive the power relations among (inter)dependent nation states. The citizens decide in a democratic process not only which interests and perspectives are represented in the national parliaments of consociated states, but they also decide how strongly consociated perspectives and interests should be represented in the national parliaments of which consociated states.


How could parties, parliaments, and the people benefit from the transnational voting schema?

First, politicians and parties currently face a dilemma that undermines their credibility. In election times they must be “responsive” to their electorate. As long as only national citizens can vote for national parties, parties are inclined to be responsive only to the interests and perspectives of this national electorate. Even worse, as the Euro crisis and recent elections within and beyond the EU have witnessed, it often pays politically to mobilise a national constituency by creating or highlighting threats or pressures from “the external other”. When politicians and parties govern, however, they must produce “responsible” policies. In times of transnational flows, (inter)dependencies and international regulations, producing responsible policies requires taking into account transnational effects, obligations and policy interdependencies. In other words, the current political structures force parties and politicians to behave differently when they campaign and when they govern. In contrast, an expanded electorate and the opportunity to gain further seats in the national parliament by catering to the votes of the consociated citizens would make it easier to campaign with the same programme and strategy that they have to take into account when they form a national government and govern within the existing system of international governance. Parties would regain credibility as important and trustworthy intermediary institutions between the ruled and the rulers.

Second, the elected consociated representatives enlarge the perspectives and interests that are presented in the debates within national parliaments and that are taken into account in decisions. They thereby influence not only national policies, but also the stances that national governments take in international negotiations. They can point to external effects of national policies and to the consequences of proposed joint regulations for their constituencies. Currently, these interests and rights are systematically taken into account only during intergovernmental negotiations dominated by the executive branch of government. In consequence, parliaments would regain their central place for deliberation and decision-making in a representative democracy. Consociated representatives can claim that they have been authorised to represent specific perspectives and interests through a democratic vote.

Finally, the people of the consociated states will benefit in two ways. First, when consociated representatives present the perspectives and interests of consociated citizens in national parliaments, then debates about the right way to deal with common problems and (inter)dependences takes place within processes and institutions that are well established, well-known to the people and socially as well as culturally embedded in national contexts. This makes it easier for the people to follow and to understand the political debates and struggles for the right solutions to international problems. In other words, the proposed solution would reconnect the ruled with the rulers by bringing international politics closer to the people. Second, people who currently feel dominated by other states or by bi- and multilateral institutions seem to have only one option: they vote for nationalists who promise to defend national autonomy and interests against those states and institutions. The transnational voting schema gives them alternatives that are more productive. By registering as consociated citizens, they can send a signal to those nation states that they perceive as having an important influence on their lives. Furthermore, they can elect representatives who will present their views and vote for their interests in the political centres of these nation states.


Main Sources:

Blatter, J. (2018a). Transnationalizsing democracy properly: principles and rules for granting consociated citizens voting rights and partisan representation in the parliaments of nation states. WZB-DP SP IV 2018-102; https://bibliothek.wzb.eu/pdf/2018/iv18-102.pdf

Blatter, J. (2018b). Die transnational verflochtene Welt demokratisieren [Democratising a transnational world], in Terra Cognita. Schweizer Zeitschrift zu Integration und Migration, 33, Herbst 2018.

Blatter, J. and J.-T. Arrighi (2018). Rules, principles and practices for the transnationalisation of democratic peoples, parties and parliaments. Unpublished manuscript.

Institute of Political Science at the University of Lucerne (2018): Towards Transnational Voting in the European and National Parliaments! Project description and discussion forum; https://www.unilu.ch/en/faculties/faculty-of-humanities-and-social-sciences/institutes-departements-and-research-centres/department-of-political-science/research/transnational-voting/


Further References:

Bardi, L., S. Bartolini, and A. Trechsel (2014). Responsive and responsible? The role of parties in twenty-first century politics. West European Politics, 37(2), 235–252

Bauböck, R. (2017). Democratic inclusion. A pluralistic theory of citizenship, in R. Bauböck (ed.), Democratic inclusion. Rainer Bauböck in dialogue. Manchester: Manchester University Press; 3–102

Bauböck, R. (2009). The rights and duties of external citizenship. Citizenship Studies, 13(5), 475–499.

Beckman, L. & Rosenberg, J.H. (2018). Freedom as non-domination and democratic inclusion. Res Publica, 24(2), 181-198.

Bellamy, R., & Kröger, S. (2016). The politicization of European integration: national parliaments and the democratic disconnect. Comparative European Politics, 14(2), 125–130.

Besson, S. (2007). Europe as a demoi-cratic polity. Retfaerd-Nordisk Juridisk Tidsskrift, 30(1/116), 3–21.

Blatter, J. (2011). Dual citizenship and theories of democracy. Citizenship Studies, 15, 6–7: 769–98.

Bohman, J. (2007). Democracy across borders. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Caramani, D. (2017). Will vs. reason: the populist and technocratic forms of political representation and their critique to party government. American Political Science Review, 111(1), 54–67

Caramani, D., & Strijbis, O. (2013). Discrepant electorates: the inclusiveness of electorates and its impact on the representation of citizens. Parliamentary Affairs, 66, 384–404.

Cheneval, F., & Schimmelfennig, F. (2013). The case for demoicracy in the European Union. Journal of Common Market Studies, 51(2), 334–350.

Erman, E. & Näsström, S. (2013) Political equality in transnational democracy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Goodin, R. E. (2007). Enfranchising all affected interests, and its alternatives. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 35(1), 40–68.

Goodin, R. E. (2016). Enfranchising all subjected, worldwide. International Theory, 8(3), 365–389.

Hutcheson, D. S. and J.-T. Arrighi (2015). “Keeping Pandora’s (ballot) box half-shut”: a comparative inquiry into the institutional limits of external voting in EU member states. Democratization, 22(5), 884-905.

Keohane, R. O. (1986). Reciprocity in international relations. International Organization, 40(1), 1-27.

Koenig-Archibugi, M. (2012). Fuzzy citizenship in global society. The Journal of Political Philosophy, 20(4), 456–480.

Lacey, J. (2017). Centripetal democracy. Democratic legitimacy and political identity in Belgium, Switzerland, and the European Union. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Lafleur, J.-M. (2015). The enfranchisement of citizens abroad: variations and explanations. Democratization, 22(5), 840–860.

Lijphart, A. (1969). Consociational democracy. World Politics, 21 (02), 207–225

López-Guerra, C. (2014). Democracy and disenfranchisement. The morality of electoral exclusions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Miller, D. (2009). Democracy’s domain. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 37(3), 201–228.

Niesen, P. (2012): Kosmopolitanismus in einem Land, in P. Niesen (ed.), Transnationale Gerechtigkeit und Demokratie. Frankfurt a. M./New York: Campus, 311-339.

Owen, D. (2012). Constituting the polity, constituting the demos. Ethics & Global Politics, 5(3): 129-152.

Scharpf, F. (1999). Governing in Europe. Effective and democratic? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Scherz, A. (2013). The legitimacy of the demos: who should be included in the demos and on what grounds? Living Reviews in Democracy, 4.

Schmitter, P. C. (1997). Exploring the problematic triumph of liberal democracy and concluding with a modest proposal for improving its international impact, in A. Hadenius (ed.), Democracy’s victory and crisis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 297–307.

Song, S. (2012). The boundary problem in democratic theory: why the demos should be bounded by the state. International Theory, 4(1): 39-68.

Stojanovic, N. (2011). Limits of consociationalism and possible alternatives. Centripetal effects of direct democracy in a multiethnic society. Transitions, 51(1-2), 99-114.

Urbinati, N. (2014). Democracy disfigured: opinion, truth, and the people. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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[1] My proposal has been influenced by the boundary of the demos debate (e.g. Bauböck 2017, Beckman and Rosenberg 2018, Goodin 2007, 2016, Lopez-Guerra 2014, Erman and Näsström 2013, Scherz 2013, Owen 2012, Song 2012), by the concept of “demoicracy” (e.g. Bohman 2007, Besson 2007, Cheneval and Schimmelfennig 2013), and by the attempts to “reconnect” the rulers and the ruled in Europe by strengthening national parliaments (e.g. Bellamy and Kröger 2016). Crucially important have been similar proposals presented by Philippe Schmitter (1997), Denis Thompson (1999), David Miller (2009), Mathias Koenig-Archibugi (2012), and Peter Niesen (2012). The original stimuli came from normative and empirical research on dual and external citizenship (e.g. Hutcheson and Arrighi 2015, Lafleur 2015, Caramani and Strijbis 2013, Blatter 2011, Bauböck 2009), the realisation that the spread of dual citizenship produces a system of horizontally overlapping demoi; and the conviction that such a system needs a deliberate and explicit process of constitutionalisation (Blatter 2018b).

[2] This proposal is agnostic in respect to the question of whether supranational approaches should be pursued. It starts from the observation that nation states prefer bi- and multilateralism to supranationalism and shows how these dominant orders can be democratised. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasise that it is embedded in a wider project that contains another proposal for the transnationalisation of the European Parliament: https://www.unilu.ch/en/faculties/faculty-of-humanities-and-social-sciences/institutes-departements-and-research-centres/department-of-political-science/research/transnational-voting/

[3] The term “consociated” alludes to the notion of “consociational democracy,” a concept that Arend Lijphart (1969) developed in order to describe and explain how a democracy can function in a stable way in contexts in which no strong integrated culture or identity exists. I want to emphasise, though, that my proposal does not follow Lijphart’s focus on the behaviour of political elites. Instead, it is much more in line with proposals to introduce electoral incentives that stimulate politicians and parties to address potential voters from divergent fragments of a society, something that has been called a centripetal approach to democracy (e.g. Stojanovic 2011, Lacey 2017).