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

Response to commentators – Complementing democracies horizontally and not (just) vertically: Aspirations, theoretical foundations, conceptual innovations and comparative advantages

By Joachim Blatter (University of Lucerne)


I would like to thank Rainer Bauböck for giving me the opportunity to present my proposal for a horizontal approach to complementing national democracies in a world of cross-border flows and (inter)dependencies. A further thank you belongs to those who have taken their time for formulating comments. These comments are very helpful for further clarifying and specifying my proposal. In my response, I will focus on three aspects.

First, not only for Eva Erman the presented short proposal is “undertheorised.” Even the much longer WZB-discussion paper (Blatter 2018), on which the kick-off presentations builds, will certainly not fully satisfy the political theorist. In the following, I will give a few hints in which direction I am going to formulate a more explicit theoretical foundation for the proposal.

Second, the most serious normative concern that has been raised (most explicitly by Antoinette Scherz and Anna Meine) is the fear that the proposal undermines political equality as a fundamental cornerstone of democracy. I will argue that two innovations that Mathias Koenig-Archibugi (2012) brought into the boundary of the demos debate – fuzzy set theory and a proportional understanding of equality – do not only help to overcome the binary thinking that characterises the boundary of the demos debate (exemplified most clearly in Ludvig Beckman’s and Anna Meine’s comments). They also pave the way to an understanding of political equality that is adequate in a world of fuzzy (understood as differentiated but clearly specified) boundaries.

Third, I want to emphasize the generic character of my proposal, which I perceive as a useful template in a number of different contexts. It might help to democratise bi- and multilateral forms of governance on various scales – from cross-border regions and neighbouring countries to continental and global levels. I even belief that it contains a promising way to think about the democratisation of relationships that have an imperial background – such as the relationships between central cities and their neighbouring municipalities formerly called “suburbs” or the relationships between former colonisers and their colonies (the latter in line with Michael Frazer’s suggestion). Although within the EU, the proposed horizontal transnational pathway for expanding democracies should serve primarily as a supportive complement to vertical/supranational pathways, I will emphasize the comparative advantages of my proposal in the last section of this response. In contrast to attempts that seek to strengthen democracy on a supranational level (especially by strengthening the European Parliament), but also in contrast to most other suggestions (such as citizens assemblies, cross-border referenda as well as interparliamentary collaboration), my proposal emphasizes the importance of political parties as intermediary organisations between the rulers and the ruled.[1] Furthermore, it provides nations with a legitimate pathway towards inclusion in the democratic will-formation and decision-making processes of other nation states. Moreover, it provides citizens with additional and constructive means for political participation and contestation.

In contrast to Sofia Näsström, I believe that the proposal comes neither too late, nor does it offer too little. At the heart of the proposal lies not the idea of “adding another layer of representation on top of existing ones,” but that of rearranging the institutional contexts and incentives in order to allow national parties and parliaments to perform better. I have no doubt that representative forms of democracy and responsible party government are features of democracy that are worthwhile to defend. A look at current day Italy should be a warning for all those who think we should copy populists and abandon the belief in political procedures and intermediary institutions.


Aspirations and theoretical foundations

For Erman, it has not become clear what the proposal is aiming to achieve partly because it is difficult to understand and evaluate the concrete nature of the proposal and its specific innovations without knowledge that would allow us to place it in the theoretical landscape. In the following, I will sketch the main goals and normative theories the proposal is based on. I certainly value the critical insight and inspiration that we gain by reflecting on how coherent a proposal is in relation to a comprehensive theory. In the context of formulating a concrete reform proposal, though, I feel that its ability to be justifiable from within a number of normative theories has great advantages. If tensions and trade-offs between distinct goals and theories emerge, a pragmatic approach strives for a compromise or a balanced solution on a more specific or concrete level, and not for eliminating the proposal as such merely because of its inconsistency with a comprehensive theory.

The major aim of the proposal is to develop a specific and concrete form of transnational democracy that is able to serve as a template for democratising currently existing and potentially emerging bi- and multilateral forms of governance. The latter are understood as forms of decision-making in which nation states have pooled competences and therefore have to decide together. In these bi- and multinational forms of governance, the states have not transferred decision-making competences to an institution that is no longer under the control of nation states. When such transfers have taken place, we no longer talk of bi-, multi- or transnational forms of governance, but of supranational ones. Such supranational contexts require supranational democratisation but for bi- and multilateral forms of governance we need to seek different solutions.

After having clarified that enhancing or safeguarding the democratic quality of political decision-making is the main aspiration, we turn to the question: What is meant by democratic quality? Which normative theory of democracy do I have in mind when I urge the “democratisation” of transnational forms of governance? The proposal has been developed in order to address a widespread but clearly specified problem: Cross-border flows and (inter)dependencies have been facilitated and addressed by technocratic forms of bi- and multilateral governance (dominated by the executive branch of government and by experts), which in turn spurred a populist reaction within national democracies. Both technocracy and populism endanger a pluralist understanding of democracy. Given this problem-centred starting point, it seems adequate to base the proposal on Mark Warren’s problem-based approach to democratic theory. Such an approach starts with the assumption that a political system that counts as democratic must fulfil three basic functions: empowered inclusion, collective agenda and will formation, and collective decision making (Warren 2017: 43). The proposal contains suggestions on how to reform currently existing national democracies in order to fulfil the first function more adequately in the specified contexts.

Such a functional approach allows us to integrate various normative theories of democracy in a specific way. For an adequate specification of the “collective agenda and will formation” function we might turn to deliberative theories of democracy, since within these theories cognitive and communicative processes take centre stage. In this respect, my approach has been inspired by James Bohman (e.g. 2007) and Rainer Forst (e.g. 2012), although I place more weight on the potential problem solving capacities of existing democratic institutions. I do so partly because I am convinced that democracies can only function if they involve both deliberation and aggregation (in the form of electoral decision-making). In this respect, my approach builds on what I would call the “majoritarian-parliamentarian” strand of neo-republicanism (Bellamy 2019, Shapiro 2016). In contrast to the liberal-constitutionalist strand (Pettit 1012), the protagonists of this strand of neo-republicanism emphasize elections, party competition and majoritarian decision-making in parliaments as basic means to safeguard the republican goal of non-domination.

At the heart of my proposal stands the claim that the “spaces of collective agenda and will formation/deliberation” must be congruent with the “spaces of decision-making/aggregation” (Blatter 2018: 10-12). In contrast to other proponents of multilateral democracy (e.g. Cheneval 2011), I perceive the separation between “a finite political decision-making community and a wider epistemic deliberating community appealing to common sense” (Cheneval 2006: 160)” as a problem and not as a solution. This separation forces politicians and political parties to behave differently when they campaign – in order to be “responsive” to their finite electorate – and when they govern – when they have to be able to produce “responsible” policies. I believe the existing incongruence between spaces of deliberation and spaces of aggregation to be a major source of the current legitimacy crisis of representative democracy.

The proposal is not only based on “configurational thinking” (Ragin 2000) when it comes to combining deliberative and aggregative theories of democracy in such a way that the two functions – collective agenda and will formation and decision making – can be fulfilled in a way that allows core political actors to act and communicate coherently. Configurational thinking characterises my approach to the first function – empowered inclusion – as well. This is the case in respect to both questions: which kind of actors have to be included in democratic processes and on which grounds?

First, as pointed out by Peter Niesen, the proposal is in line with the presumption that democratic systems that go beyond the nation state must be conceptualised as “demoicracies.” All proponents of demoicracy agree that such a system involves more than one demos and two different kinds of principals – a people governing itself and a plurality of peoples governing jointly. There are, however, distinct approaches to understanding the idea of demoi and its consequences. On the one hand, some argue that there are different types of demoi (e.g. national and supranational ones) and that supranational demoi call for supranational representation of individual interests and rights as distinct from the mediated representation of individual interests and rights though the dealings of peoples in international relations (e.g. Cheneval 2011). Others, in contrast, claim that there are only national demoi and that individuals should be represented by their nation states (e.g. Bellamy 2019). My proposal is much closer to the former position, in as much as the consociated representatives should be elected by consociated citizens. They should be aligned to political parties according to their individual ideological orientation and not as representatives of the (allegedly homogenous) national interests of consociated states. Nevertheless, the peoples of the participating states are the “pouvoir constituant”. Their representatives have to sign the “declaration of interdependence” and they have to agree on the specifics of the transnational voting and representation schemes.

Second, as most but not all commentators have taken note of, the proposal refers not (only) to the all affected interests principle when formulating the justifications for why the demoi of nation states should be expanded beyond nationals and residents. I tried hard to be explicit that the proposal can also be (and actually should be mainly) justified based on the “all subjected to law/coercion” principle. Recall that the context for which I see my proposal as the adequate response is a situation in which jurisdictions/states have established a broad spectrum of bi- or multilateral agreements and corresponding forms of intergovernmental joint decision-making. This means that the people living in the participating jurisdictions are subjected to rules, which have been created – and which can only be changed! – through the joint will of their governmental representatives. In consequence, the other jurisdictions have become part of the rule-making structure of each participating jurisdiction. Their policies and negotiation positions limit the autonomy of each jurisdiction without thereby transferring sovereignty to a jurisdiction on a higher level. Providing the citizens of one participating jurisdiction with a (limited) membership, voice and vote in another participating jurisdiction can be justified with reference to the theories of democracy mentioned above, but also with efficiency and justice considerations.

Before I turn in more detail to the conceptual innovation that my proposal offers, a major misunderstanding has to be clarified. Beckman has argued that my proposal would not satisfy Robert Dahl’s criterion that the people have control over the agenda. I disagree with this criticism for three reasons: First, he ignores that I have formulated the idea that consociated representatives have only limited rights as one of two “potential pathways” for balancing the inclusion of the perspectives and interests of consociated citizens with the right to self-determination of the national (or residential) members of the demos. The second pathway would follow the lead of many nation states when they assign their external citizens special representatives and would provide the consociated citizens with a less favourable ratio of representatives per eligible voter than national citizens. If one believes that the first pathway undermines the fundamental democratic value of equality, one cannot generalise this conclusion to the entire proposal without discussing the second option. Second, granting consociated representatives less rights in decision-making does not boil down to giving them no agenda setting capacities. Consociated representatives should very much have the right to put issues on the agenda of the parliament, to introduce laws, and to make inquiries in respect to governmental actions etc. When it comes to the first function of “collective agenda and will formation,” they should have the same rights and powers as other representatives. This pathway has a big advantage from a deliberative point of view inasmuch as that the transnational aspect will have a prominent place in parliamentarian decision-making processes. If consociated representatives demand to get a vote in the parliamentarian decision-making procedures and not all national representatives agree, the first debate that has to take place is the one in which arguments for and against the inclusion of consociated representatives are presented to the national and transnational public. Third, if “setting the agenda” is interpreted in an “aggregative” way, as Beckman does, as “having the power to make decisions about distribution of power between public institutions,” it is not so difficult to imagine solutions that fulfil the following two goals: a) clearly specifying which demos has which power in which context (in order to avoid what Meine calls “oscillating”), and b) providing the consociated part of the demos with the level of power that is adequate for a transnationally expanded national demos.

As a precondition, one has to recognise that the proposal envisions the co-existence of two horizontally overlapping demoi: the first one consists only of national citizens (or even better from a normative point of view: long-term legal residents) and the second more encompassing one consists of the members of the first demos plus all consociated citizens. The latter one is not a supranational demos, as Beckman implies, but a transnationally expanded national demos. When it comes to decision-making in parliament, the following rules would fulfil the two formulated goals: Representatives of the national demos can only reject the demand of the consociated representatives for being included in the substantial decision if the percentage of rejecting votes is higher among these parliamentarians than the percentage among the consociated representatives who demand their inclusion. Let us consider Beckman’s example of a decision on whether a country should exit the consociation of democracies. It is highly likely (but not entirely certain) that the vast majority of the consociated representatives would want to have a say in this decision (even those who might support the exit might want to have a vote, but it is possible that consociated citizens have elected consociated representatives committed to abolishing the transnational voting scheme). If all consociated representatives demand their inclusion, the representatives of the national demos would have to reject their demand unanimously in order to avoid that this decision takes place within a “transnationalised democracy.” Overall, the proposal tries to inspire rules of collective agenda setting, will formation and decision-making, which make it more likely that the perspectives and interests of the entire transnationally expanded national demos is taken into account. Nevertheless, it is based on the conviction that it should be left up to the political processes in specific (bounded) contexts to determine how much/exactly this takes place in practice (Blatter 2018: 34).


Conceptual innovations in thinking about boundaries and equality

My proposal builds on two conceptual innovations that Mathias Koenig-Archibugi (2012) has brought to the boundary of the demos debate: fuzzy boundaries and proportional equality. The term “fuzzy” points to fuzzy set theory; fuzzy set theory allows for dealing adequately with membership in conceptual sets that do not have sharp, but still clearly specified boundaries. Fuzzy set theory combines the qualitative thinking in differences in kind with the quantitative thinking in differences in degree (Ragin 2000). It paves the way for overcoming the conceptual limitations that we observe in the boundary of the demos debate. Most proponents of the “all subjected to law/coercion” principle assume that membership in a demos has to be conceptualised as a dichotomous decision. This implies not only that individuals are (and should be) “either in or out” of a specific demos, but also that those who are in, should have all political rights and those who are out should have no political rights. Furthermore, they assume that the nation state has “virtually unlimited power to control residents, but only limited power to control non-residents” (Beckman and Rosenberg 2018: 181), so that only those who reside within the territory of a nation state should be included in the demoi of nation states. We also find this kind of dichotomous thinking on a further level. It is often argued that the only alternative to the “all subjected to law/coercion” principle is the “all affected interests” principle, and that this principle demands that the boundary of the demos has to be redrawn for each and every single policy decision in order to include the actually, probably or possibly affected people. This implies that the only alternative to a bivalent categorical decision is a continuous process of re-making this fundamental decision. If that is the case, the “all affected interests” principle leads to indeterminate or instable boundaries and therefore cannot be accepted as a feasible principle for determining the boundary of the demos (e.g. Beckman 2009, Scherz 2013).

Koenig-Archibugi (2012) has provided a way of applying the “all affected interests” principle that avoids the problems of instability and indeterminacy by focussing, rather than on individual decisions, on individual states as “deciders”. Mirroring his argument that the all affected interests principle does not necessarily lead to problems of indeterminacy and instability, I would like to suggest that the all subjected to law/coercion principle should not lead us to the assumption that the inclusion into a national demos has to be an all-or-nothing affair. In the specified context of transnational governance, nation states have significant power to control members of other nation states involved in the consociation scheme, but clearly less so than with regards to their own members. I call thus for substituting the “all-or-nothing” view with a “more-and-less” perspective: inclusion in the demos can also come in “punctuated” grades. My proposal ensures that a gradual inclusion into a demos does not lead to indeterminacy with respect to clarifying who has the right to vote and who not. Furthermore, it would balance stability and adaptability, since it would allow the members of the consociated states to redraw the boundaries of the transnationalised demoi every four or five years.

After having clarified that an empowered inclusion that builds on the fuzzy boundaries of horizontally overlapping transnationalised demoi does not undermine the preconditions that are necessary for electoral forms of democratic decision-making, we turn to the question of whether it undermines political equality. When Koenig-Archibugi (2012) pointed to the principle of proportionality as a foundation for his concept of fuzzy citizenship, he referred to Brighouse and Fleurbaey (2010) as the authors who most prominently reintroduced the proportionality principle into democratic theory. Unfortunately, these authors propose “to replace the principle of equality by a principle of proportionality” since it “would not only provide better guidelines for the definition of a democratic ideal in theory, but would also help understanding existing institutions and practices” (Brighouse and Fleurbaey 2010: 137/138). Arguing that the norm of “equality” should be exchanged for a different norm called “proportionality” is quite misleading. Instead, “proportionality” should be understood as one way of specifying the concept of equality. What really is at stake is what Aristotle called the difference between “numerical equality” and “proportional equality.” Numerical equality requires us to treat “all persons as indistinguishable, thus treating them identically or granting them the same quantity of a good per capita. This is not always just. In contrast, a form of treatment of others or distribution is proportional or relatively equal when it treats all relevant persons in relation to their due” (Gosepath 2011: 4).

In the context of transnational governance, each nation state systematically affects and legally subjects two kinds of peoples in a qualitatively distinct way. On the one hand, there are its own residents, who are very often affected by and generally subjected to national laws and policies. On the other, there are the residents of nation states participating in the consociated schema, who are often, but less often affected by these laws and policies, and sometimes but not always, or indirectly but not directly, subjected to joint regulations. Treating both groups equally implies that the members of the latter group are recognised as partial members of the demos and that they are entitled to have a representation in the national parliament, but one that is weaker than or not as “natural” as the one that is owed to core members of the national demoi. Both alternatives – recognising them as full members and treating them as non-members – fare much worse when it comes to defending political equality in the specified contexts.

I realise that the proposal lends itself to accusations that it introduces “first- and second-class citizens” and “first- and second-class representatives.” When it comes to citizens, this accusation is easily rejected: In comparison to the current state of affairs, all members states involved in the consociated scheme would gain extended (albeit limited) membership powers. Nobody loses her citizenship (full membership in a nation state); the slight reduction of political power that established members of a national demos experience with the inclusion of consociated citizens is not only normatively justified but probably also quite productive in respect to enhancing the collective political self-determination of all members of the consociation of states. In consequence, the proposal will not lead to first- and second-class citizens, but to citizens who have a first-class membership plus one or more second-class memberships. Egalitarians might even value the fact that the first-class membership would be slightly devalued (if we accept a narrow aggregative point of view), since this reduces the gap between the level of influence that comes with first- and second-class memberships.

When it comes to representatives, I realise that that the second option that I presented as a potential pathway for adequately calibrating the power of national demoi in relation to the power of the newly included consociated members can be interpreted as leading to first- and second-class representatives. If consociated representatives do not have a “natural” voting right in parliament as the other parliamentarians do, they might be perceived as second-class representatives. Nevertheless, as already explained above, this option should not be misunderstood. From a deliberative point of view, consociated representatives would not be second-class representatives but would instead always have the first word. They have the right to ask for inclusion into the decision-making process whenever the parliament debates policy issues with the goal of changing national laws that might systematically affect their constituency or with the goal of determining the position of the national government in international negotiations. For adherents of aggregative theories of democracy, this is certainly not enough to balance the fact that consociate representatives do not have a “natural” right to vote in parliamentary decision-making. But for them, the alternative first proposal – a lower number of representatives per eligible voter for the consociated citizens in comparison to the number of representatives per eligible voter among the national citizens – should be acceptable.


Alternatives and the comparative advantages of my proposal

As I mentioned in footnote 2 of the kick-off contribution, the proposed transnationalisation of national elections and parliaments should be understood as part of a larger project that includes a second proposal for the transnationalisation of European elections and the European Parliament. The horizontal – transnational – pathway to deal with an (inter)dependent world should not be seen as a substitute, but mainly as a complement to the vertical – supranational – pathway. At the same time, I would like to point out that our proposal for reforming the EP elections is a decidedly transnational – and not a supranational – proposal. We do not propose that all voters within the EU member states should be able to vote for transnational lists in order to stimulate the creation of truly European parties, but we suggest that all voters in all EU member states should be able to vote for all national parties based in all member states. This would incentivise national parties to cater to non-national voters in the elections to the European Parliament, which in turn, could, but does not have to, stimulate the emergence of truly European parties.

Antoinette Scherz bases a part of her critique on Rodrik’s globalisation trilemma, which I find, in the way that Rodrik presents it, rather misleading. Rodrik’s claim that we cannot have economic integration, national sovereignty and democracy at the same time is based on a very traditional and simplified understanding of these three concepts. I want to suggest that there is an alternative option: We can redefine what economic integration, national sovereignty and democracy means. My proposal should be read as a contribution to a redefinition of democracy which makes it compatible both with an economic integration strategy that carefully balances free trade and social protection, and with an understanding of sovereignty that takes not only negative but also positive notions of political sovereignty into account (see for the latter Ronzoni 2012). The main strategy for the redefinition of these core terms is to overcome the thinking in simple dichotomies. Most importantly, when it comes to sovereignty, states are not forced to choose between transferring sovereignty to a supranational institution or to reserve it for individual states. Instead, they can pool sovereignty, and that is what they very often do, not only within the EU.

The proposed transnationalisation of national democracies aims to democratise specific forms of governance characterised by a pooling of national political sovereignty and competences within a joint decision-making institution without thereby transferring political sovereignty/competences to a new, independent, supranational institution. The European Union is a complex mix of transnational and supranational elements. It would lead way too far to attempt to discuss the pros and cons of bi- and multilateral forms of governance against the pros and cons of supranational forms of governance. Fortunately, Richard Bellamy’s recent book arrived just in time to serve as a reference for all those who want to ground their scepticism against supranational forms of governance and democracy in a normative theory of democracy. Bellamy (2019) plausibly argues that socio-economic, cultural and political diversity among European nation states prevents us from establishing on a European level a form of democracy that is as efficient and legitimate as what we find within nation states. My main reason for being sceptical vis-a-vis the supranational pathway is that the intermediary organisations that link the rule-makers and the ruled (especially the media and the party systems) are much less developed on a European level in comparison to the national level and there is no evidence to support the belief that this might change anytime soon.

The European Social Survey that Mathias Koenig-Archibugi cites provides no grounds for placing all our hopes on a strengthened supranatioanal European Parliament. When the Europeans indicate more trust in the EP in comparison to their national parliaments, I take this as another sign that ordinary people – in contrast to political theorists – do not trust political institutions that are characterised by internal conflict and disagreement. My guess is that if the EP were strengthened and “politicised” (in the sense that the current consensus system based on the collaboration of large centrist parties were replaced with a majoritarian system dominated by the competition of ideologically aligned party families), we should no longer expect the favourable evaluations that it currently receives from European citizens.

As much as I share (much but not all of) Bellamy’s scepticism with respect to supranational forms of governance and democracy, I believe it is unfortunate that he recognises and discusses only a limited set of proposals for the transnationalisation of democracy. In consequence, he ends up with a republican version of a distinction that John Rawls has presented from a liberal point of view already twenty years ago (Rawls 1999). Both presume a categorical difference between the domestic and the international spheres, and both perceive states or peoples as the only legitimate actors within the international realm. That being said, Bellamy does emphasize that not only governments but also parliaments should play an important role as representatives of statespeoples within the international realm. In consequence, he proposes to tackle the “democratic disconnect” that he and Kröger have diagnosed for the European Union by strengthening the role of national parliaments in EU policy-making (Bellamy and Kröger 2016). This proposal has already made strong inroads into political practice. In 2017, a group of mainly French academics (including Thomas Piketty) joined Benoît Hamon, the presidential candidate of the French Socialist Party, in pushing for the creation of a Euro-zone Parliamentary Assembly, which would include mostly members of national parliaments but also members of the European Parliament, for the sake of democratising and supranationalising political decision-making within the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Steering in the Economic and Monetary Union.[2] Furthermore, the German and the French Parliaments recently signed an agreement to establish a joint parliamentary assembly, not just in order to strengthen and to democratise their bilateral relations, but also to foster convergence on national positions on the European level.[3]

As much as I welcome the increased attention that national parliaments gain, and their movements towards democratising trans- and supranational forms of governance, I believe that these proposals and activities are insufficient and might even turn out to be counterproductive. While proponents argue that we have to strengthen the role of national parliaments in EU decision-making to achieve relations of political equality and mutual respect among national communities (Bellamy and Castiglione 2013: 219/220), it could be that this might also have the opposite effect. Strengthening the role of national parliaments in European politics as such does not only reduce governmental leeway for finding compromises, it also reproduces the power asymmetries among nation states in intergovernmental negotiations (see for example: Moschella 2017). To focus on the connection among political representatives on various levels (or on the connection among the representatives of divergent national parliaments) ignores, on the other hand, the fact that the connection between the people and their representatives on the national level is at least as much in need of a renewal and revitalisation. Even worse, strengthening the connection between representatives of divergent demoi might lead to an even larger disconnect between political representatives and those they represent because the latter might perceive it as a form of collusion among political elites (Blatter 2018: 9). This can only be avoided if individual citizens and intermediary organizations play a major role in the transnationalisation of national parliaments (and the EP). In order to make this possible, constituencies, elections and parties must be transnationalised.

Joseph Lacey and Rainer Bauböck argue that there are other and better institutional options for the transnationalisation of democratic processes. Whereas Lacey points to citizen assemblies, Bauböck advocates cross-border referenda. Both options could be valuable since they help to overcome national parochialism and they put citizens centre stage. Nevertheless, these two options have clear disadvantages in comparison to my proposal. First, they place their foci either on the deliberative part (citizen assemblies) or on the aggregative element (referenda) of the democratic process, and not on both simultaneously as my proposal would. Furthermore, and most importantly, both solutions would contribute to the ongoing process of undermining the role of political parties. Proponents of citizen assemblies often draw on and thereby reinforce the widespread mistrust against (professional) politicians and value-based parties. As we know from the Swiss experience, the availability of direct democratic instruments reduces the turnout in general elections. A lower turnout goes along with a stronger socio-economic bias in participation and representation. In consequence, all those who are concerned with the socio-economic imbalance that currently hampers democratic decision-making (exemplified by Näsström’s contribution in this debate) should be wary of proposals that bypass general elections and party representatives.


Potential advocates of the proposal

Luciano Bardi identifies two obstacles to the implementation of the proposal in the EU: a) different socio-economic challenges and political priorities among the member states and b) the unwillingness of national politicians to give up the opportunity to mobilise their national constituency by blaming externals. Supranationalists would argue that we have to overcome the first problem by complementing the currently existing technocratic institutions on the EU level (which hide the conflicts behind a veil of expertise and through governmental bargaining behind doors) with majoritarian decision-making in a Europeanised European Parliament. My transnational approach is much less centralising. It would not take away from nations their freedom to pursue their own priorities, but it would make their processes of collective agenda-setting, will-formation and decision-making less parochial. When it comes to overcoming the motivational hurdles among national politicians, we should not follow populist lines of reasoning and put all politicians in one box. As Mathias Koenig-Archibugi mentioned with reference to the work of Lucy Kinski, in national parliaments we already find representatives who claim to speak for or act in the interest of citizens from other member states. They would have something to win if these citizens were able to vote for them. Furthermore, we should never underestimate the possibility of counter-intuitive positioning in politics. Take the stance towards dual citizenship, for example. Currently, dual citizens are the only group of citizens who can already enact my scheme of transnational voting and representation. Nationalists and conservatives usually fight dual citizenship, arguing from identity and loyalty concerns. Nevertheless, when they realise that dual citizenship opens up the opportunity for the denaturalisation and deportation of terrorists, they sometimes change their position. It might well be that in many countries populist parties perceive the chance to represent their constituency in the parliament of another nation state as an attractive opportunity and may see the price to have representatives of that state in their own parliament as bearable. Finally, proponents of the transnational voting scheme could realise that it has the potential to be a “wedge issue” that drives nationalists and populists apart. After all, populists should support the proposal because it provides the people with further opportunities to fight elitist domination. For most nationalists, though, the institutionalised interference of other people with their national will-formation and decision-making is probably an absolute no-go.



Overall, despite the fact that the transnational approach forms a conceptual “via media” between supranational and national approaches, its establishment does not mean that the other approaches can be fully overcome or substituted. Instead, the transnational approach builds on and transforms the national approach and it provides, at the same time, the groundwork for strengthening and legitimising the supranational approach. It forms an important part, that is, of a truly pluralistic strategy to deal effectively and democratically with a world of ever increasing cross-border flows and (inter)dependencies (Blatter and Schlenker 2013, Blatter 2018: 35). I see its ambiguity in respect to its consequences for national and supranational approaches as a strategic advantage. Nationalists can support it in their attempts to avoid supranationalism (e.g. Miller 2009), and – as many comments have shown – supranationalists recognise that it might be a first step towards overcoming (or a backstop against sliding back into) parochial nationalism.



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Beckman, L. & Rosenberg, J. (2018). Freedom as Non-Domination and Democratic Inclusion. Res Publica 24: 181–198.

Bellamy, R., & Castiglione, D. (2013). Three models of democracy, political community and representation in the EU. Journal of European Public Policy, 20(2), 206–223.

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

Bellamy, R. (2019). A republican Europe of states: cosmopolitanism, intergovernmentalism and democracy in the EU. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Blatter, J. (2018). Transnationalizing 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

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[1] There are many reasons for defending the role of parties in democratic systems. Beyond their function as intermediaries between the ruled and the rulers, a core function is the selection and socialisation of competent and non-authoritarian personnel for leadership positions.

[2] http://tdem.eu/en/treaty/

[3] https://www.bundestag.de/resource/blob/577996/a32cc8d55b73523c2cceb64ddcf9c5be/