Populism and Citizenship in the European Union: Beyond Supply- and Demand-Explanations

Stefan Telle

The paper argues that existing supply- and demand-explanations of populism neglect the political process as a source of popular dissatisfaction. Alternatively, the paper develops the argument that historical transformations of statehood may lead to misalignment between citizens’ expectations and lived experience regarding their rights, duties, and compliance obligations toward authority. Republican citizenship is presented as the outcome of historical processes of nation-building, while liberal citizenship is underlying the process of European integration. The paper illustrates the transformation of civic, political, and social rights by economic and political liberalization in the European Union. It introduces the concept of “cityzen” to stress the increasing importance of urbanity for exercising citizenship rights. Based on the re-framed understanding of populism developed in the paper, some speculative arguments on how to address the populist challenge in the EU are presented and a promising avenue for future research is highlighted.

1. Populism, Citizenship, European Integration

The paper seeks to make a contribution to the debate1 around explaining the recent surge in populism across the European Union (EU). To this end, it critically engages with the “supply- and demand-paradigm” in populism research.2 The paper identifies several deficiencies (i.e. circularity, liberal normative bias, neglect of politics) and proposes to focus instead on citizens’ perceptions of the relationship between rights, duties, and compliance with political authority.3 This perspective views the awkward relationship between liberalism and democracy4 as key for explaining the current rise of populism in Europe and beyond.

The paper argues that European integration, understood as economic and political liberalization, is one important source of the divergence between expected and experienced citizenship rights, duties, and compliance obligations. In contrast to the republican model of citizenship, which has historically been central for shaping the expectations of the citizens of sovereign democratic nation states, the emerging liberal model of citizenship in the EU fails to treat all members of national political communities equally while also treating non-members differently with regard to rights, duties, and compliance. Through this political understanding of citizenship – as “the right to have rights” within a political community – to see structural deprivation to intolerant attitudes towards non-members as part of a transformation of citizenship. Citizens who feel that their democratic voice is inconsequential in forging societal compromises on rights, duties, and compliance are, consequentially, assumed to be more receptive to simplifying populist narratives.

The argument is advanced through a historical exploration of the transformations of statehood and citizenship. The paper shows that the republican model of citizenship rests on territorial sovereignty as a precondition for growing cross-cutting issue interdependence and the formation of a public sphere. In turn, these are the two central preconditions for the emergence of collective national identities.5 The struggle against central state authority has then led to the expansion of citizenship rights and reciprocal duties⁠.6 European integration challenges national territorial sovereignty, but the formation of a European demos is widely seen as lagging.7 The paper argues that this development has resulted in a shift from a political (republican) to a legal (liberal) understanding of citizenship, which blurs the distinction between citizens and non-citizens on which the reciprocal relationship between rights and duties rests in sovereign nation states.

This contrasts with the experience of citizens who live remote from economic opportunities and public services and explains why right- and left-wing populist discourse tend to contrast an “urban elite” with the authentic people. The paper suggests that this urban elite of “cityzens” indeed enjoys privileged access to citizenship rights due to their urban positionality within the emergent liberal workfare regime.8 Populism, then, is a strategy to restore the traditional collective identities, of nation or class, as a base for popular sovereignty. The paper argues, however, that a strengthening of European collective identity, rather than the re-affirmation of national collective identities, would present a more promising strategy for inclusive and efficient political decision-making in Europe. It adopts a historical-republican perspective to argue that more than half a century of economic, political, and legal integration as well as the transformational events of the last decade have created the two key preconditions for a European collective political identity: high cross-cutting issue interdependence and a politicized public sphere.

The argument unfolds as follows. Section two provides a brief conceptual discussion of populism before critically engaging with supply-side and demand-side literature on populism. The section argues that existing supply- and demand-explanations suffer from several shortcomings: they are circular, biased towards a liberal norm, and neglect the political process as a source of popular dissatisfaction. Section three engages with the literature on statehood and citizenship to forward the argument that transformations of statehood can lead to misalignments between citizens’ expectations and lived experience with regard to their rights, duties, and compliance obligations toward authority. Section four provides a brief historical illustration of the argument developed in section three. It contrasts republican citizenship, as the outcome of historical processes of nation-building, with the liberal citizenship underlying the process of European integration. Section five discusses the transformation of civic, political, and social rights brought about through economic and political liberalization in the European Union. It introduces the concept of “cityzen” to stress the increasing importance of urbanity for exercising citizenship rights. Section six contains some speculative arguments on how to address the populist challenge as re-framed in the paper. Section seven concludes and highlights avenues for future research.

2. On Populist Demand

Populism, like democracy, is a contested concept9 and, thus, it “has become almost a cliché to start writing on populism by lamenting the lack of clarity about the concept and casting doubts about its usefulness for political analysis”.10 This paper views populism as a potentially emancipatory force in the sense of Laclau and Mouffe’s radical democracy.11 In this view, conflict is the essence of politics and democracy is understood as a set of rules by which violent conflict is turned into political contestation. Consequently, the neoliberal-technocratic aim of taming political contestation through deliberative forms of consensus-seeking is not merely viewed as post-democratic12, but as post-political.13

This emancipatory understanding of populism is compatible with the ideational approach14, which understands populism as “a thin-centered ideology” in which society is divided between a “pure people” and a “corrupt elite”. Politics, populists assert, should be the unmediated expression of the general will of the people. While its rudimentary ideological framework makes populism extremely adaptive, it also makes it dependent on more developed ideologies, such as nationalism or socialism. In practical terms, populist discourses deploy these ideologies as heuristic simplifiers in an increasingly complex world.

Research on populism, moreover, distinguishes between demand-side and supply-side explanations. In an influential pan-European account on the populist radical right, Cas Mudde15 has criticized that “the major assumptions underlying most research in the field are seriously flawed and have led to a predominance of […] studies of the demand side” while, as Mudde contends, “the populist radical right parties themselves must be put at the center of research on the phenomenon.” This evaluation is based on his finding that “every European country has a (relatively) fertile breeding ground for the populist radical right, yet only in some countries do these parties flourish in elections”.16 In Mudde’s perspective “[w]idespread demand is a given, rather than the main puzzle in contemporary western democracies”.17 Yet, in a recent special issue on “Dealing with Populists in Government”, Taggart and Kaltwasser concluded:

Instead of putting too much emphasis on the leader as an explanatory variable, populism scholarship should better understand the reasons and motives of voters and constituencies for adopting the populist set of ideas. In other words, we have to study both the supply of and demand for populism. In our opinion, this is one of the most important comparative findings of this special issue. […] Therefore, it is not far-fetched to suggest that the very rise of populist actors is a sign that something is not working well with the process of the democratic representation.”18

This paper takes up their cue. It departs from Mudde’s19 characterization of the “perfect breeding ground” for populist radical right parties, where “there are widespread insecurities and resentments related to the three core features of the populist radical right ideology: nativism, authoritarianism, populism.”

Figure 1: Components of the populist radical right ideology after Mudde (2007)

The paper now turns to a closer examination of how these three aspects are interrelated. It proposes to view nativism as a discursively framed response to (perceptions of) structural deprivation, as formulated in the macro-level “modernization loser thesis”. Authoritarianism signifies that individuals ascribe blame for their feeling of insecurity to an outgroup, as expressed in the micro-level “othering thesis”. While the first two ideological components can be explained in terms of societal cleavages (redistribution and identity), the paper argues that populism indicates a failure of liberal democracy to translate societal demands into political representation.

The “modernization loser thesis” departs from the assumption that the experience of individual or collective relative socio-economic or status decline in comparison to a relevant in-group triggers demands for state intervention. In situations where the democratic process is perceived as unresponsive to these demands, the modernization loser thesis expects affected citizens to become more receptive to the simplifying discourses of populist leaders. Research has shown a correlation between populism, low educational attainment, and low income.20 However, the analyses21 of Schröder, Lengfeld, Lengfeld and Dilger, or Decker and Brähler suggest that behind these factors lie the attitudes of “xenophobia” and “authoritarianism”.

This raises the question of the relationship between the structural factors of deprivation (nativism) and attitudinal factors of xenophobia (authoritarianism). Several explanations are forwarded in the literature: First, the distribution of authoritarian mindsets is biologically determined22, which would explain Mudde’s contention that demand is constant. Second, the structure of society has an effect on the socialization of individuals, whereby authoritarian societies instill an “authoritarian syndrome” while democracies instill a “democratic syndrome”.23 This would explain that such attitudes appear to be higher among the elderly as well as among citizens of the former socialist societies in Europe. The fact that populism is currently experienced in democratic societies may be explicable by reference to Giorgio Agamben’s argument about the “normalization” of states of emergency.24 However, the first explanation suffers from determinism and the second requires an exogenous explanation for how an authoritarian society may ever democratize. Moreover, assigning blame to a socially constructed out-group can be seen as a common human coping strategy in moments of existential crisis or structural marginalization. As such, xenophobic attitudes are difficult to methodologically dissociate from experiences of structural deprivation.

More importantly still, the focus on structural deprivation and xenophobic attitudes suffers from an inherent normative bias in that it portraits populisms as a pathology of democracy. This conceptual angle directs research on the origins of populism to the micro-level where the alleged anti-democratic attributes of individuals are seen as explanatory. In this view, to exaggerate slightly, whoever votes for a populist party must either have experienced dramatic socio-economic precariousness or exhibit authoritarian character traits. In this perspective, the democratizing dimension of populism is almost entirely neglected. However, as research has long shown25, populism is not primarily directed against democracy. By contrast, it is widely seen as a democratizing force. In this view, populism is primarily directed against decreases in the levels of political contestation. This perspective explains, why the current wave of populism in Europe has concentrated on a critique of liberalism as a normative set of values which illegitimately restricts the domain of democratic decision-making⁠.26 Finally, the “supply- and demand-paradigm” in general suffers from circularity as “the leader who will succeed is the one who best senses and delivers what an audience already desires”.27

The alternative, proposed in this paper, views populism in terms of political legitimacy. This paper argues that populism responds to a perceived legitimacy deficit of what Mudde calls the “external-supply side”: that is the institutional context and procedural aspects of the political system. In Dahl’s28 famous terminology, populism, thus, criticizes a situation of diminished inclusiveness in the political and electoral opportunity structures: a competitive oligarchy. The paper, therefore, argues that Mudde’s “external supply-side” is better understood as the political arena of interest intermediation between popular demands and party-political supply. Populism is directed against a perceived failure of this political arena to translate popular demands – deriving from structural deprivation or cultural insecurity – into political representation (see Figure 2). This view integrates the three explanations tested by Rippl and Seipel 29– demand, supply, and post-politics – but gives primacy for explaining populist demand to the political. In this way, the paper addresses Mudde’s main criticism of the existing literature, which tends to neglect the meso-level of political contestation.30 However, rather than focusing on political parties, the focus here is on the structure of the political arena in which party competition occurs.

Figure 2: The Political: Mediation between demand and supply

This view helps to address a “blind spot” in the literature. Lengfeld 31, for example, contended that the confounding variables of cultural insecurity and dissatisfaction with democracy lie behind the correlation between socio-economic status and populist demand. His conclusion is that a new central conflict line emerges between the “familiar inside” and the “unfamiliar outside”. This is echoed by recent contributions to European integration research, where a new strand of cleavage-theory literature32 argues that the politicization of the EU has resulted in the consolidation and increasing salience of an identity cleavage (vis-à-vis the traditional left-right redistribution cleavage), which imposes a “constraining dissensus” on integration.

The paper, therefore, argues that the key to understanding populism (whether deriving from structural deprivation, biology, or socialization) is that popular demands are invariably addressed towards the political.33 As such, they are, first and foremost, claims of citizens. To accommodate growing value plurality and difference in modern societies34, normatively attractive democratic theories ought to be agnostic about the values citizens hold.35 At the same time, the literature also emphasizes the importance of the perceived gap between the normative expectations toward, and the subjective experience of, democracy.36

Indeed, it has been argued that the normative legitimacy of liberal democracy37 is affected by the incapacity of really existing democracies38 to accommodate the diverse and non-commensurable demands of increasingly diverse societies.39 One specific challenge of modern diverse societies is the dynamic of “identity politics”, which may threaten the legitimacy of democratic institutions because the non-overlapping of identities reduces the common ground on which acceptable political compromises may be built, as illustrated by the recent Brexit Campaign or the 2016 US elections. Fukuyama40, therefore, argued that the fragmentation of the political community into exclusive particular identities poses a serious threat to representative democracy. Where, as in the USA, organized particular interests can block policies with majority support and citizens lack the feeling of recognition as moral equals, Fukuyama attests that representative democracy has decayed into a vetocracy. In the EU, demand for populism is, therefore, best understood as a crisis of representation at the supranational41 and national levels42 and an ensuing legitimacy crisis of liberal democracy.43 This view of populism, therefore, puts emphasis on the question of how democratic processes can be enhanced so as to generate inclusive “non-dominating” compromises in plural societies.44

3. Populist Demand as Perceived Misalignment between Rights and Duties

Research on the sources of political legitimacy has employed a range of typologies to capture its procedural, structural, and ideational dimensions. Regarding the first, Scharpf45 distinguishes between input and output legitimacy. Regarding the second, Easton46 distinguishes between diffuse and specific support for normative, structural, and performance dimensions of a polity. Regarding the third, role of the political community and the associated conception of democracy are seen as central.47 Richard Bellamy48 observed that – irrespective of the normative virtues of democracy – the legitimacy of democratic procedures “will be impugned to the extent their operation is perceived in practice to reflect unduly the values of a subsection of the political community, such as a ruling elite, and of responding disproportionately to their sectional interests.” Thus, a persistent gap between normative expectations and real experiences reduces political legitimacy. This paper focuses on the legitimacy gap between the expected republican balance between rights and duties and the liberal reality of unequal co-nationals and equal non-nationals. It is argued that changes in the balance between rights and duties are linked to historical transformations of statehood.

3.1. Statehood and Citizenship

Regarding modern statehood, Francis Fukuyama49 has identified three crucial features. These are the rule of law rather than rule by law, democratic accountability of those who govern, and high bureaucratic capacity to implement political decisions. His comparative historical analysis shows that there are several historical trajectories to modern statehood. He finds that the rule of law often (but not always) predates democratic accountability. Moreover, he argues that, on average, democratic accountability has the greatest chance to consolidate in states where bureaucratic capacity and the rule of law are already firmly established.50 Fukuyama’s exploration of state features chimes with Marshall's51 distinction of civic, political, and social rights. Civic rights refer to the freedom of individuals from infringements by the government or private actors. They derive from the rule of law. Political rights primarily refer to the power to elect (and be elected into) the government. They derive from institutions of democratic accountability. Social rights refer to the idea that the state has an obligation to guarantee social security to all citizens. Marshall argued that the historical expansion of rights from civic rights (18th century), over political rights (19th century) to social rights (20th century) was driven by functional pressures from below. In this perspective, political authorities offered new sets of rights in exchange for citizens’ allegiance. This paper emphasizes the open-ended and political nature of this struggle between the masses and the authorities more than Marshall did. Historically, thus, the full set of civic, political, and social citizenship rights is linked to the emergence of modern statehood. In this regard, Pawel Ireneusz52 has argued that the nature and extent of citizenship rights depend on reciprocal duties towards and expected compliance with political authority. He distinguished three ideal models of citizenship.

Caesarean citizenship is predominantly about compliance with authority. In situations of crisis, the decline of the political order is prevented by transferring individual rights to a strong leader, who will efficiently decide on the best course of action for the political community. As compliance with authority is the overarching political rule, individual rights are only those that are granted at the ruler’s discretion and citizen have a duty to obey. Deprived of meaningful rights or means of political participation, individuals are subjects rather than citizens.

Republican citizenship is predominantly about the duty of the community member to participate in the political process. As such, the public good is ranked higher than the private well-being of the individual. The institutionalization of a welfare state is a crucial prerequisite for the high levels of individual involvement required by republican citizenship. Direct involvement prevents the emergence of a political class or unresponsive state bureaucracy and works towards the ideal of an equal degree of voice for all citizens. This ideal, however, contrasts somewhat with the high cognitive requirements involved in rational deliberation, potentially marginalizing less well-educated citizens from meaningful participation. Rights are the outcome of political participation and the rules to comply with are self-imposed.

Liberal citizenship is predominantly about the individual’s inherent rights as a human being. A citizen’s relationship to the state is, thus, primarily that of a holder of legally guaranteed private rights in the pursuit of private interests. Politics is a means to achieve private ends and has no primacy over other life domains (i.e. the economy or faith). The role of government is solely to protect citizens’ rights. The common good receives little esteem and redistribution is strongly limited. However, through market-competition and taxation of the economic winners, a competitive form of social justice is achieved. As such, the citizen primarily has a duty to herself and non-compliance is permissible when it contradicts the individual’s inherent rights.

The key conceptual difference between the three models of citizenship relates to the question of who is represented by whom? A caesarean model of citizenship is symptomatic of political systems in which popular sovereignty is lacking. Instead, a Caesarean leader is required as the source of political identity and citizenship rights. Republican and Liberal accounts presuppose popular sovereignty, but disagree on the identity of the sovereign. Republican accounts hold that the legitimacy of a democratic system arises from the representation of a people and liberty is understood as non-domination of the individual. Liberal accounts suggest that it arises from the representation of the individual and liberty is understood as non-interference with individual pursuits.

In the republican understanding, a people is defined as a “political community that is capable of self-government”.53 This requires two basic conditions: high cross-cutting issue interdependence and a public sphere. Issue interdependence stabilizes societal cleavages, which in turn structure political conflict. A public sphere generates collective identity and supplies the societal solidarity (derived from the communicative agreement on shared principles) on which majority rule is premised. The “presence of both conditions creates a demos in which citizens regard the democratic system [as] offering a public and fair mechanism for equal consideration and promotion of their values and interest”.54

Moreover, the republican ideal of non-domination “requires [that] citizens enjoy an equal political status as the makers of law and not just an equal legal status under the law” so that “all [are] involved with an equal weight in the process of decision-making, while allowing that not all may be equally happy with the result”.55 In this perspective, citizenship is the right (of community members) to have rights (in the community) and involves an equitable share in the definition of these rights. As a consequence, citizens’ rights, duties, and compliance apply to all citizens equally due to their status as members of the same political community. In this view, the equality of all members of the same political community serves as the precondition for (1) the passing of legislation based on electoral majorities (civic rights), (2) competitive democratic elections (political rights), and (3) welfare redistribution (social rights). Consequently, state sovereignty serves as a precondition for popular sovereignty.56 In this view, liberal citizenship is a feature of polities wherein reduced state sovereignty limits popular sovereignty. Therefore, basic rights are not seen as the object of political contestation, but as normatively desirable and legally guaranteed properties individuals.

3.2. Demand for Populism and Citizenship

On this basis, populist demand can be conceptualized as a republican response to the liberal challenge of popular sovereignty in the EU.57 In this view, the re-affirmation of national collective identity is a strategy of restoring popular sovereignty in order to redress a perceived liberal misalignment between rights and duties wherein non-community members may benefit from rights without making reciprocal contributions that guarantee the continued provision of these rights. Moreover, European integration also limits the domain of political decision-making within member states, i.e. the monetary union exerts structural pressures toward increased economic competitiveness on member states, which is seen as a main cause for welfare retrenchment and supply-side reforms in Germany in the early 2000s and invasive structural adjustment programs in the GIIPSZ states after 2008.58 The current rise of populism can therefore also be understood as resistance to the erosion of historically achieved citizenship rights.

Whether populism takes a left or right turn can be explained as a consequence of the perceived relative deprivation of civic, political, and social rights. Consequently, while both versions seek to restore citizenship rights, they employ different strategies against different “other”. Right-wing populists re-affirm national community by combining a republican-majoritarian discourse with a critique of cosmopolitan elitism and ethnic or religious minorities. Left-wing populists seek to build a community among disparate socially marginal groups by combining a discourse of pluralist inclusiveness with a critique of capitalist elitism.59

Geographical overlaps of multiple dimensions of peripheralization60 can generate higher levels of rights deprivation in certain lagging regions. However, this paper argues that the additional political experience of an unresponsive liberal democratic system significantly increases citizens’ receptiveness to the simplifying populist discourses of blame-shifting in the public sphere – “upwards” against the elites and “outwards” against non-community members. In this view, it is not surprising that left- and right-wing populism identifies elites – cosmopolitan or capitalist – as out-groups. The paper introduces the concept of “cityzen” to capture the fact that such elites often share an urban background, which provides better education and job opportunities, transnational connectedness, multiculturalism, and non-majoritarian avenues for influencing political decision-making (i.e. lobbying and street protests). These are crucial assets in a knowledge-driven economy. They result from the shift from government to governance, whereby national parliaments are seen as the “main losers” of European integration.61 Thus, cityzens disproportionately benefit from the shift from republican to liberal citizenship in the EU as they are better positioned to take advantage of new channels of interest representation, resulting in what Bellamy and Kröger62 have called a “representative surplus” (and “democratic deficit”). For essentially the same reason (misalignment of rights and duties), right-wing populism additionally identifies non-national “denizens” and migrants as outgroups, consistent with their discourse of national cohesion. As a result, reactionary republican collective political identities can consolidate in geographically concentrated deprived demographics, as captured in the experience of East German citizens’ as “symbolic foreigners”.63

4. Transformations of Statehood and Citizenship

The following section shows that the emergence of territorial sovereignty is central for the republican model of citizenship because it facilitated the formation of collective political identities in the struggle against growing central state power. Subsequently, it is argued that European economic and political integration forwards a liberal model of citizenship, which is both post-territorial and individualistic.

4.1. Towards Republican Citizenship: territorial and popular sovereignty

With the rise of sedentary agriculture around 9,000 BC, islands of higher population density emerged in a sparsely populated world.64 These higher population densities enabled the emergence of local divisions of labor and led to productivity gains. In this perspective, it is not surprising that classic (direct) democratic theory and practice emerged in a region of city states, as the scale of the polis drastically reduces the problem of state building and the rule of law, while direct democracy achieves democratic accountability.

A range of authors have associated the urban scale with the emergence of citizenship rights. Francis Fukuyama65 has distinguished between administrative/court- and market/trade-based urban agglomerations. While the rise and decline of the former is determined by fluctuations in political power, development in the latter is based on individual freedom of association/contracting (civic rights). According to Max Weber66 these freedoms emerged as a function of the defense requirements of medieval urban communities and, thus, established the notion of modern citizenship. These observations echo Charles Till’s67 account of the formation of nation states, which famously argued that states make wars and wars make states, while cities do business. Unsurprisingly, therefore, democratic practice (political rights) resurfaced in the city states of early Renaissance Italy as well as in several nodes of the late medieval hanseatic merchant-network and the Amsterdam of the East India Company.

However, in the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, constant warfare in Europe led to the creation of the Westphalian interstate system, based on the notion of territorial sovereignty. Saskia Sassen68 has traced the transformation of statehood from medieval to modern assemblages of authority, territory, and rights. In this perspective, the territorial sovereignty is a key precondition for the re-articulation of political authority and citizenship rights as it entails that there is only one center of political authority to which all subjects within the territorial state owe compliance.

As increased state bureaucratic capacity was not yet restrained by the rule of law (civic rights) or democratic accountability (political rights) at the level of the territorial state, the closure of external borders was, in fact, a means to drastically reduce the option of “state avoidance”. Across the world, as James Scott69 and Stein Rokkan70 have pointed out, the loss of “exit options” forces involuntary state subjects into a struggle with the aristocracy for political “voice”. Hence, the struggle against arbitrary central power established two key preconditions for democratic accountability: issue interdependence and a public sphere. This process was supported by the cheap availability of information in vernacular languages after the invention of the printing press.71 As such, territorial sovereignty serves as a crucial precondition for the emergence of collective national political identities. The republican balance of rights, duties, and compliance obligations, therefore, rests on the political struggle between authority and the members of a political community: the nation state. The American and French Revolutions introduced this idea as the standard model of modern representative democracy to large territorial states.72

4.2. Towards Liberal Citizenship: the post-territorial polity and liberal human rights

European economic and political integration is challenging the foundations of republican citizenship: territorial sovereignty and national political identity. In terms of civic rights, a legal understanding of citizenship replaces its political understanding. In terms of political rights, supranational policies without politics constitute a democratic deficit. In terms of social rights, national politics without policies constitute a performance deficit. The first condition exacerbates the second and third condition, as it blurs the distinction between citizens and non-citizens on which the republican balance of rights and duties rests.

In what regards the relationship between territory and authority, John Agnew73 has introduced the concept of sovereignty regimes to capture the diversification of statehood in the early 21st century. While the classic Westphalian sovereignty regime is characterized by strong central state authority which is able to assert its exclusive reign within a consolidated territory (i.e. China), the imperialist regime is just the opposite: it has a weak central state and lacks a consolidated territory (i.e. Latin American states). While the globalist regime can project power beyond the national territory (i.e. USA), the integrative regime is capable of excluding external interferences despite a weak central state (i.e. European Union).

Similarly, Jan Zielonka74 has characterized the EU as a fragmented neo-medieval empire. Zielonka bases his assessment on the observation that the EU’s central state authority is much weaker than that of a classic nation state. While integration promotes growing transnational interdependence, the EU relies for the implementation of its laws and policies on the compliance of the member states. The result is a territorially fragmented mosaic of overlapping jurisdictions, comparable to medieval feudalism. Zielonka’s concept of the EU as a neo-medieval empire has significant overlaps with Maier’s75 typology of regimes of territoriality, in which he distinguishes between a pre-territorial, a territorial, and a post territorial regime. The crucial difference to between the feudal regime and the Neo-medieval regime is a liberal conception of inherent human rights. The most important difference between the Westphalian and the Neo-Medieval regime is the decoupling of authority and rights from territory, leading to a situation in which citizens enjoy different degrees of rights and potentially have ties of allegiance (of varying intensity) to multiple overlapping jurisdictions (see Figure 3). The following sections will briefly sktech some implications for the nature of citizenship.

Figure 3: Statehood and Citizenship
Based on Sassen (2008), Maier (2006), Zielonka (2006), Angew (2005), Fukuyama (2014), Ireneusz (2010)

5. From Republican Citizenship to Liberal Cityzenship

The paper has shown that in the republican model of citizenship, territorial sovereignty is a precondition for popular sovereignty. In the republican model, citizenship confers the “right to have and make rights”. But the sustained provision of rights also involves a set of reciprocal duties and compliance obligations toward the political community. European integration challenges territorial sovereignty of the member states, thus challenging the republican balance between rights, duties, and compliance obligations. Instead, a liberal model of citizenship, based on rights as legal entitlements is promoted⁠.76 This section discusses the consequences for citizenship rights. It argues that civic rights are re-framed as those of individuals instead of community members, political rights are those of stakeholder instead of voters, and social rights are understood an in terms of equal opportunity (of consumers and entrepreneurs) rather than social solidarity. Consequently, under the liberal model of citizenship, urbanity provides economic and political advantages to “cityzens”, while “denizens” challenge the republican idea of nationality as the precondition for citizenship rights

5.1. Civic rights

In the republican model, membership in the national political community entitles to the right not only to have, but also to make rights. In this view, belonging to a political community is the precondition for the political practice of citizenship, involving rights, duties, and compliance obligations towards the state. To the extent that European integration is questioning citizens’ exclusive allegiance to their national community, it challenges the foundation of republican citizenship (i.e. certainty about the boundaries of the political community) and inserts a liberal notion of citizenship (i.e. based on the normative ideas of human equality and basic rights). This implies a shift from a political to a legal understanding of citizenship. In this regard, Bellamy criticizes that the pro-integration bias of the European Court of Justice (CJEU) has led to democratically illegitimate decision with regard to public services and economic freedoms:

“In the case of access to public services, the Court overlooks the mutual obligations citizens have to contribute to maintaining public goods at a sustainable level for all. In the case of economic freedoms, the Court undermines the politically negotiated balance between labour and capital, designed to achieve a degree of equity between the two. In both cases, the CJEU has misconstrued Union citizenship as if it consisted of a set of human rights to participation in a spontaneously arising and self-sustaining free market, rather than being grounded in the mutual recognition of the rights of citizens within an association of democratic states”.77

In a republican perspective, the decisions of the CJEU imply that liberal EU citizenship constitutes the “right to rights without duties”, which undermines the very sustainability of the socio-political structures on which the civic, political, and social rights rest. This shift from a political to a legal notion of citizenship has important implications for political and social rights. In terms of political rights, the rise of the stakeholder-citizen challenges the notion of political equality expressed in the formula “one voter, one vote”. In terms of social rights, a shift from collective (workers’) rights to individual (consumers’) rights privatizes the costs of social security.

5.2. Political rights

In terms of political rights, the shift from government to governance in the EU is significant⁠.78 The active right to elect the government and the passive right to be elected into government are the hallmark of democracy. The principle of one person, one vote guarantees equal (if minimal) chances to affect the outcome of elections. However, growing economic and political interdependence in the European multi-level polity reduce the impact of elections on actual state policies. This problem has been summarized by Schmidt79 as the dilemma of “national politics without policies” and “supranational policies without politics”. In other words, European integration suffers from a lack of input legitimacy at the supranational level as well as from a lack of output legitimacy at the national level.80

To address this issue, mechanisms of stakeholder involvement have been introduced (i.e. Open Method of Coordination) which aim at increasing policy inclusiveness and efficiency. In this way, integrated loops pf policy experimentation and learning are thought to create “procedural legitimacy”.81 What matters increasingly is access to fora of (elite) deliberation82 at various levels, which depends on individual resources rather than being a citizen’s right. This increases the power of organized interests vis-à-vis the individual citizen and undermines the fundamental assumption of equality in the political process. In short, the idea of equality implicit in the political right to vote is being questioned by the idea that stakeholder-citizens may mobilize private resources to influence political decisions. Finally, the fact that political mainstream parties have historically often portrayed pro-integration decisions as inevitable outcomes of the functional pressures in a rapidly globalizing world83 further reinforces the impression that democratic politics are unresponsive to a specific set of republican-communitarian citizen demands.

5.3. Social rights

In the republican model of citizenship, the welfare state provides citizen’s with social rights (i.e. free or subsidized education and health care, social benefits) in order to replace traditional family-based support systems and to enable citizens to participate in public debate and political processes. In this view, social rights are based on the notion of solidarity and equality within the political community. At the same time, social rights specifically address the precarious socio-economic situation of the working-class in capitalist economies. Thus, in post-World War II Western Europe, the Keynesian Welfare National84 provided members of the national workforce with extensive social rights through countercyclical investment to create full employment, an extensive welfare system, and provisions for collective bargaining. However, beginning with the neoliberal experiments in the 1970s85, the Western European welfare state has gradually been transformed into a liberal competition state regime. As the emerging global division of labor made the protection of collective workers’ rights less tenable, the expansion of consumer protection became a central feature of European integration.86

According to Rodrik’s Trilemma87, international economic integration can be combined either with mass politics (Global Federalism) or territorial sovereignty (Golden Straitjacket), but not with both. But European political integration appears to attempt exactly that. As a consequence, state functions have been scaled upwards to the supranational level, downwards to the regional level, and outwards to the private sphere.88 Neil Brenner89 argued that the objective of state rescaling was to enhance international economic competitiveness by permitting the concentration of economic activity in certain regions, thus leading to growing socio-economic differences across the state territory.

Brenner argued that targeted political interventions to this end created new state spaces, among which the urban re-emerged as the primary scale of economic accumulation. In other words, metropolitan regions increasingly became “urban engines of growth” in the EU because states increasingly pursued economic and social policies which aim at enhancing global competitiveness rather than at the equal valorization of and equal welfare throughout the national territory. Moreover, as long as central state authority and transnational solidarity remain weak in the European Union, large-scale pan-European wealth redistribution (characteristic of the classic nation state) is politically unfeasible.90 Under these circumstances, the EU’s liberal strategy of strengthening individual rights and promoting aggregate welfare through competitiveness-oriented strategy of economic growth is unlikely to change.

Finally, the transition from the national welfare state to the competition state has recast social rights as equal opportunity rather than social solidarity. The result is the fragmentation of the working class and its replacement by atomized individual consumers. In the workfare regime, the urban has re-emerged as the primary scale of capital accumulation in the global market. As a consequence, inhabitants of urban spaces often have better access to education, employment, public services, and to extra-parliamentary ways of influencing political decisions, than rural citizens. In the liberal view, growing levels of socio-economic polarization are perceived unproblematic as long as high levels of consumption among the “creative” and “financial” classes offsets workers’ declining consumption. In short, social rights are individualized and differentiated according to the productivity of the citizen, while the costs for acquiring the skills for economic success are increasingly privatized.

Figure 4: Citizens and Cityzens

6. Addressing the Populist Challenge

The paper has argued that economic and political liberalization in the EU represent a challenge to republican citizenship. To the extent that liberal European integration challenges the ability of national democratic institutions to generate non-dominating compromises for their national communities, it generates demand for the re-affirmation of national and popular sovereignty. Francis Fukuyama91 has proposed two general measures to address the polarizing tendency of identity politics. First, he suggests to address the underlying structural factors of (in)justice which lead to the domination of certain interests within society. This could entail addressing growing socio-economic inequality within and across the EU member states or expanding the political voice of marginalized groups. The former runs into the problem of “reasonable disagreement” as to the desirable levels of socio-economic equality. Against the background of the previous argument, the expansion of political voice should, however, not primarily be achieved by broadening the range of constitutional minority rights. Instead, democratic procedures would need to be reformed so as to maximize their capacity to generate “non-dominating” compromises. In the republican reading, democratic procedures (periodic competitive elections; one citizen, one vote) require the existence high cross-cutting issue interdependence and a public sphere.

This brings the argument to Fukuyama’s second, more practical proposal. Fukuyama suggests the creation of broad coalitions for progressive social change (to overcome the fragmentation of the left and the conservatism of the right). Similar to Bellamy92, Fukuyama views national identity as the main precondition for achieving the high degree of solidarity necessary to achieve these objectives. By contrast, this paper questions the methodological nationalism93 inherent in this line of argumentation. Instead, it follows Charles Maier’s94 historical argument that “no matter what founding myths may claim, demoi are made and not born” and “[m]ost practically they are constructed from overarching structures of representation”. Importantly, Maier suggests that the center of the postwar nation-state was “not a demos but a transfer union”. 95 In this perspective, an effective response to the current rise of left and right populism throughout the EU might be to enhance the ability of European institutions to generate non-dominating political compromises.

The paper takes reservations of political scientists96 and economists97 who argue that EU-level majoritarian decision-making on distributional questions may generate unprecedented centrifugal political tendencies seriously. However, the existence of high cross-cutting issue interdependence – as illustrated by the recent financial and migration crises – suggests that the populist challenge can hardly be addressed at level of the member states.

Importantly, one main contention against the federalization of the EU is the alleged lack of a European demos. It is lamented that the growing diversity of social values and socio-economic conditions would make any EU level policy inefficient. Moreover, continued strong national identities within a European Federation would lead to consistent segregation along national lines, thus leading to the problem of the tyranny of the majority. Hence, even if the institutional prerequisites were met (state capacity and rule of law), the EU is simply too big and too diverse to allow for real democratic accountability.98 After all, historical precedent shows that “big democracies” were invariably built on violence (i.e. Brazil, India) or cultural and socio-economic similarity (i.e. USA).

Nevertheless, republicans suggest that the preconditions for the emergence of a people are: cross-cutting issue interdependence and a public sphere⁠.99 In this perspective, the question becomes to what degree these preconditions exist in the EU⁠.100

To begin with, more than half a century of political, economic, and legal “integration by stealth”101 appear to have created high levels of cross-cutting issue interdependence as well as an institutional architecture with enhanced bureaucratic capacities at the European level. These two conditions were highlighted in the recent series of “European crises” – from financial and sovereign debt crisis over the migration crisis to Brexit. In all three cases, neither uni-lateral member state action nor European intergovernmentalism were able to produce non-dominting (i.e. inclusive and efficient) outcomes. At the same time, these moments of transformational crises have led to a boost in the politicization of the European Union⁠.102 Hence, there are signs of an emergent European public sphere and a European political identity⁠.103 According to Nicoli104, in the formation of polities, political struggle over the identity cleavage generally precedes political struggle over the redistribution cleavage. Hence, the current rise of populism can be understood as a political struggle over who belongs to the European demos, as the answer to this question determines who would eventually be eligible to democratically legitimate welfare transfers.

In a paper on the question of democratic representation during the financial crisis, Puntscher Riekmann and Wydra105 suggest that Richard Bellamy’s alternative model of republican intergovernmentalism – which puts bargaining among democratically authorized national leaders at the center of non-dominating decision-making in the EU – has been “contradicted by the crisis”. In their view, there is no alternatives to an up-scaling of the standard model of representative democracy to the EU level, as “without restoring the European Parliament as arena for democratic representation of the whole and for appropriate controls of its European counterpart the democratic deficit of the Union will continue”. At the same time, empirical studies106 have identified an emergent collective European identity, propelled by crisis-driven integration. Moreover, on a theoretical level, Antonsich107 has argued that besides cultural sources of mass identity, utilitarian logics may be underlying the emergence of mass political identity. His argument is based on the assumption that, in an interconnected world, citizens recognize that the nation state is not the perfect political arena for many transnational policy-issues, like climate change, migration, or financial regulation. A new strand of cleavage literature is, furthermore, suggesting that the increasing politicization of the EU at the national level gives rise to a new European cleavage and political contestation around the issue of societal openness.108 Taken together these insights point to a new research agenda on whether Eurosceptic populism indicates the underrepresentation – rather than a lack – of the European demos at the European level.

7. Conclusion

This paper has forwarded a political interpretation of populist demand. The argument is rooted in an exploration of different models of citizenship and their relation to the historical transformation of statehood. The paper suggested that the process of European economic and political integration challenges the republican model of citizenship prevalent in the member states.

The republican model of citizenship views the demos as a necessary precondition for a sustainable balance of rights and reciprocal duties. The paper showed how the introduction of the notion of territorial sovereignty was historically instrumental to the emergence of collective political identities and popular sovereignty. Hence, in the republican view, citizenship means membership in a political community. European integration challenges the territorial sovereignty of the member states, while the supranational institutional architecture is built around the assumption that there is no European demos. Due to these conditions, the EU forwards a liberal model of citizenship, in which individual interests and legally guaranteed basic human rights are central.

This does not only imply significant re-interpretations and retrenchments of republican civic, political, and social rights, but also challenges the sustainability of the republican national compromises between rights and duties. As such, populism is presented here as a reaction to a dual “representation crisis” where citizens experience “national politics without policies” (lacking output legitimacy) and “supranational policies without politics” (lacking input legitimacy).

Finally, the paper has proposed an argument – on republican grounds – for the democratization of the European Union as a remedy to the populist challenge. Nevertheless, further research is needed to determine to what degree cross-cutting issue interdependence (as expressed by pan-European socio-economic divergence) and an emerging European collective political identity (as expressed in the growing politicization of the EU) warrant the gradual transition towards a democratically legitimate transfer union. An exploration of the effects of the pan-European crisis-moments and the subsequent crisis-management of the last decade could be a promising starting point in this direction. For example, little empirical evidence exists on the questions of (1) whether European citizens’ recognize the high functional interdependence at the European level, (2) whether European citizens view the EU as a functionally efficient and politically legitimate alternative to the nation state for political decision-making in highly interdependent policy fields. Confirmation of these hypotheses would support the argument that a lack of democratic participation (in the sense of the standard model), rather than the principled rejection of the European post-national political order, is the main reason for the growing demand for Eurosceptic populism.

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