The years 2015-2016 have seen a significant increase in the number of referendums in the countries of the European Union. Some of these referendums have focused on classical issues such as independence (Scotland) or institutional reforms (with some new topics like the electronic vote, dual citizenship or the right of foreigners to vote), yet others have addressed environmental questions (such as oil and gas drilling in the Adriatic or the construction of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport in France). Same-sex marriage has been submitted to popular vote in several countries of Central Europe and in Ireland. But referendums related to the EU have largely dominated with the Greek consultation on the “bailout”, followed by the Danish and Dutch referendums on, respectively, exemptions to the Maastricht Treaty (“opt outs”) and the trade agreement with Ukraine, and finally the historic vote on the "Brexit". A particularly remarkable fact was the appearance of referendums on EU policies, beyond traditional issues of sovereignty or membership.

Along with this increasing practice, there was a surge in requests for referendums on the initiative of opposition parties, popular minorities or even governmental actors, on European topics such as migration policy, the abandonment of the Euro, the exit of the Union, or, in the wake of the British referendum, Europe refoundation plans; while the Catalans are calling for a referendum on independence on the Scottish model.

Thus, the referendum has entered the public debate and raised many questions as to the merits and optimal conditions for its practice. The attention of academic work has so far mainly focused on the democratic quality of the device and the modalities enabling it to better fulfill its democratic promise. This conference will focus instead on less-studied issues such as political use of referendums, policies adopted through them,, and the impact of popular consultations.  In a nutshell, it will examine the causes and effects of referendums.    

Why are referendums held, or not held? What are their functions (or dysfunctions) in the political system ? Are there good and bad reasons to hold referendums? What are the policy effects of referendums, particularly on minorities and individual rights? Do referendums often challenge government or parliament decisions? Do they have the educational virtues attributed to them, particularly in terms of citizenship, political participation and competence? When do they lead to exacerbate conflicts and create new cleavages, or rather to calm out divsions and resolve crises? Can referendums increase trust in democracy, regime performance or policy responsiveness ?

This conference will address these issues in the first two half days, before dedicating a third half-day to case studies of recent or demanded referendums and conclude with a round tab

Joint conference of:

Research Committee on Political Sociology of the International Political     
Science Association and the International Sociological Association
(IPSA  RC06/ISA RC18)
Research Committee on Elections, Citizens and Parties of the International
Political Science Association (IPSA RC23)
- Research Group on Democratic Procedures (PROCEDEM), CEVIPOF

 

Organizers :
- Laurence Morel, University of Lille & CEVIPOF, Chair of IPSA RC06/ISA RC18
- Anika Gauja, University of Sydney, Vice-Chair of IPSA RC23 (Austria)
- Matt Qvortrup, Coventry University (United Kingdom)

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