Year: 2020
Europe Democracy and civil society

Democracy and its discontents: European attitudes to Representative democracy and its alternatives

While representative democracy remains the preferable form of government for a vast majority of Europeans, the satisfaction with the way democracy is practised varies greatly across Europe’s regions (east and west, north and south) and among the citizens of different member states. Likewise, different aspects of democratic governance are differently evaluated by European publics, with the fight against corruption and low resilience to disinformation perceived as key weaknesses. The data from a number of studies of European and global public opinion also indicate that commitment to democracy varies across Europe and that, in some countries, significant majorities find non-democratic models as desirable alternatives. Public opinion remains rather critical and distrustful of political elites; hence many Europeans tend to support direct democracy mechanisms as a way to keep their elites more accountable. This chapter suggests that increasing Europeans’ commitment to democracy requires twin changes. First, European democratic elites should adopt a different language and develop political narratives that would counteract (and not imitate) the populists’ divisive narratives. Second, new policies addressing genuine citizens’ concerns need to be developed and implemented, while EU institutions should more consistently ensure that democratic standards are observed in all member states.


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