UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


EU policy making, political science and the democratization of Central and Eastern Europe

21 March 2024, 3:00 pm–5:00 pm

James Dawson

A SSEES Politics and Sociology seminar with James Dawson (Coventry University)

Event Information

Open to







Masaryk room
UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies
16 Taviton street

A climate of optimism? EU policy‑making, political science and the democratization of Central and Eastern Europe (2000–2015)

Lise Herman, James Dawson and Aurelia Ananda

Democratic erosion in the EU’s Central and Eastern European (CEE) member states has confounded EU policy-makers. In this paper, we investigate the assumptions behind the climate of optimism about CEE democratization that prevailed in EU decision-making before and after the 5th and 6th enlargements, and the extent to which political science participated in this intellectual climate. Based on a qualitative analysis of EU decision-making in the early twenty-first century and a quantitative analysis of 500 randomly sampled papers published between 2000 and 2015, we find that both policy makers and the most influential research in political science shared a bias towards optimism structured by common assumptions: A procedural understanding of democracy, a rational institutionalist belief in the EU’s capacity to bring these procedures about with the use of incentives and the related assumption that sociocultural dimensions of democracy would eventually follow institutions. We argue that these common assumptions help to explain both the EU’s failure to pre-empt and respond proportionately to democratic erosion, and the failure of our discipline to check that optimism.

Read more about the paper. 

About the speaker:

James moved to Coventry University in 2018 from King’s College London, where he had lectured in Politics and International Relations since 2015. He holds a PhD in Political Science from UCL, where he also served as Director of MSc Democracy and Comparative Politics from 2013-15.

His research on Central and Eastern Europe has focused on the ways that competing ideological projects such as liberalism and ethnic nationalism shape both elite politics and citizens’ everyday lives. His recent work has been published in the Journal of European Public Policy, JCMS, Journal of Democracy, Comparative European Politics and East European Politics. He is the author of one monograph – Cultures of Democracy in Serbia and Bulgaria: How Ideas Shape Publics (2014; paperback 2016), which was awarded the BASEES George Blazyca Prize. He has also written numerous journalistic articles, including for Foreign Policy magazine, Open Democracy and has appeared as a pundit on BBC Radio 4.