Downsize my Democracy

This NWO Vidi project analyses the democratic consequences of increasing decentralization and regionalization in European countries. It studies the functioning of democracy in subnational units, and investigates the ever more complex relations between administrative layers on the democratic influences of citizens. 

Project Description

What are the democratic consequences of increasing decentralization and regionalization in Europe? Secessionist struggles in Greenland and Scotland, calls for greater autonomy in Corsica and South Tyrol, and the transfer of power to regional and municipal administrations throughout European countries all indicate a trend towards smaller, localized forms of rule.

Advocates of such reforms claim that decentralization enhances the power and control of the people, but is this true? We know surprisingly little about the democratic effects of organizing politics on a smaller scale.

This project adopts an original, two-tiered approach to confront this puzzle. First, to study how the smaller size of governing units affects the functioning of democracy, it provides a pioneering analysis of democratic competition and participation in subnational European communities. Second, it examines how the increasingly complex distribution of tasks across various administrations affects democratic accountability, transparency, and representation. Venturing in a new direction, the project explicitly foregrounds the significance of informal political dynamics for both the functioning of local democracy and the interaction between different administrative levels.

The project draws comparisons between a selection of subnational jurisdictions in Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland. To optimally analyze the interaction between formal and informal dimensions of democracy, it employs an innovative mixed-methods design that combines opinion surveys and network analysis with expert interviews and participatory fieldwork. The results of the project provide critical insights about the effects of decentralization on the future of democracy in Europe.