Thesis of the month

Every year, about 30 Ph.D. theses are defended in the SPS Department. In order to illustrate the range of topics, the department presents a selection of theses chosen among those that are both of very high quality (as certified by the examiners’ reports) and whose findings may be of interest to a wider public. 


Milazzo_PhotoInterstate solidarity and responsibility shirking in refugee protectionA normative approach to justice among EU member states 

Eleonora Milazzo

Thesis summary

What do European Union (EU) member states owe each other in the field of refugee protection? How should we understand the references and appeals to solidarity among them with respect to the management of asylum flows? These questions have become increasingly relevant since the 2015 European response to inflows of asylum seekers. This is not only because solidarity is a difficult concept to grapple with, but also – and perhaps more importantly – because EU member states have repeatedly failed to manage asylum flows in a fair way. Normative political theory does not provide satisfactory tools to tackle the theoretical and political facets of this problem. In fact, the field generally lacks normative guidelines as to how international duties to refugees relate to duties among states in a regional union like the EU. Upon joining the EU, in fact, these states conceded to the partial limitation of their traditional powers of sovereignty. In addition, member states jointly established and maintain an important set of institutions, including an internal free movement area and the Common European Asylum System. Based on these facts about EU membership, should member states have a special duty to share the costs connected to the provision of asylum that is different from the duties of cooperation that they owe other states at the global level, beyond the EU? In her thesis, Eleonora Milazzo shows how applied normative theory can fruitfully address these questions by developing a novel normative framework to define the duties that EU member states have towards each other in relation to refugee protection. Her findings develop along three lines. Firstly, Milazzo proposes a normative theory of solidarity duties between states for the provision of asylum in the specific context of the EU. Secondly, she explores the real-world circumstances of non-compliance with requirements of justice. To do so, she examines what arguments EU member states put forward to justify their policy choices and proposes a framework to assess whether we should accept them or not. Lastly, Milazzo draws concrete policy conclusions from her normative arguments by defining guidelines for an institutional reform that is desirable from the point of view of justice, but that also takes into account real-world problems.Milazzo’s thesis makes three contributions to the debate on solidarity in the EU and the ethics of refugee protection, with important implications for the policy debate around these issues. Firstly, she persuasively shows that we should adopt a “multilayered ethics of asylum governance” to allocate the costs of asylum provision among states, one which accounts for associative relations among states. Milazzo also shows that we should adopt a “logic of co-responsibility” to explain why EU member states should cooperate in granting international protection, and that a mere humanitarian logic proves unsatisfactory for this task. Lastly, Milazzo’s normative theory lends support to three institutional and policy reforms in the EU: a pre-distributive mechanism to replace the Dublin principle for allocation of responsibility; mandatory redistributive instruments which should cover all material and process aspects of reception and integration; and a legally enforceable duty of solidarity that also allows to sanction responsibility shirking. 


Short bio

Eleonora Milazzo defended her thesis at the EUI in January 2021. The first paper based on her Ph.D. research has recently appeared in Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric. Her research focuses on EU political theory and the ethics of refugee protection. She is also interested in a wide range of normative and policy issues surrounding regional migration governance, EU integration, and global governance. Currently, she is Research Consultant at the International Organisation for Migration and Associate Fellow in the European Affairs Programme at the Egmont Institute for International Relations. 



Driedger 150x

David and Goliath: Power Politics and Military Conflict in the Backyards of Major States

Jonas Driedger

Thesis summary

War and military conflict between states have decisively shaped modern history. This is particularly the case for so-called unequal neighbors, where states with globally preponderant economic and military strength – great powers – clash with vastly weaker states in their neighborhood. For example, the proximate cause of the Second World War was the German invasion of Poland in 1939.  

Conflict between unequal neighbors remains a significant threat for human security, economic welfare, and strategic stability across the globe. For instance, experts, diplomats, and politicians regularly warn that conflict could escalate between China and its various small neighbors, and that such a conflict could drag the United States into the unfolding confrontation. 

Previous research has not explained why unequal neighbors sometimes co-exist amicably and sometimes choose to clash in these globally significant conflicts. The latter is particularly puzzling as doing so threatens the weak neighbor’s survival and diverts the powerful neighbor’s attention and resources away from seemingly more important issues. 

In his thesis, Jonas J. Driedger shows that specific dynamics of domestic power politics of one or both neighbors can fuel power politics between unequal neighbors, which ultimately leads to conflict. As the sociopolitical and strategic affairs of neighboring states are strongly interlinked, specific shifts in either side’s domestic and external power politics can inadvertently threaten assets relevant to leadership survival on the other side. Consequently, leaders on both sides use militarized policies to stay in charge, externalizing the costs of conflict both to the other state and politically weak groups in their own state.  

Driedger tests and empirically supports this argument with a wide array of methods and evidence, showcasing his argument’s ability to explain conflict dynamics in radically different settings. Using statistical analysis on all pairs of unequal neighbors between 1816 and 1989, Driedger demonstrates that military conflict between unequal neighbors is typically preceded by pre-existing threat perceptions between the leaders, by increasing domestic pressures on leaders to adopt hostile policies, by perceived windows of opportunity to use force now rather than later, and by worsening threat perceptions due to emerging alliance ties between the small neighbor and external great powers. 

Complementing these statistical tests, Driedger also uses process-tracing for in-depth analyses of the relations between Serbia and Austria-Hungary (1878-1914) as well as between Ukraine and Russia (1992-2014). Data stem from primary historical sources of leadership deliberation and original policy documents and interviews conducted in Russia and Ukraine. In both cases, he uncovers how leaders’ drive for their own political survival explain why these relations were variously marked by peace, low-scale conflict, and war. 

Driedger’s research on military conflict between unequal neighbors also adds to our understanding of other forms of conflict, such as economic sanctions, and relations between other kinds of states, like equally powerful neighbors. Furthermore, the dissertation provides insights into the dynamics of deterrence and alliance politics and the interconnections of domestic and international policy. 

Politically, the findings allow to identify, anticipate, and better manage situations prone to conflict onset, such as powerful nationalist pressure groups, regime changes, great power security crises and certain kinds of extended alliance policies between small neighbors and distant great powers. 

Short Bio

Jonas J. Driedger is a political scientist from Germany, specializing in international security cooperation, deterrence, the causes of armed conflict, and international security policy, especially of NATO, the EU, Germany, and Russia. He defended his thesis in December 2020, while also being a DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow for Transatlantic Security Cooperation at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (Johns Hopkins University) in Washington DC. He was an Alfa Fellow and Visiting Researcher at the Moscow Higher School of Economics. He taught and did fieldwork in Germany, Italy, Ukraine, and Russia. Jonas’ academic publications include an article at the European Journal of International Security and chapters in edited volumes published by Springer and Columbia University Press. Jonas also contributed analyses and policy advise in German, Russian, and English, including to the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the Oxford University Changing Character of War Centre, Politico Europe, The National Interest, EUIdeas, EUObserver, and EurActiv.   

Carlos Hernandez150Cracking Meritocracy from the Starting Gate: Social Inequality in Skill Formation and School Choice

Carlos J. Gil Hernández 

Thesis summary

In contemporary liberal democracies, a college education is the best bet to climb up the social ladder for working-class families. However, inequalities by parental socioeconomic status in college enrolment remained at worryingly high levels in the last decades. Carlos’s thesis aims at answering a key unresolved question in sociological research: why are social inequalities in schooling so “sticky” over generations? 

To answer this question, Carlos’s thesis explores how wealthy families avoid their children falling down the social ladder from early in life. Its core argument is that negative traits for skill formation and learning—low birth weight and IQ—are less or not detrimental at all for well-off children when compared to disadvantaged peers. Upper-class parents follow compensatory strategies—educational investments and aspirations—to reproduce their status in a rigged social contest.

To illustrate how upper-class families crack meritocracy, Carlos focuses on Germany, one of the OECD countries with the lowest levels of social mobility. The segregating German school system, applying tracking into academic or vocational schools from age 10, is key in explaining low equal opportunity. Thus, Germany represents an ideal context to test how well-off families prevent downward mobility through access to academic schools bound to college.

Carlos’s thesis produced two novel empirical findings. Firstly, children from different social backgrounds are far from having the same chances of developing those abilities considered as main indicators of academic merit—cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Inequalities start to gestate in the womb, so that low birth weight (<2,500 grams), a good indicator of child health and developmental potential, is only detrimental for disadvantaged families. This finding illustrates how biology interacts with social environments in shaping unequal opportunities to develop academic skills from the starting gate of life.

Secondly, Carlos’s thesis documents high levels of social inequality in the transition into academic secondary schools among equally-skilled kids in terms of cognitive ability and effort. Well-off families compensate for low ability: the socioeconomic gap in school choice is largest among underperforming students. These findings put into question the legitimation of the German system of ability tracking, as teachers are biased in their evaluations as a function of students’ socioeconomic background. An illustrative example of this bias is the case of the primary school teacher of an inventor of the COVID-19 vaccine, Uğur Şahin, who thought that Uğur was not smart enough to enrol in academic education. 

Generally, Carlos’s thesis poses a serious challenge to liberal conceptions of equal opportunity that define merit as the sum of natural ability—IQ—plus effort. Carlos argues that the design of the German educational system reflects socioeconomic inequalities in a race that begins much earlier, even before birth. Thus, early tracking educational systems work as a bottleneck that should be erased if a better allocation of talent and opportunity is to be achieved. Socioeconomic inequalities in school choice over and above students’ ability represent a waste of academic potential for disadvantaged students, compromising upward social mobility and economic growth in post-industrial societies.

Short Bio

Carlos J. Gil Hernández defended his thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in October 2020. Carlos carries out theoretically-driven empirical research with interdisciplinary interests in skill formation, intergenerational social mobility and social policy. He is a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Trento, where he works in the Project “INEQUALITREES-A Novel Look at Socio-Economic Inequalities using Machine Learning Techniques and Integrated Data Sources”. His work has been published in journals and editorials such as Sociology of Education, European Sociological Review, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, and Stanford University Press. Previous to his doctoral studies, he completed MA studies at the Pompeu Fabra University and the University of Tilburg.


Kandyla_150The Emperor’s New Clothes? Assessing the Democratic Value of the European Citizens’ Initiative

Anna Kandyla

Thesis summary

The European Union (EU) has long been accused of suffering from a democratic deficit. One of the reforms introduced with a view to helping tackle this deficit is the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), an instrument which makes it possible for citizens to present legislative proposals to the European Commission, provided that they have collected one million signatures from at least one quarter of Member States. Ever since the ECI was introduced in the Treaty of Lisbon, it has been accompanied by buoyant democratic rhetoric. But, does the ECI indeed help enhance democracy in the EU?

In her thesis, Anna aims to provide a comprehensive answer to this question by bringing together normative democratic theory with an analysis of the ECI in practice. She develops three criteria against which the democratic quality of the ECI is empirically assessed: (1) equal and inclusive participation, (2) openness and group access to the agenda, and (3) impact on the EU legislative agenda.

To assess equal and inclusive participation, Anna looks at the inclusiveness of the ECI and inequalities of voice at the level of the citizens. Analyzing Eurobarometer survey data, she finds that the propensity to participate in the ECI is higher among those who tend to be politically active also in other ways: the better educated, those who trust EU institutions and their own political capabilities. As such, the ECI does not appear likely to offset equalities of voice and make participation more inclusive.

The second criterion focuses on the groups that use the ECI to bring an issue to the EU agenda and the factors that influence their efforts. The analysis of a sample of initiatives using Qualitative Comparative Analysis, shows that the registration of an initiative is only possible when the organizers are experts on EU matters. Since registration is required to start collecting signatures, it becomes a filter which prevents access to the procedure for EU novice groups. Yet, for collecting the signatures it is essential that the organizers, however resourceful they may be, tap into issues that have formed the subject of previous mobilization campaigns across the EU. Thus, while the ECI does not fully break with patterns of bias that characterize the access of civil society groups to the EU, it appears able to uplift more grassroots demands to the agenda.

The third criterion is about output and the extent to which valid initiatives lead to a legislative proposal. Examining the demands of all four initiatives so far considered, Anna finds that the ECI has had a limited impact on the EU agenda, which can be explained if we look at the dynamics of legislative agenda in the EU. It appears that in order to secure a legislative commitment by the Commission, the demand an initiative puts forward has to be congruent, at least to some extent, with the preferences within and across the Union’s institutions, which in the EU context is easier said than done.

In sum, the results relativize the democratic value of the ECI in practice and make an empirically-grounded contribution to discussions about the possibilities and the limitations of enhancing the EU’s democratic fabric via instruments other than elections.

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Short bio

Anna-Angela Kandyla defended her thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in September 2020. Her research interests focus on political participation, social movements, democratic innovations and EU governance. She is also interested in the media’s role in public opinion and democracy. Her research has been published in the Journal of Common Market Studies, Comparative European Politics, and the International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics. 


GandersonPolitics by Association. Party Competition and Post-Crisis Bank Structural Reform in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany

Joseph Ganderson

Thesis summary

When policies fail and a crisis strikes, politicians need to diagnose what went wrong and propose fixes. However, even when faced with the same problem at the same time, policymakers in different countries can reach different conclusions about what to do next. The financial crisis of 2008 presented multiple countries with the same problem: large banks that were ‘too big to fail’ needed public bailouts to prevent economic contagion and collapse after Lehman Brothers went under. Among the set of potential solutions, the most radical option was structural banking regulations: breaking up the largest firms by preventing them from combining traditional commercial banking with apparently riskier, if more lucrative investment banking. This step was universally opposed by these large banks, who argued it threatened their competitiveness and capacity to fund the real economy. However, despite these warnings the financial heartland of the UK implemented a strong structural firewall, Germany a weaker measure and the Netherlands rejected this approach entirely. These countries absorbed similar crisis costs and had parallel patterns of partisan governance through and after the crisis, so why did they take different approaches?

Against prevailing theories pointing to the overriding influence of business or structure of national economies, this thesis finds that political parties hold sway. Analysing patterns of competition between major parties in the three cases, it develops a new model, “Politics by Association”. This identifies three types of party, which are incentivised to play issues up and down based on their historical association with them. Incumbents governed up to and through the crisis and into a ‘crisis election’, a moment of judgement when the issue remains publicly salient. The thesis finds that in each case incumbent parties responded in predictable and consistent ways, internationalising crisis causes and proposing minimal responses that downplay historical failures. Associated Opponents are parties out of government who can still be linked to the policy failure. They have an incentive to avoid the issue and focus on other points of differentiation, as the VVD did to absolve itself of blame during the Dutch fallout. Unassociated Opponents are the disruptive force, these are opposition parties without historical baggage in this area. The thesis finds they have a strong incentive to attack incumbents, domesticising the crisis and placing popular, more radical reforms on the agenda to gain political capital. In the UK and Germany, the bargaining strength of these parties – the Liberal Democrats and Social Democrats respectively – determined the extent to which structural reform was pursued. An absence of any major unassociated party in the Netherlands ensured that the Dutch banks themselves were able to exert decisive control via a less costly programme of self-imposed cultural reform.

This basic framework adds a new dimension and research agenda to the evolving literature on how parties compete and set agendas. In an age replete with social, political and economic crises and seemingly ever greater misgivings between polarised parties, the model sketched out here helps shed further light on how politics translates into policy.

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Short Bio

Joseph Ganderson completed his thesis under the supervision of Prof. Pepper Culpepper and defended it in September 2020. He is a researcher at the European Institute, London School of Economics, where he works on the ERC-funded project SOLID (Sovereignty, Solidarity and Identity in the EU Post 2008). Here, his primary focus is on Brexit, where he teaches a postgraduate module and is working on the implications of this membership crisis for the future of the European project. Prior to his doctoral studies, he worked in EdTech in London for several years. He received a postgraduate innovation scholarship and MA from King’s College London (2012) and a BA from the University of Sheffield (2011).




Sphend KursaniContested States: The Struggle for Survival and Recognition in the Post-1945 International Order

Sphend Kursani

Thesis summary

Why is it that some contested states survive and others do not? Contested states are entities that exhibit strong elements of empirical statehood, but lack universal international recognition from the existing society of states. An intriguing aspect about contested states is that when they emerge, they undermine the authority and sovereign claims of the internationally recognized states that try to exert control over them. But when they continue to survive and persist, they additionally show a stubborn capability to challenge the broad and long-held consensus on the protection of borders and territorial integrity of the existing members of the society of states out of which contested states emerge. As such, unlike modern-day sovereign states, the death rate among contested states has been high. More than half of the thirty contested states that emerged at some point after WWII have already perished. The death of such entities as Aceh in 2005, Bougainville in 2001, or Biafra in 1967 is not a surprise. At the same time, entities such as Abkhazia, Somaliland, Northern Cyprus, Kosovo, Transnistria, and others have demonstrated a striking ability to survive, despite pressures that come from the constant contestation of their existence. How do they make it?

Kursani’s thesis finds three distinct sufficient “pathways” to contested survival. The first consists of conditions that vest contested states with an external supportive social environment. This environment legitimizes these entities, to a degree, enabling them to interact with the existing society of states. The second consists of conditions that explain survival through the existence of unstable and troubled neighborhoods which contested states strategically navigate by receiving some outside support. These troubled neighborhoods are characterized by the involvement of parent states (i.e., states out of which contested states emerge) in concurrent and long-standing conflicts with actors inside and outside their territories, providing contested states enough room to “breath.” The third consists of contested states’ sustained state-making efforts in a general condition of peace, which they characteristically maintain by having an outside helping hand. These three overarching “pathways” to survival speak of the heterogeneity of contexts in which these entities navigate with their contested status in the international system.

Interestingly, the thesis finds that there is no single condition that is necessary for contested states' survival. Yet, it suggests that what happens outside their domestic environments remains crucial to their survival. To survive, contested states must either have some helping hand from outside actors, a substantive degree of international legitimation, or an unstable parent state. The thesis also finds that the post-WWII international legal and normative order presents contested states with a trade-off. In seeking to achieve universal international recognition, contested states must curb their claims to self-determination and sacrifice some of the elements of empirical statehood they have managed to establish. 

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Short bio

Shpend defended his Ph.D. dissertation on “Contested States: The Struggle for Survival and Recognition in the post-1945 International Order” in July 2020. From October 2020, he will be a Lecturer at the University of Leiden. His research interests include self-determination, secession, statehood, recognition, violence and extremism. Shpend has obtained his M.Phil. degree in 2011 -with distinctions on his dissertation- in International Relations, from the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Before joining the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the EUI, Shpend has been a politically active member of civil society in Kosovo, and has conducted research for several institutes and think tanks. Shpend has authored more than a dozen scholarly articles and policy reports. He is currently co-authoring a book on “The Geography of Peace Settlements: De Facto States and Land-for-Peace Agreements”, Routledge. He has been recently commissioned to additionally contribute to the Routledge Handbook on “Self-determination and Secessionism”.



Hunger_150Is There a Populist Zeitgeist? Coming to Grips With an Elusive Phenomenon

Sophia Hunger

Thesis summary

Much of public debate and media attention has been dedicated to the threat of a “populist zeitgeist” in recent years. This common fear assumes that due to the increased electoral success of populist parties, mainstream parties will mimic these competitors and themselves become increasingly populist. This is generally seen as an undesirable, yet inevitable reality. 

The terms “populism” or “populist” are often used very broadly in public debate– referring to charismatic leadership, giving ordinary people “what they want”, or linking it to “fake news.” Social scientists, however, consider populism as an ideology that (1) considers society to be split in two homogenous and antagonistic groups – the “pure people” and “the evil elites”, and that (2) argues that politics should be an expression of the general will of the people. In this understanding, populism is considered as a “thin ideology”, meaning that it is a latent set of ideas that can be combined with any “thick” or host ideology.

In her thesis, Sophia Hunger studies the extent to which we are indeed facing a populist zeitgeist in contemporary Europe. She argues that it is crucial to distinguish between populism and its host ideologies, for instance radical left or radical right ideologies, when researching the impact of populist actors. In order to study whether mainstream parties become more populist or more radical over time, she develops measurements for both populist language and positional adjustment to populist competitors. She is able to do so, by using novel text-as-data methods and large sets of political texts, e.g. speeches or press releases. This ranges from using automated methods to identify trends, developments, and flaws in whole strands of literature to measuring parties’ use of populism, their issue attention and positions. 

Her findings do not lend any profound support for an encompassing populist zeitgeist, thus indicating that mainstream parties are not prone to fall for the populist thin ideology and refrain from conceiving of society as separated into the “good people” and the “evil elites.” Rather, Sophia shows that the impact of populist parties is via their substantive, ideological stances. Her empirical results demonstrate that populist radical right parties manage to exert pressure on mainstream parties and thus drive their political agenda. Moreover, Sophia’s findings indicate that while populism is not taken up by mainstream parties, populist actors do still have a profound impact on current European party systems through contagion with their host ideology. 

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Short bio

Sophia Hunger is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Center for Civil Society Research at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. She defended her dissertation at the EUI in July 2020. Prior to obtaining her Ph.D. she studied political science, economics, and anthropology in Munich, Copenhagen, and at the UNC Chapel Hill. At the EUI, she was also a member of the ERC project “Political Conflict in Europe in the Shadow of the Great Recession” (POLCON). Sophia’s main research interest include party behaviour and competition, political protest, and the role of challenger parties. Methodologically, she takes a broad interest in quantitative methods, with a particular focus on text-as-data approaches.



AdrianDelRio_new1Should I Stay, Or Should I Go? On the Determinants of Elite Defections in Electoral Autocracies

Adrián del Río Rodríguez

Thesis summary

Blatant dictatorships— in the form of monarchy, totalitarian or military rule—have largely disappeared. Nowadays, most authoritarian leaders exploit democratic institutions to cover their tyrannical rule. In particular, these institutions serve the leaders in distributing state resources to prominent elites and undermining the opposition. As a result, the ruler fosters the loyalty of elites and their cooperation to ensure regime survival. However, these electoral autocracies often collapse when such elites defect to the opposition. Why would ruling elites defect when a dictator in electoral autocracies can threaten their lives and offer more rewards?

In his thesis, Adrián del Río argues that aligning with the dictatorship offers significant advantages to politicians. However, being part of the ruling coalition can entail two high costs that motivate defection. First, the ruler might force ruling elites to support unpopular decisions that contravene their political goals. Restricting the volume of spoils available generates considerable uncertainties about the regime’s willingness to reward elite cooperation. Conflicts then emerge, and trigger elite defections. Second, leaving the ruling coalition might entail sanctions. When elites anticipate that defection will not result in oppression, joining the opposition is an opportunity to obtain the same or further benefits as they did as members of the ruling coalition. 

To test his argument, Adrian develops a novel dataset on the political career of 15,019 legislators and ministers in 12 electoral autocracies. With this data, he employs a variety of quantitative analyses. Adrian’s cross-national analyses demonstrate that regimes experience more elite defections when the government’s budget dries up. By distributing spoils to some elites, the ruler is depriving others of those benefits, so they have fewer incentives to stay with the regime. Besides grievances, defection increases when joining the opposition will not result in media harassment. Elite defectors then conclude that their ability to garner electoral support and forge alliances will not be undermined. Finally, defections do not occur as soon as opportunities exist, or the tide of benefits is not favorable for ruling elites. Elites wait and see if things will improve. When upcoming elections near, elites defect, as they are more sensitive to conflicts over the distribution of benefits and can reduce the costs of gathering elite and mass support. 

Through the case of Yeltsin’s Russia, Adrian shows that elites also weigh opportunities to defect based on their political resources. All defections occurred in a period of heightened divisions between Yeltsin and the Duma. However, some regime elites respond earlier than others to incentives to defect. In particular, elites with many personal resources defect earliest, since they have the resources to pursue their political goals independently of the regime. Moreover, ruling elites further away from the power center tend to defect because they cannot leverage their position to maintain or improve their status. 

In sum, the thesis shows that authoritarian leaders face adverse consequences in countering challenges to their rule. Many strategies to ensure today’s regime survival also heighten the risk of elite defections, which might pave the way for a regime collapse tomorrow.

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Short bio

Adrián del Río defended his thesis at the European University Institute in May 2020. His research interests focus on elite politics and power-sharing institutions in authoritarian and newly democratic regimes. In his work, he uses web-scraping and text-mining to build original datasets and applies a variety of statistical models to test theoretical arguments. Prior to his Ph.D., he completed a MA in Government from Pompeu Fabra University and the University of Konstanz, and a BA in Sociology from Pablo Olavide University. He obtained several academic awards and scholarships based on the excellence of his career trajectory. He is the (co)author of a peer-reviewed article in the Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológica. 



Altiparmakis-Cropped-150x200 newThe age of the bailout: Contention, party-system collapse and reconstruction in Greece, 2009-2015

Argyrios Altiparmakis

Thesis Summary

Why did the most abrupt collapse of a political system in post-war Western Europe happen and what role did social movements have in it? In his thesis, Argyrios Altiparmakis studies the collapse of the Greek political system under the strains of the bailout regime during the early 2010s and the unique march of a radical left party, Syriza, towards power in Europe. While most narratives of the Greek debt crisis draw a straight line between the economic crisis and the collapse of mainstream parties PASOK and New Democracy in 2012, Argyrios Altiparmakis focuses on the role of social movements and the structure of political competition during the age of the bailout. He argues that social movements had two profound effects. First, they cemented into public consciousness the notion of a link between the economic collapse and the systemic mismanagement of the country’s finances prior to it by the mainstream parties; this led to a radicalization of the population that demanded wholesale renewal of the political system. Second, faced with an expanding wave of protest, which successively embroiled non-typical protesters, deployed novel and disruptive tactics and promoted claims beyond narrow economic demands, the country’s political elite paralyzed and buckled under the accumulative pressure. Unable to come to an agreement on how to handle the crisis and unwilling to cooperate with each other due to the protest pressure, the country’s mainstream parties were reluctantly marshalled into a coalition by their European creditors. This opened the doors to niche parties to challenge their dominance in the double 2012 elections. 

Altiparmakis therefore suggests that economic collapse does not straightforwardly lead to political implosion. Unlike other countries in Europe, like Spain, Portugal and Ireland, which experienced either a deep crisis or a bailout, the Greek outcome of political collapse for mainstream parties was unique in its scale, speed and thoroughness. He therefore argues that this outcome was the combined result of protests expanding the issues introduced into public debate, the elite’s paralysis and stubbornness to recognize the changing context, and importantly, the ability of Syriza to seize advantage of the wave of public unrest. Syriza, a party that until then hardly surpassed the electoral threshold was able to lead an electoral campaign perfectly attuned to the preferences and concerns of the frustrated public. Alone among parties challenging the centrist parties, Syriza grasped the disappointment in political elites and launched a campaign that emphasized concurrently the economic and political aspects of the bailout. This allowed it to become a focus for disgruntled voters that saw the issue of political renewal intertwined with that of economic recovery. 

Apart from the substantive issue of the implosion of the Greek political system, the thesis advances also methodological novelties, by looking at the bailout era through the lens of contentious episodes. This method tracks the interaction between political actors and social movements. It then uses the input from these interactions and combines them with electoral, protest and campaign data to reach its conclusions. 

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Short Bio

Argyrios Altiparmakis is a research fellow at the European University Institute, enrolled in the SOLID project researching the political consequences of multiple European crises and the resilience of the European Union. He defended his thesis at the EUI in June 2019. He works on party conflict, political competition, social movements and political behaviour. Prior to his PhD at the EUI he obtained an MSc in Political Science and Political Economy from the LSE and a MSC in applied maths and physics from the National Polytechnic of Athens. His research has been published in journals such as Party Politics. 


Ieva Grumbinaite 150xTurning “Them” into “We”. The Impact of the Rotating European Union Council Presidency on the Member States

Ieva Grumbinaite

Thesis Summary

The rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union is held by each EU Member State in turn. It gives the countries an equal leadership opportunity to chair the meetings of the Council of the EU for six months. The achievements of different Council presidencies on the EU level, such as their performance, priorities or agenda-setting power have received some academic attention. However, in her thesis, Ieva takes a reverse and to date understudied perspective by analysing whether the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU means anything to the Member States holding the position. The broad overall question the thesis raises, whether the Council presidency contributes to bringing EU affairs closer to the Member States, is especially relevant in the context of relatively strong Euroscepticism across the EU and recent crises of European integration, such as the refugee crisis or Brexit.

Ieva addresses this question on three levels: national administrations, national ministers and the citizens of the Member States holding the position. Analysing Eurobarometer survey data, she finds that knowledge of the European Union among the citizens improves when their country is holding the Council presidency in small Member States as well as those holding the position for the first time. Furthermore, a quantitative analysis of Council meeting attendance shows an alarming trend that national ministers, although they are formally required to, attend only two thirds of the Council meetings. However, the attendance rates increase notably before and during their country’s Council presidency. No long-term impact is apparent but the presidency is nevertheless a motivating factor for the national ministers to engage in EU affairs more actively.

Moreover, based on nearly 100 expert interviews with civil servants from six small Member States (Ireland, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Slovakia), Ieva finds that the Council presidency indeed contributes to Europeanisation of national administrations. Even though additional institutional structures established and staff hired for the presidency are usually not retained, the learning effects for the permanent civil servants are notable, especially in the Member States holding the Council presidency for the first time. For Lithuanian, Latvian and Slovakian civil servants and diplomats, holding the Council presidency was an essential learning and networking experience improving EU policy coordination practices and often equated to “attaining full membership of the European Union”.

Ieva’s thesis provides a detailed and comprehensive assessment of the impact of the rotating EU Council presidency on the Member States holding it, including a broad case selection and a variety of novel qualitative and quantitative data. Theoretically, the thesis contributes to studies of Europeanisation by examining an impact of a short-term event like a six-month Council presidency and, especially, tapping into its long-term implications. It also contributes to the studies of small and “new” Member States of the EU, showing that there is no apparent difference in the quality and execution of Council presidencies by “new” and “old” Member State and suggesting that the fears relating to the “newcomers” being unable to meet their EU membership obligations could be unfounded.

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Short bio

Ieva is currently a senior researcher at the Public Policy and Management Institute in Vilnius, Lithuania, where she contributes to the preparation of various policy evaluations and studies relating to EU policy instruments in the fields of education and public administration. She defended her PhD thesis at the EUI in February 2020. Ieva also holds an MSc in Public Administration from Leiden university and a BA in European Studies from Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg. Her research interests include qualitative and quantitative methods (interviews, survey, categorical data analysis), European Integration, EU institutions and policies. 



Gessler_150Political Conflict on Immigration and Democracy in Europe

Theresa Gessler

Thesis summary

Why do certain problems become 'hot topics' politically? In her thesis, Theresa Gessler studies political competition on two such topics in Europe: immigration and democracy. In particular, she shows the impact of (right-wing) challengers on political debates over the last years across Europe. By affecting the salience of political problems, they managed to put immigration and democracy on the agenda. The thesis details two different dynamics of politicization: attitudes and party mobilization on democracy-related issues follow long-term trends shaped by the character of democracy as a valence issue. In contrast, recent change to political conflict on immigration was shaped by the context of the refugee crisis that polarized debates.

For conflict around democracy, Theresa Gessler’s thesis demonstrates that democracy and its institutions have become contested in several European countries over the last years. Particularly in Southern and Eastern Europe, political institutions and the performance of governments are highly contested. The thesis highlights that much of this debate is driven by the low quality of democratic systems. These results underscore the need for political reforms. A chapter on the expectations of Eastern Europeans towards democracy shows that while citizens have lowered their expectations of liberal democracy, they are dissatisfied and remain demanding regarding social justice and direct democracy. Hence, not just democratic institutions are crucial for gaining a broad consensus that supports democracy across Europe, these institutions’ output is equally important.

For the immigration issue, the thesis shows that short-term experiences during the refugee crisis have helped to inflame anti-refugee sentiment in Hungary, a country at the center of the refugee crisis. This had consequences for attitudes and policy preferences (with a growing scepticism towards refugees), as well as for voting behaviour (in elections and referenda). However, these consequences were mostly limited to citizens on the right who hardened their positions and switched their vote from Fidesz to Jobbik. Regarding party conflict on immigration, the thesis demonstrates that while the refugee crisis helped radical right parties to put immigration on the agenda, this mostly affected the salience of the issue. In the three countries studied in this part of the analysis (Austria, Germany and Switzerland), party positions were far more stable than party attention. An additional case study of Germany shows how mainstream parties tried to reframe the debate on the immigration issue in a different light than their right-wing competitor Alternative für Deutschland.

Methodologically, the thesis employs a variety of different analysis techniques and data sources, including a novel dataset of 120,000 party press releases. In addition to quantitative text analysis methods (which include structural topic models and wordscores), the thesis relies on classic content analysis and the analysis of surveys and election outcomes. Thereby, beyond its substantive contribution, the thesis provides new evidence and reflects on how to best study political conflict and its development. 

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Short bio

Theresa Gessler is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Zurich, Switzerland and a member of the Digital Democracy Lab. She defended her thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in December 2019. She works on party conflict on the issues of democracy and immigration, as well as the transformation of democratic processes through digitalization. In her research, she uses text analysis and computational methods, based on data collected from online and offline sources.

During her time at the European University Institute, she was a member of the POLCON research project. Prior to her PhD at the EUI, Theresa studied Political Science at Central European University in Budapest and Sociology and History of Science at the University of Frankfurt.


Limberg_Julian 150xOf Banks and Budgets: How Financial Crises Shaped the Modern Tax State

Julian Limberg

Thesis summary

Have financial crises left their imprint on the modern tax state? In his thesis, Julian Limberg shows that financial meltdowns do indeed shape tax systems. In particular, financial crises lead to higher taxes on the rich. He argues that three factors account for this. First, financial crises are expensive. Crisis-hit countries face fiscal distress and are direly in need for additional revenues. Second, financial crises can increase demand for tax progressivity. As citizens’ fiscal fairness principles become violated, claims to compensate for these violations via progressive taxation arise. Third, crisis-induced tax policy changes are sticky. Once new tax policy measures are in place, politicians have a hard time scaling them back. As a result, financial crises can cause long term transformations of the tax system. Julian proceeds in three steps to test these arguments. First, he looks at the historical origins of the tax state by investigating whether financial crises have affected the rise of the “queen of taxation” (Popitz 1926) – namely the income tax. Using a new, worldwide dataset on fiscal innovations since the beginning of the 19th century, he shows that financial crises have facilitated the introduction of progressive income taxation. A case study of the US reveals that both revenue needs and fiscal fairness claims pushed for the introduction of the income tax. Second, Julian investigates demand for progressive taxation. Do financial crises affect political appetite for taxing the rich? Analysing survey data, he finds that demand for tax progressivity has been higher in countries that were hit harder by the Great Recession. Intensified fiscal fairness perceptions in crisis countries can account for this effect. Finally, has this renewed demand for progressive income taxation been supplied politically? Julian looks at new data on top personal income tax rates in 122 countries from 2006 to 2014 to answer this question. He finds that countries with a financial crisis have increased top income tax rates by 4 percentage points. Furthermore, rising public debt only leads to higher top income tax rates when it is crisis-induced. These findings demonstrate that notions of fiscal fairness can still shape progressive taxation nowadays. In sum, the thesis shows that financial crises are crucial, yet largely overlooked events for progressive taxation. By doing so, it contributes to the broader debate on the politics of inequality and redistribution in the 21st century.

Cadmus permanent link:

Short bio

Julian Limberg is a Lecturer in Public Policy in the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London. He received his Ph.D. at the European University Institute in May 2019. He is also part of a larger project that investigates the historical lineages of the modern tax state worldwide. Prior to his Ph.D. he completed an MA in Social Policy at the University of Bremen. Julian’s research lies at the intersection of comparative public policy and political economy. In particular, he is interested in the dynamics of inequality, tax policy-making, and fiscal capacity building over the long run of history. His research has been published in the Review of International Organizations, the Journal of Public Policy, and the European Political Science Review.




Sanc150xDisinterested or discouraged? The gender gap in political interest.

Irene Sanchez Vitores

Thesis Summary

Women systematically declare in surveys and interviews that they are less interested in politics than men. In times where feminist movements are pushing for an agenda focusing on improving gender equality, this systematic lack of interest in politics amongst women demands some further exploration. In spite of advances in recent years in terms of levels of gender equality in Western societies, women being as educated as men or women’s incorporation to the labor market, women still seem to have no motivation when it comes to being politically involved. Although not every citizen is equally involved with politics, if a good half of the population systematically finds itself on the unmotivated side, it means that they are less likely to communicate their preferences, demands and needs to the institutions and actors that could act on them. This thesis explores men’s and women’s interest in politics to disentangle what is driving this apparent lack of interest. Are men and women so different in their interests? And if so, how can these differences be explained?This thesis relies on survey data from different sources to address the how, when and where of the previous question. First, are women not interested or are they interested in different issues? Politics has often been described as an old boys’ club, where women and the issues they care about are relatively unwelcome. In other words, surveys seem to be implicitly asking about their interest in those unfriendly environments. To circumvent this challenge, survey participants were asked about various specific political arenas. The results show that men are more interested in national politics while women are more interested on closer arenas, like local politics, where the issues that affect their daily concerns are more likely to be addressed. Second, when do women become different in their levels of interest to men? Although the causes cannot be identified precisely, the evidence suggests that children are already learning these differences in their early years and consolidating them during their youth as they learn how to be the adults they will become. After this, at around age 25, differences crystallize, and they remain relatively stable over the rest of the life course. In other words, given that differences are evident already at age 15 it seems that families and schools need to reflect on how young children are being taught about their values, social roles in order to break these gendered patterns. Third, how does the context shape these gender differences, particularly media and the women they portray? Media brings the world into the houses of citizens, shaping their interests. In this regard, how many women are present in the news can act as a thermometer of newsworthiness, and, thus, of a political systems’ intent on being inclusive. Results show that smaller gender differences are not associated with the mere presence of women in the news but with their presence in those issues that are traditionally masculinized like economic affairs. Connecting with the beginning of this research, it seems that women’s motivation is stimulated when politics looks less like a boys’ club and more like a space where they can address social issues that concern them.

Short bio

Irene Sanchez-Vitores defended her thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in June 2019. Her research interests focus mainly on political behavior and orientations, particularly on the dimensions of gender-based inequalities. She is also interested on political sociology and media. Prior to her Ph.D. at the EUI, she obtained an MA in Democracy and Government from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. Her research has been published in Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas, Social Politics and Political Psychology.

Bürgisser 150xThe Politics of Welfare State Recalibration in Continental and Southern Europe 

Reto Bürgisser 

Thesis Summary

Do we still witness partisanship differences in welfare state reforms and to what extent do social democratic parties still tailor welfare state reforms to the preferences of their core constituencies? Recent claims in the literature have stressed a loosening link between parties and their voters and a deteriorating policy performance of parties in office. The literature on party cartelization, winner-takes-all politics and producer group politics have all argued that electoral politics has become less relevant and that government composition does not affect policy output. In his thesis, Reto Bürgisser argues that electoral politics still matters. But to make sense of the role of political parties, we need to shift the focus towards the multidimensional transformation of the welfare state and its implications for preference formation and party politics. The politics of welfare state change do not follow the same dynamics as during the Golden Age of welfare state expansion. Post-industrialization, occupational change and the emergence of new social risks have considerably complicated partisan politics of the welfare state. In times of limited resources and increasing social demands, social democratic parties do not anymore pursue a clear strategy of welfare state expansion. Instead, they have changed their reform strategies over time depending on the relative electoral weight of different constituencies within their party. Under contemporary conditions, which differ starkly from the conditions during the Golden Age, parties face complex configurations of welfare state preferences within their electoral constituencies. Thus, two cross-cutting divides run right through the heart of the social democratic coalition: a class divide between the working class and the middle class and a social risk divide between labor market insiders and outsiders. In times of austerity, these divides become an issue of conflict pitting different constituencies within the social democratic coalition against each other. Relying on survey experiments, the thesis establishes in a first step the micro-level foundations of the argument and demonstrates that occupational classes and insider/outsiders have distinct social policy preferences and priorities: while the working classes prefer consumption-oriented policies, the middle classes opt for investment-oriented policies; and outsiders prefer active and passive labor market policies much more than insiders. Drawing on a self-collected database on all enacted labor market reforms in Continental and Southern Europe from 1990 until 2016, the thesis proceeds with an assessment of the multidimensional nature of labor market reforms. Reto convincingly demonstrates in careful detail the multidimensional reform trajectories in nine countries and shows that traditional economic, institutional, and simple partisanship explanations are insufficient to account for the variation in reform trajectories. This is why the final part of the thesis leverages the profound transformation of party electorates over time with a new measure on the electoral relevance of different constituencies within the social democratic party and combines it with the labor market reform data. Contrary to much of the literature, the results show that social democratic parties do neither uniformly follow a strategy of social investment nor do they always implement pro-insider policies. Instead, the electoral relevance of different constituencies is consistently related to labor market reforms under social democratic governments. A higher electoral relevance of the working class is related to more protection-oriented labor market reforms, whereas a higher electoral relevance of labor market outsiders leads to more pro-outsider labor market reforms. Taken together, the thesis shows a remarkable responsiveness of social democratic parties to their voters’ demands and has important implications for the electoral fate of social democracy and our understanding of policymaking in postindustrial societies.

Short bio
Reto Bürgisser is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Bern, Switzerland. He received his Ph.D. at the European University Institute (EUI) in June 2019. Prior to his Ph.D. he completed a BA and MA in Political Science and Sociology at the University of Zurich. Reto’s main research interest include political economy, comparative politics, and political behavior with a focus on policy preferences, survey experiments, electoral behavior, and the politics of welfare state transformation. His research has been published in journals such as the Socio-Economic Review.



Bremer_Bjoern-150xAusterity From the Left. Explaining the Fiscal Policies of Social Democratic Parties in Response to the Great Recession

Björn Bremer 

Thesis summary

Why did social democratic parties accept austerity as the dominant macroeconomic policy in response to the Great Recession? Traditionally, these parties have been opposed to austerity and in favour of Keynesian demand management, but they failed to renew this Keynesian commitment during the recent economic crisis in Europe. In his thesis, Björn Bremer explains this puzzling response of social democratic parties to the economic crisis by studying the popular and elite politics of austerity. His answer builds on a framework that combines a focus on public opinion with a focus on the prevailing policy discourse among social democratic elites. He argues that, during the Great Recession, the social democratic parties found themselves in an electoral and ideational trap. The electoral demands, as perceived by the social democratic policy-makers, served as a strategic constraint for their macroeconomic policies, while the prevailing policy discourse imposed substantive constraints on their imagination. Public opinion was largely opposed to government debt and in favour of pre-cyclical fiscal policies. This confirmed social democratic policy-makers in their pre-conceived ideas, which were inspired by supply-side Keynesianism. Associated with the Third Way, these ideas became popular among social democrats towards the end of the twentieth century in response to the economic challenges of the 1970s and the 1980s in advanced economics. As a result, social democrats viewed the Great Recession much more through the lens of the 1970s rather than the lens of the 1930s, paying too little attention to the lack of aggregate demand in Europe. To make this argument, the thesis combines qualitative and quantitative methods and draws on a range of empirical evidence. Amongst others, it uses quantitative text analysis, survey experiments, and insights from more than forty elite interviews with leading social democratic politicians and policy-makers in Germany and the UK. This allows the thesis to make several distinct contributions.First, it combines the study of the supply-side of elite politics with the study of the demand-side to show how important electoral politics is to understand macroeconomic policy-making in liberal democracies. Second, it elucidates the ideational foundations of social democratic austerity by tracing the ideas and economic theories which served to legitimize it. Third, it shows that austerity strongly imposed itself on social democrats because it was both politically and economically powerful: it resonated with the intuitive understanding of the economy of a large part of the population, and it was supported by ideational processes that served to legitimize it among different political actors. Finally, this also enables the thesis to demonstrate that office-seeking politicians are constrained in their ability to push for paradigm change when they are influenced by electoral calculations and ideational legacies. Taken together, the thesis helps to explain the dominance of austerity in the context of the Great Recession and provides a new account of the economic policies that social democratic parties pursued in response to the recent economic crisis in Europe.

Short bio

Björn Bremer is a Senior Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne. He received his Ph.D. at the European University Institute (EUI) in March 2019. At the EUI, he was also a member of the ERC project “Political Conflict in Europe in the Shadow of the Great Recession” (POLCON). Prior to his Ph.D. he completed a BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) at the University of Oxford and an MA in International Relations and International Economics at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. Björn’s main research interests focus on the politics of macroeconomic policies and the welfare state, and his research has been published in journals such as the Socio-Economic Review, Party Politics, and German Politics.

Photo credit: “MPIfF/Aydee”


Herbaut 150xFrom access to attainment: patterns of social inequality and equity policies in higher education

Estelle Herbaut

Thesis summary

Why are students from disadvantaged background under-represented among higher education graduates? Which are the crucial points during the educational career for the emergence of higher education inequalities? And can social inequalities be reduced by political reforms or interventions at this level of education? In her thesis, Estelle Herbaut assesses the effect of social origin on pivotal outcomes of higher education careers in France. While most studies have focused on access to higher education, ignoring the large proportion of university students dropping out without a degree, her thesis provides a comprehensive assessment of patterns of inequalities, from initial access to final attainment. It also shed new lights on the development of inequalities over time by combining the study of single key transitions with an analysis of whole students’ trajectories during their educational careers. 

The results first highlight the crucial role of previous education in shaping social inequalities in higher education outcomes. Being the last stage of the educational system, inequalities in higher education also reflect unequal opportunities occurring earlier in the educational pipeline. In France, the gap by social origin in high school graduation explains most of the gap in access to higher education and differences in performance at age 11 are already crucial to explain differences in higher education eligibility. Overall these results stress that the under-representation of disadvantaged students in French higher education can only be addressed through a reduction of inequalities of performance across social groups in earlier stages of the educational system. However, Herbaut also finds evidence that students’ trajectories in higher education further diverge by social origin after high school graduation and that the inequalities observed at the end of high school are further amplified. Most notably, previous academic achievements are converted into different higher education outcomes, depending on social origin. For example, socially advantaged students with lower performance are found to be better able to gain eligibility to higher education and to overcome failure in the first year of higher education, a form of “compensatory advantage” of social origin. The author also identifies a “boosting effect” of social origin as high-achievers from socially advantaged backgrounds are able to better capitalize on their good performance in high school to enter elite programmes, than disadvantaged high-achievers. 

Focusing on policy solutions, Herbaut explores the effect of alternative pathways on the composition of the student body in prestigious institutions and finds that that these pathways allow a diversification of the student body even though students with better academic backgrounds and from highly-educated families are more likely to make use of them. The thesis also includes a broad systematic literature review of the (quasi-)experimental literature on interventions in higher education where the authors find that well-designed interventions in high school and higher education can bring about substantial improvements in the difficult educational career of disadvantaged students. Most notably, outreach policies are broadly effective in raising access of disadvantaged students when they include active counselling or simplify the university application process, but not when they only provide general information on higher education. Regarding financial aid, need-based grants consistently appear to improve completion rates of disadvantaged students contrary to merit-based grants which only rarely improve outcomes of disadvantaged students. These results are overall encouraging for the institutional and political leverage to reduce inequality in higher education. 

Short Bio

Estelle Herbaut is a postdoctoral researcher at Sciences Po Paris, where she is part of a NORFACE-funded and country-comparative research project on the relationship between tracking in secondary education and the formation of social inequality over the life course. Her research interests focus on social inequalities, education policies, higher education and students' trajectories. Prior to her Ph.D. at the EUI, she has worked for several years at the OECD collecting and publishing comparative data on education policies. 



Koen DamhuisRoads to the radical right. Understanding different forms of electoral support for radical right-wing parties in France and the Netherlands

Koen Damhuis

Thesis summary
What leads people to vote for a radical right-wing party (RRP)? In his thesis, Koen Damhuis sheds new light on this urgent question by focusing on the diversity of the concerned citizens. Contrary to most existing analyses, studying typical traits pertaining to all radical right voters in one or several countries, his thesis identifies and systematically compares different forms of radical right support in France (Front National) and the Netherlands (Party for Freedom).  By doing so, the study consistently links supply-side and demand-side factors, arguing that these roads to the radical right should be seen as two-way traffic rather than one-way-streets. One the one hand voters determine the parties’ political fate and thus their strategy (supply); on the other hand, parties play a crucial role in the construction of voters’ political preferences (demand), by giving voice to their latent predispositions, incoherent experiences and slumbering convictions. In that light, Koen contends that the electoral appeal of RRP relies on their capacity to coherently unify a multiplicity of different demands along the same principle of division: national versus foreign. Analysing close to 1’400 Tweets of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders, he shows that this antagonism follows a particular tripartite structure, according to which the elites (above) and non-native outgroups (below) are opposed to the native population (in between) in a variety of issue domains, covering security, identity and prosperity. In a crucial way, this tripartite structure of the radical right’s political supply overlaps with the socio-political outlooks of RRP voters, whereby the identification schemes differ, depending on the backgrounds and beliefs of the concerned citizens. 

Based on statistical analyses (for an overview of structural differences) and 125 life history interviews with Front National and Party for Freedom voters (to gain insight into their subjectively relevant social experiences and political convictions), the thesis identifies three main roads to the radical right. The first path, hard-done-by-ness, can mainly be found among voters with lower education and income levels, suffering from intra-generational decline. Invoking their nationality, the ultimate resource they dispose, these voters resent both the migrants with whom they compete for welfare state services, work and shelter, and the political elite who would give priority to these newcomers. The second road, contributionism, is not so much characterized by citizens claiming they receive too little, but rather by those stating that they give too much. This form of RRP support can mainly be found among small business owners and ‘self-made’ employees in the private sector, resenting establishment politicians for transferring their hard-earned tax money to ‘Arabs’ (in France), ‘refugees’ and ‘lazy Greeks’ (in the Netherlands) who are believed to violate the self-reliant deservingness criteria of these voters. The third main way, then, radical conservatism, represents the relatively well-educated and well-off radical right-wing voters, who are primarily preoccupied by the loss of national culture and values due to growing influence of Islam. Contrary to voters corresponding to the second and (especially) the first type, these citizens primarily vote for RRP based on ideological considerations. 
Taken together, the innovative theoretical and methodological approach of this thesis and the many empirical findings it presents lead to a more refined picture of radical right support and open up important new perspectives for future research.

Short bio

Koen Damhuis is an Assistant Professor at the Utrecht University School of Governance, where he participates in the interdisciplinary research project Dynamics of Youth, focusing on societal and political polarization among Dutch secondary school students. Koen received his Ph.D. degree at the European University Institute in December 2018. During his doctoral studies, in February 2017, De Arbeiderspers published Wegen naar Wilders (Roads to Wilders), a book in which Koen made the Dutch part of his Ph.D. project accessible for a general audience. His academic research has appeared in journals such as West European Politics and Party Politics. Koen also contributed to various media outlets, including Al Jazeera, De Morgen, Der Spiegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Radio France Internationale and The Washington Post. Before coming to the EUI, he graduated in public administration at Utrecht University and in political sociology at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. 



 HolmsenBelieve it or not: The new face of religion in international affairs. A case study of Sant’Egidio 

Jenny Holmsen

Thesis summary

How does religious diplomacy differ from “regular” diplomacy? And has the rise of religious diplomatic actors in international politics had any significant effect on established diplomatic practices? 

Over the last decades, religious actors have become increasingly salient across a spectre of diplomatic fields. Despite a keen academic and political interest in the potential of religious actors to push and pursue global diplomatic agendas – particularly in the domain of peace-making – we know very little about how religious diplomacy unfolds in practice, and even less about how such practices relate to broader changes in the international system. In her thesis, Jenny Holmsen provides new empirical knowledge about the operational dynamics of faith-based mediation and its contact point with international politics through a qualitative case study of one of the world’s most prestigious faith-based diplomatic networks – the Italian Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio. By combining perspectives from International Relations theory, mediation studies and sociology of religion, Holmsen provides a set of innovative arguments that challenge conventional knowledge about religious peace-making, and in particular, dominant ideas about their inherently apolitical character. 

The main findings are structured around three clusters: The constitution of a religious identity internally in the Sant’Egidio community; the ways in which religion is mobilised and applied in the community’s faith-based mediation practices; and finally, Sant’Egidio’s role and impact as a global entrepreneur of diplomatic practice. Holmsen shows that a central feature of Sant’Egidio’s religious identity – which is crucial to its success as a diplomatic actor – is the community’s efforts to re-articulate and recast the role and meaning of religion in the global order. A key strategy in in this reframing and innovation of religious identity is to re-introduce religion in largely non-confessional terms such as “faith” and “spirituality”, as opposed to dogma, doctrine and theology. 

Holmsen further shows that this open and flexible approach to religious identity constitutes a key tool in the community’s faith-based mediation practices. First, merely being a religious actor has an important symbolic and strategic value in itself, because it provides Sant’Egidio with unique access to other religious actors, which secular actors lack. Moreover, the Sant’Egidio community’s “open” interpretation of religion allows the community to meaningfully engage with qualitatively different religious actors on the potential and limitations of religious beliefs as norm-provider for politics and societal organisation. A key finding of the thesis is hence that the main strength of faith-based mediation is that it neutralises the destructive impact of religion – and by consequence, facilitates for a return to politics. 

As for Sant’Egidio’s role and impact as a global actor, Holmsen shows that the community’s sharp rise in political status in the last decade has allowed for it to exercise considerable influence on the development of a “post-secular” diplomacy, both in the U.S. and Italy. Holmsen shows how Sant’Egidio played a key role in U.S. diplomatic efforts under the Obama administration to construct a new model of religion in the post-9/11 context, that currently informs global policymaking on religion and foreign policy. This community’s rise in political status has been matched by increased influence also internally in the Holy See, where Sant’Egidio plays a key role in the current reconfiguration of Holy See diplomacy under Pope Francis. 

Short bio

Jenny Holmsen defended her thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in December 2018. She currently works in the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, as advisor to the Department for Civil Society, Democracy and Human Rights, and holds a guest researcher position at the research project RelPol at the University of Oslo (UiO). Holmsen has a M.A. in peace and conflict studies, specializing on Islamist movements in Algeria, and a B.A. in European history, focusing on French colonial presence in North Africa. She has participated in numerous research projects including ReligioWest (EUI), Middle East Directions (EUI), Social and Political Change in post-Qaddafi Libya (EUI), The New Middle East: Emerging Political and Ideological Trends (UiO), Faultlines of Islamism: Negotiating Power, Participation and Patriarchy’ (UiO) and has broad research experience within the fields of international conflict resolution, diplomacy, religious politics, radicalization and violent extremism, Middle Eastern politics, European foreign policy, and gender politics. 



Picture_WolfEurope’s Military Responses to Humanitarian Crises

Katharina Wolf

Thesis summary

Why do European Union (EU) member states sometimes respond collectively to prevent or address large-scale humanitarian crises while, at other moments, they use different institutional channels? More than once, EU states have pondered, hesitated, disagreed and let others interfere when widespread and systematic killing of civilians were looming. Instead of using the EU’s military crisis management capacities, member states have acted through different institutional channels such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), ad-hoc coalitions of states or single state-led operations to interfere in humanitarian crises. At times, they have decided not to intervene at all. To examine this striking variation in European states’ responses to large-scale humanitarian crises, Wolf draws on in-depth case study evidence from the conflict in Libya during 2011, the post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire during 2010/2011, the sectarian war in the Central African Republic during 2013 and 2014 and the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. The cases capture the entire range of variation on the dependent variable covering EU operations, NATO operations, ad-hoc operations, and non-intervention.Wolf”s thesis develops a three-step model to explain why, when, and how European states use military force for humanitarian purposes. At the domestic level, Wolf’s findings show that support by powerful domestic elites is critical for European interventions. In contrast, where powerful domestic actors oppose intervention, European states refrain from intervening and typically promote alternative crisis management solutions. For instance, African states took charge of crisis management at the initial stage of the sectarian war in the CAR during 2013 while France and the EU refused to intervene. As a second factor, Wolf finds that at the international level, European states attach importance to the preferences of UN Security Council members, regional organizations and the host nation when deciding whether or not to intervene. While international approval can speed up European military action, its absence constrains, delays, and hampers intervention, so the thesis’ argument. For instance, Britain and France only deployed force to stop Gaddafi after they had received approval by regional organizations and authorization by UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Finally, at the regional European level, Wolf’s results indicate that the deployment of EU and NATO operations is likely when intervention is backed by the organization’s most powerful states and when it is acceptable to other member states. When member states’ preferences diverge, hence, when they strongly disagree on what the appropriate response to a crisis should be, common action through the EU or NATO is unlikely. In this situation, like-minded states will resort to ad-hoc arrangements or national operations.Wolf’s dissertation concludes that European states’ preferences, the political contexts in which they operate and their ability to pursue their goals at the international and the regional level considerably influence why, when, and in which format European states intervene in humanitarian crises.


Short bio

Katharina Wolf is a Research Associate at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies in the Global Governance Programme. After that, Katharina will take up a position as Defence Data Analyst at the European Defence Agency (EDA) in Brussels. Her doctoral research examines why, when, and in which format European states intervene militarily in humanitarian crises. She holds a M.A. degree in International Relations from the University of Nottingham and a M.A. degree in International Administration and Conflict Management from the University of Konstanz. During her doctoral research Katharina worked at the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) in Paris and at the Global Governance Programme. Katharina’s research interests include International Relations, European Security and Defence Policy, military interventions, Franco-German security and defence cooperation, and Foreign Policy Analysis. Her publications include Franco-German Defence and Security Cooperation, in: The Handbook of European Defence Policies and Armed Forces (with Ulrich Krotz) (Oxford University Press, 2018), Global defence spending 2015: the big picture (EUISS publication, 2016), Putting numbers on capabilities: Defence inflation vs. cost escalation (EUISS publication, 2015), and Defence spending in 2014: the big picture (with Antonio Missiroli) (EUISS publication, 2015). 





Lorenzo PiccoliThe politics of regional citizenship. Explaining variation in the right to health care for undocumented immigrants across Italian regions, Spanish autonomous communities, and Swiss cantons

Lorenzo Piccoli

Thesis summary

Do citizenship rights of vulnerable populations vary within states? And if so how, and why? In his thesis, Lorenzo Piccoli shows that distinct traditions of regional protection of vulnerable individuals—like minor children, the disabled, and the homeless—can be used to challenge and contest national governments’ ideas about citizenship and their policies. 

Piccoli compares how governments protect the right to health care for undocumented immigrants in three multilevel states and, within these, in pairs of regions that have been governed by either left- or right-wing parties and coalitions: Lombardy (Italy, conservative government from 1995), Tuscany (Italy, progressive government from 1970), Andalusia (Spain, progressive government from 1980), Madrid (Spain conservative government from 1995), Vaud (Switzerland, progressive government from 2002) and Zürich (Switzerland, conservative government from 1991). The comparison is based on the analysis of 31 legislative documents and 62 interviews with policy-makers, health care professionals, and members of NGOs.

Piccoli’s main argument is that the politics of regional citizenship represent a source for parties to influence the national agenda, interpret policy outcomes, and encourage political compromise. The regional and cantonal governments of Tuscany and Vaud, for example, have traditionally opposed national policies that curtailed social rights for immigrants. The time when the legislation and the expansion of the rules of access to rights by the government of Vaud was most intense coincided with the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the right-wing anti-immigration Schweizerische Volkspartei (SVP) gained greater power within the Swiss Federal Council. Similarly, the regional government of Tuscany defended some of the rights of undocumented immigrants as a reaction to the anti-immigration policies pursued by the right-wing national government in the early 2000s and then again between 2008 and 2009. At the same time, the regional government of Madrid and Lombardy are characterised by deliberate inaction on this issue, leaving the responsibility to assist undocumented immigrants to NGOs and civil society organisations. 

The author explains how the structure of the territorial system of the state plays an important role in determining the direction of the politics of regional citizenship. The value assigned to territorial pluralism within a country, in particular, determines whether regional citizenship is developed against the state, as a strategy to manifest dissent and mark the difference—as is the case in Spain and, to some extent, in Italy—or, instead, together with the state, as an expression of multilevel differentiation—as in Switzerland. Importantly, however, regional citizenship does never develop in complete isolation from the state because it always represents an attempt to weaken or reinforce the policies of the central government.

Short bio

Lorenzo Piccoli is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the nccr – on the move, the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) for migration and mobility studies, and a Research Assistant at GLOBALCIT, the global observatory on citizenship at the Robert Schumann Centre for Advanced Studies in Florence. He defended his doctoral thesis at the European University Institute in April 2018 and is currently working towards publication of the main findings on Ethnopolitics and Regional Studies. While pursuing his doctoral studies he taught comparative and European politics at the universities of Düsseldorf, Florence, and Trento. He also contributed to internationally recognised information outlets such as openDemocracy, LSE European Politics and Policy, The Guardian, Radio France International.






WozniakowskiTowards Fiscalization of the European Union? The European and American Fiscal Unions in a comparative historical perspective

Tomasz Wozniakowski

Thesis summary

Under which conditions could the European Union (EU) get the power to tax? Tomasz P. Woźniakowski’s demonstrates that fiscalization—a concept he defines as a process that leads to the emergence of a federal/supranational power to tax—is triggered by internal threats. His dissertation focuses on the ‘post-crisis’ economic governance of the EU from a comparative historical perspective, and analyses the conditions under which a supranational/federal power to tax is likely to emerge. To this end, Woźniakowski investigates the emergence of the United States (US) fiscal union in the late 18th century to demonstrate how the institutional flaws of its first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, led to a sovereign debt crisis culminating in a taxpayers’ revolt.  Under the Articles of Confederation, the central budget was based on contributions from the states called ‘requisitions.’ However, in order to pay off debt from the War of Independence, the states imposed heavy taxation leading to taxpayers’ revolts in 1786/1787. This social unrest, in turn, was perceived by the political élite as an internal (or endogenous) threat to the union, which paved the way for the ‘fiscal bargain’ that created a fiscal union with the federal power to tax, and was firmly enshrined in the Constitution of 1789. Woźniakowski concludes his comparative analysis with four insights for the EU. First, paradoxically, fiscalization tends to be proceeded by a sovereign debt crisis. Second, fiscalization can trigger the democratization of central institutions. Third, any proposed fiscal union should be proceeded by a wide debate, involving the citizens of the member states. Finally, the main opponents of fiscalization should be offered clear benefits that will result from giving up some of their tax power.

In an attempt to tackle the threat to the union, which a sovereign debt crisis constitutes, the US in the 1780s and the EU in the 2010s opted for two fundamentally different approaches. The US went for the fiscalization of the federal government, in which the new Constitution granted central government the power to tax. A sovereign debt crisis at the state level was the single-most important reason for this. The EU, on the other hand, followed the paradigm of enhanced regulation of the fiscal and economic policies of its member states. For instance, under the European Semester, the EU can even impose sanctions on the member states if they fail to take ‘the corrective action’ on the excessive macroeconomic imbalances. However, this paradigm may change, as we observe a growing number of proposals calling for an adjustment in the way that the EU has been responding to the Euro crisis, and, ultimately, to use Jean Monnet’s famous formulation, for an adjustment to the form that Europe will take, as it will be forged as the result of this response. For instance, when in May 2017 Emanuel Macron became the President of France, the idea of fiscalization, albeit limited to a Euro Area budget, became the main part of his plan for the EU reform, to be debated during democratic conventions of European citizens (which connects to the first and third insight for the EU mentioned above). In fact, the voluntary and unilateral Brexit gave a further impetus to such proposals. It remains to be seen, however, if it will have similar consequences for the EU, as the forced British exit from America had on the future of the US two centuries ago.


Short bio

Dr. Tomasz P. Woźniakowski is a Postdoctoral Researcher for LEVIATHAN, an ERC-funded project at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin devoted to addressing the EU’s 'post-crisis' accountability challenge in economic governance. His research focuses on the role of national parliaments in the EU economic governance, Europeanization as well as US and EU fiscal unions in a comparative historical perspective. In 2015, Woźniakowski has been awarded the Fulbright-Schuman Fellowship and the College of Europe – Arenberg European Prize for an article comparing the American and European fiscal unions, which was recently published in the Journal of European Public Policy. He holds degrees in political science and history from the University of Wroclaw as well as a PhD from the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence. He has been awarded the Supranational Political Economy Prize 2017 for „a landmark contribution to scholarship on supranational political economy” of a doctoral thesis in which he demonstrated that a fiscal union emerges as a result of an internal threat. Woźniakowski also studied at the universities of Bern, Fribourg, Dundee and North Carolina. 

During his doctoral studies at the EUI he was a visiting fellow at the University of California, Berkeley (Fulbright), the Jean Monnet Foundation for Europe in Lausanne (Rieben fellow) and LMU Munich (Laufer fellow), where he taught a course on European Governance. He is responsible for Work Package 3 of the Leviathan project.




  • Woźniakowski, Tomasz P. (2018) ‘Why the Sovereign Debt Crisis Could Lead to a Federal Fiscal Union: The Paradoxical Origins of Fiscalization in the United States and Insights for the European Union’ (winner of the first College of Europe-Arenberg European Prize ‘Exploring Federal Solutions), Journal of European Public Policy (4). DOI:
  • Woźniakowski, Tomasz P. (2016) ‘Towards Fiscalization of the European Union? The US and EU Fiscal Unions in a Comparative Historical Perspective’, University of California, Berkeley, Institute of European Studies Working Papers Series, spring.










Rone 150x“Don’t Worry, We Are From the Internet”. The Diffusion of Protest against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in the Age of Austerity 

Julia Rone

Thesis summary

Does the use of digital tools facilitate protest diffusion, challenge existing hierarchies, and allow more bottom-up information to diffuse during protests? Julia Rone’s thesis goes against overly optimistic views on the role of the Internet in protests and shows that in the mobilization against ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) organizational resources and pre-existing protest traditions mattered more for diffusion than using digital tools and media. Rone situates the anti-ACTA mobilization within the context of the post-financial crisis cycle of contention and analyses it as an important manifestation of the Internet-utopianism that marked the whole cycle.

Indeed, in the mobilization against ACTA the Internet was not simply a tool but also a cause to defend and fight for. What is more, Rone claims that this mobilization is particularly important to explore, since ACTA was the first trade agreement to be rejected by the European Parliament after the expansion of its powers with the Treaty of Lisbon.

The historical rejection of ACTA was brought about by the sustained campaigning and lobbying of transnational NGOs, but also by the spontaneous bottom-up protests that spread throughout the EU and came as a surprise to most NGOs. While there have been several studies on ACTA, this is the first in-depth research of the campaign, of the particular patterns of protest diffusion, and of the frames and forms of contentious action that diffused across space and time.

Apart from expanding and systematizing the empirical knowledge on the anti-ACTA mobilization, Rone makes three main theoretical contributions. First, in explaining why anti-ACTA protests spread in the East, West, North, but NOT in the South of the EU, Rone rejects several possible explanations based on post-materialism, economic distress, share of the population engaged in illegal downloading, etc. Instead, she shows that what explains the pattern of diffusion best are pre-existing protest traditions and the extent of previous politicization of Internet issues in each country examined. Nevertheless, pre-existing protest traditions not only facilitate the diffusion of subsequent protests but might also impede it. For example, single-issue protests might fail to diffuse in the aftermath of mass anti-systemic protests that have experienced a growth in generality.

Second, Rone shows that contrary to narratives of Internet use leading to emancipation and bottom-up knowledge production, there was a clear top-down directionality in frame diffusion in the anti-ACTA mobilization, with transnational NGOs (often based in Brussels) providing legal expertise to NGOs and protesters in different national contexts, without any reciprocal frame diffusion. What is more, compared to frames used by non-experts, the frames diffused by transnational NGOs were less connected to national politics and were strongly adapted to the expectations of Brussels-based decision makers. The diffusion of forms of contentious action was also highly political, with NGOs, protesters and hacktivists often disagreeing on what the most appropriate type of campaigning is.

Third and finally, the thesis shows that sometimes diffusion happens more successfully between different cycles of contention than within the same cycle of contention. Thus, the movement against TTIP was influenced more by the alter-globalization movement than by the protests against ACTA.

Ultimately, Rone insists that the focus on the politics of technology and on the role of technology for diffusion should not make us underestimate the techne of politics. Far from being an automatic technologically-driven episode of “contagion”, protest diffusion is in fact a highly political and contested process in which different actors have different visions and different strategies about what should be diffused.


Short bio

Julia Rone defended her PhD at the Department of Social and Political Sciences at the EUI in February 2018. Julia is a member of the COSMOS research network and has participated in the project "Mobilizing for Democracy", under the supervision of Donatella Della Porta. She has taught courses on digital media law and politics at the University of Florence and the Heinrich-Heine University inDüsseldorf. She has an MSc from the Oxford Internet Institute with a thesis on the hacktivist collective Anonymous, and a BA from Sofia University with a thesis on utopias and practices of the digital age. In a forthcoming research paper, she has compared how the radical right and the radical left have opposed TTIP and CETA. She is currently exploring the diffusion of fake news and the co-optation of citizen media by corporations and the state.



  • Rone, Julia ‘Co-optation’ In Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media, edited by Luis Pérez-González, Bolette Blaagaard and Mona Baker. London: Routledge, forthcoming, 2018.
  • Rone, Julia “Left in Translation: The Curious Absence of an Austerity Narrative in the Bulgarian 2013 Protests.” In The Global Diffusion of Protest: Riding the Protest Wave in the Neoliberal Crisis, edited by Donatella della Porta. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2017.
  • Rone, Julia “The People Formerly Known as the Oligarchy: The Cooptation of Citizen Journalism.”  In Citizen Media and Public Spaces, edited by Mona Baker and Bolette Blaagaard. London: Routledge, 2016.
  • Rone, Julia (2014a): Anonymous Bulgaria. In: Internet Law and Politics. Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Internet Law and Politics Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 3-4 July, 2014. Barcelona: Hugens Ediorial.
  • Rone, Julia “Bulgarian Pirates: At the World’s End.”  In Cultural Trends, 22, 2-13, 2013.
  • Rone, Julia “The Seducer's Net: Internet, Politics and Seduction.” In Digital Cultures and the Politics of Emotion Feelings, Affect and Technological Change, edited by Athina Karatzogianni and Adi Kuntsman. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
  • Rone, Julia “Culture Wide Closed: Pirate Monopolies, Forum Dictatorship and Nationalism in the Practice of File Sharing.” In Cultures and Ethics of Sharing. Innsbruck: Innsbruck University Press, 2012.





Despoina Karamperidou 150xThe Business of State Building: How Business Shaped Local Government Performance in Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina

Despina Karamperidou

Thesis summary

Why does the performance of local governments in conflict-affected states differ so much? Why is it that in some communities, political stability is established and economic development takes off soon after conflicts end, whereas other localities are plagued by prolonged political instability and poor economic performance? Despina Karamperidou’s dissertation sets out to solve this puzzle. Challenging existing explanations – the role of political institutions, civil society and social capital, and foreign aid - she argues that it is state-business relations which shape the performance trajectories and the development paths of local communities.

Karamperidou’s work draws on original qualitative data collected during 15 months of intensive field research in eight municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She conducted over 130 interviews with international, national and local stakeholders, extensive archival research and engaged in prolonged observation in her sites of research. Building on an impressive amount of data Karamperidou unpacks the meaning of state-business interaction, and advances a carefully layered argument: The context of political instability, widespread corruption, institutional malfunctioning and heavy destruction during the war, which is characteristic for post-conflict societies, may incentivize firms to mobilize and engage in building effective state institutions, as firms need a functioning state to “get business done”. The propensity of firms to engage in this state-building exercise, however, varies with economic structure. In localities with concentrated economic structures, large firms are more likely to take advantage of their structural power. There is thus a strong likelihood such companies capture local government with dire developmental and institutional consequences. In contrast, in localities characterized by small and heterogenous businesses, individual firms depend on a functioning state for their survival, but are too weak to be able to push for adequate political and economic institutions. They thus have a strong incentive to create encompassing business associations to overcome their individual weakness and cooperate with local government to solve development and governance problems. However, Karamperidou also finds that the emergence of business associations alone does not guarantee a successful state-business interaction. For this to happen, she argues, business associations must also professionalize, and be accountable to their members.

Despina Karamperidou combines elements of economic structure and agency to offer a convincing explanation for the different performance trajectories of local governments after civil wars. Bridging the literatures on collective action, post-conflict state-building and multiple political economy traditions, the author breaks new ground by highlighting the capacity of organized business groups to act as state builders and, under certain conditions, enhance the performance of governments in war-torn societies. This finding has several implications. It invites scholars and policy makers to think of the business community not as monolithic but as comprised of a diverse set of actors with different objectives and interest representation strategies that impact on state performance differently. Learning to differentiate between types of enterprises with varied state-building potential is important for designing programs that encourage business organization and mobilization for state capacity enhancement. It is also important for business development programming and economic restructuring, as this is often the basis for firm-driven state-building.

Overall, Karamperidou’s work makes a strong case for a political economy approach to state-building that is insightful and represents an important contribution both to the general literature on institutional performance and the more specific literature on the emergence of capable states in the aftermath of internal wars. 

Short bio

Despina Karamperidou is a research consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research (Innocenti) where she coordinates the Time to Teach project – a multi-country study on the determinants of teacher absenteeism in sub-Saharan Africa. In her doctoral dissertation at the SPS department at the EUI, Despina examined state-business relations and their impact on the performance of government institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. From 2013 to 2015 she worked with the Robert Schuman Research Center for Advanced Studies on projects exploring migration and state capacity in the EU and beyond. Despina’s research centers on state-building, the political economy of good governance, and public service delivery in humanitarian and developing contexts. Empirically, her work involves extensive field research and employs multiple qualitative data collection and interpretation methods. She holds master’s degrees from the European University Institute (M.Res. Political Science), the University of Bristol (M.Sc. Economics) and the University of Macedonia (M.A. Southeast European Politics). Despina has also received various research grants and has completed research fellowships at Yale University, the George Mason University and the Central European University.


  • Karamperidou, D. (2016). Review of Nettelfield, L. and Wagner, S. ‘Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide’, (2014), Journal of Europe-Asia Studies, Volume 68, Issue 6, pp.1078-80.
  • Karamperidou, D. (2015). ‘Portrayals of Indian Immigrants in the Greek Media’, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, Migration Policy Centre, CARIM-India Research Report 2015/05, European University Institute.
  • Karamperidou, D. (2014). Reviews of Ulas, E. D. “Politics of the European Union in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Between Conflict and Democracy’, (2011), Journal of Southeast European andBlack Sea Studies (2014), volume 14, issue 2, pp. 339-341.
  • Richardson, D. and Karamperidou, D. (forthcoming), ‘Sequencing of Child Well-Being Outcomes across the Lifecycle: A Focus on Education’, UNICEF Office of Research Working Paper






Why are children from disadvantaged families left behind? The impacts of families, schools, and education systems on students’ achievement

Anne Christine Holtmann

Thesis Summary

Why do school children from families with lower socio-economic status fall behind those from better-off families? Is this because disadvantaged children are raised in disadvantaged families or because they attend lower-quality schools? Does it make a difference whether schools and education systems are socioeconomically segregated or integrated? In her thesis, Anne Christine Holtmann argues that the role of schools is often overstated, as it is intertwined with that of families. However, even when taking this into account, she finds that children from disadvantaged families perform better if they attend socioeconomically integrated schools.

Although the American Dream suggests that all children should have equal opportunities, US children from socioeconomically disadvantaged families are much more likely to perform poorly in reading or mathematics than disadvantaged children in many other countries. The Washington Monthly concluded: “If you want the American Dream, go to Finland”. However, international student assessments such as PISA do not tell us why. As education researcher Jack Buckley said: “That’s like taking a thermometer to explain why it is cold outside”.

There are different hypotheses on why countries differ in terms of students’ performance and inequality of educational opportunity. The most common hypothesis is that schools and education systems shape students’ performance. Hence, many parents and policymakers called for school reforms as a reaction to bad PISA scores. But there are two alternative explanations. First, students’ achievement may be the outcome of what happens outside schools. The second alternative argument is that disadvantaged children already lack skills when they enter school. In her thesis, Holtmann tries to find out which of these arguments is correct. 

Low-SES children don’t lack the brains

Do disadvantaged children lack skills when they enter school? It is true that, on average, disadvantaged children have lower skills when entering school than children from more advantaged families. However, there are disadvantaged children who begin school with high test scores, and even these high-performing children fall behind their advantaged peers during elementary and middle school. The fact that this group of disadvantaged children initially performs well tells us that they are not genetically less capable. Something else other than ability must cause them to fall behind. 

Too much hope in schools while underestimating families

The question then is why students from disadvantaged families fall behind. Are schools to blame or families? To distinguish the effect of families and schools, Holtmann compares learning during the school year, when families and schools are the driving force in students’ learning, to learning during the summer, when families alone play the crucial role. Holtmann finds that during the summer holidays, achievement gaps between children from different family backgrounds widen much more in the United States than in Finland. Because summer learning is influenced exclusively by non-school factors, this suggests that the lower degree of socioeconomic inequalities between families in Finland contributes to high educational equality in that country. 

Socioeconomically integrated schools and education systems are better able to compensate for a disadvantaged family environment.

Holtmann presents three findings suggesting that socioeconomically integrated schools and education systems still boost disadvantaged children’s educational opportunities. First, she finds that in the USA, socioeconomically disadvantaged students learn more in schools with more advantaged children. Because the effect only arises during the school year and not during the summer holidays, this indicates an effect of better schools. However, in the USA, disadvantaged families tend to live in disadvantaged neighborhoods with low-quality schools. In contrast, in Finland, disadvantaged and advantaged students go to the same schools. So Holtmann asks whether schools are more equalizing in Finland than in the USA. The answer to this question is yes; Finnish students with less educated parents catch up during the school year, whereas they fall behind in the United States. This second finding suggests that schools in Finland help disadvantaged students catch up, unlike those in the United States. This may be because the socioeconomically integrated Finnish school system gives all children access to high-quality schools with higher quality teaching, peers with higher aspirations, and a school climate that is more conducive to better performance. To find out whether this applies elsewhere as well, Holtmann analyzes changes in the socioeconomic segregation of education systems in 35 countries. Her third finding is that disadvantaged students perform better when an education system becomes more socioeconomically integrated over time. 

School conditions are more important for students from low-SES families

Contrary to the fears of many middle and upper class parents, their children do not learn less when an education system becomes more socioeconomically integrated. In fact, children from more privileged families perform well in all education systems. 

To sum up, schools cannot fully compensate for inequalities in non-school resources and learning environments. Yet socioeconomically integrated schools can still provide opportunities for children from disadvantaged families. Even though students only spend a small proportion of their waking hours in school, this time is especially important for children from disadvantaged families. For these children who are not surrounded by books, do not learn an instrument during the afternoons, and do not play with science kits at home, schools can open up the worlds of literature, music, and science.

Short bio

Anne Christine Holtmann is a research fellow in the project ‘New Opportunities or Reinforced Disadvantage? Variation in returns to low-achieving school leavers' participation in pre-vocational training measures’ at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB). She defended her thesis in Social and Political Sciences at the European University Institute in Florence in 2017. Her research interests are focussed on social inequalities, education, families, social policy, and the transition into the labour market.  


  • Holtmann, Anne Christine; Laura Menze, Heike Solga (forthcoming): Mangelt es wirklich an der „Ausbildungsreife“? Die Bedeutung von Handlungsressourcen und Gelegenheitsstrukturen für die Ausbildungschancen von leistungsschwachen Jugendlichen. In: Nele McElvany, Wilfried Bos, Heinz Günter Holtappels, Johannes Hasselhorn, Annika Ohle (eds): Bedingungen erfolgreicher Bildungsverläufe in gesellschaftlicher Heterogenität. Waxmann
  • Holtmann, Anne Christine; Laura Menze, Heike Solga (forthcoming): Schulabgänger und  abgängerinnen mit maximal Hauptschulabschluss. In: Gudrun Quenzel, Klaus Hurrelmann (eds): Handbuch Bildungsarmut. Springer VS Verlag.
  • Holtmann, Anne Christine; Laura Menze, Heike Solga (2017): Persistent Disadvantages or New Opportunities? The Role of Agency and Structural Constraints for Low-Achieving Adolescents’ School-to-Work Transitions. Journal of youth and adolescence, Volume 46, Issue 10, pp 2091–2113, DOI: 10.1007/s10964-017-0719-z
  • Holtmann, Anne Christine (2016): Excellence through equality of opportunity. Increasing education systems’ social inclusiveness benefits disadvantaged students without harming advantaged students. In Blossfeld, H.-P., Buchholz, S., Skopek, J., and Triventi, M. (Eds.), Models of Secondary Education and Social Inequality – An International Comparison. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Holtmann, Anne Christine (2014): "Wo hilft die Schule, wo die Familie? Kompetenzentwicklung in der Unterrichts- und Ferienzeit". In: WZB-Mitteilungen, H. 143, S. 33-35. 



Macarena 150xA new working class? A cross-national and a longitudinal approach to class voting in post-industrial societies.

Macarena Ares Abalde

Thesis summary

Is there a new working class in post-industrial societies? Macarena Ares’ thesis finds that in terms of its socio-demographic characteristics today’s working class is different from the traditional industrial one, but that both are still similar in terms of political attitudes. Since the 1990s many advanced economies have undergone important transformations of their occupational and class structures, most notably through growth of the service sector and a decline in industrial occupations. These changes in the social structure can have important implications for the mobilization of social classes by political parties. While existing research has amply documented the increasing support for the left among professionals in service occupations and the rising support for populist right parties among production workers, there is little information on the political leanings and preferences of low- and unskilled workers in the service sector (such as auxiliary nurses, cooks, home helpers, bartenders). In her dissertation, Ares carries out a systematic comparison of the political preferences of production and service workers in European democracies. She attempts to answer in this way the question of whether today’s working class is still politically relevant and, if so, how it differs from the old industrial working class. The thesis also provides interesting new insights on the individual-level association between class, policy preferences and voting in post-industrial societies.The empirical analyses are based on data from the European Social Survey, the Chapel Hill Expert Survey and the British Household Panel Survey. The first part of the thesis studies the differences between production and service workers with regard to their preferences towards specific policy issues, such as state redistribution or attitudes towards immigration. Ares compares political attitudes and voting behavior of production and service workers but examines also how their preferences differ from those of other social classes. She also takes into account the policy positions of political parties. The results of the empirical analyses indicate that, in spite of strong differences in their socio-demographic composition, production and service workers are strikingly similar in political terms. While service workers are, on average, more likely to be female and younger, and more often have ‘atypical’ employment careers, production workers are mostly male, older and have a more stable position in the labor market. Despite these differences, both classes show similar levels of support for economic redistribution, low tolerance towards immigrants and homosexuals, and stronger opposition to European integration. This homogeneity in preferences is further reflected in similar probabilities of supporting left-wing and culturally authoritarian parties. Hence, although the “new” working class is manifestly different in terms of its socio-demographic composition, it shows a strong political resemblance to the industrial working class. These workers also display markedly higher levels of electoral abstention. The second part of the dissertation tackles class voting from a different angle by taking into account stability and changes in class location over people’s employment careers. Hence, instead of taking class location as a static characteristic of individuals’ employment situation, Ares accounts for (i) how long individuals have remained in a specific class (and how this affects their political preferences) and (ii) different forms of mobility between social classes. The longitudinal models in this section rely on data from the United Kingdom, where occupational mobility is more widespread than in other European democracies and where good-quality panel data is available for almost two decades. The results from these analyses indicate that class trajectories do have relevant implications for class voting. Individuals who have been long-term members of a specific class will hold more distinct preferences than new entrants into a specific class or individuals who move between classes. This has implications for aggregate levels of class voting: where employment careers become unstable and class mobility increases, social classes will show lower political distinctiveness.


Short bio

Macarena Ares Abalde is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zürich, where she is part of an ERC-funded project studying welfare policy priorities in Western Europe. She defended her doctoral thesis at the European University Institute in November 2017. Her research interests focus on political sociology, electoral behavior, welfare state politics and quantitative methods. Her research has been published in Comparative European Politics, the Journal of European Public Policy and Research and Methods. Prior to her Ph.D. studies, she earned an MA from Universitat Pompeu Fabra and one from Universität Konstanz.



  • Ares, M., Ceka, B., & Kriesi, H. (2017). Diffuse support for the European Union: spillover effects of the politicization of the European integration process at the domestic level. Journal of European Public Policy24(8), 1091–1115.
  • Ares, M., & Hernández, E. (2017). The corrosive effect of corruption on trust in politicians: Evidence from a natural experiment. Research & Politics4(2), 2053168017714185.
  • Bernardi, F., & Ares, M. (2017). Education as the (not so) great equalizer: new evidence based on a parental fixed effect analysis for Spain. EUI Working Paper SPS 2017/6.
  • Hernández, E., & Ares, M. (2016). Evaluations of the quality of the representative channel and unequal participation. Comparative European Politics.





Juan MasulloA Theory of Civilian Noncooperation with Armed Groups. Civilian Agency and Self-Protection in the Colombian Civil War

Juan Masullo Jimenéz


Thesis Summary

What do civilians do when living in warzones? Why do some flee, others support and even join armed organizations, and yet others engage in forms of resistance? While many studies have focused on the insurgents, Juan Masullo’s dissertation looks into the life of communities living in the midst of war. He studies the choices civilians make to navigate through war and avoid, prevent or at least mitigate violence. Concretely, Masullo focuses on one pattern of civilian agency that has been widely overlooked: civilians’ decision to collectively and nonviolently refuse to cooperate with armed factions. He asks why some communities engage in civilian noncooperation while others, similarly situated within war dynamics and facing similar choices, do not. 

Communities living in areas where territorial control by armed factions is shifting, where violence against civilians has recently spiked, and where civilians believe that there is nothing they can do individually to avoid being targeted, are more likely to have a desire to organize and refuse to cooperate with armed groups as a means to improve their survival prospects and life conditions. Yet, for noncooperation to emerge, this desire must be supported by capacity for collective action. This capacity is nourished by such factors as a prior history of mobilization and support by external actors – ranging from the Catholic Church to Peace Brigades International – which allow communities to count on and tap into existing leadership and associational resources needed for organizing contentious action. 

The dissertation bridges literatures on civil war, social movements, civil resistance and civilian protection. It draws on original data, both qualitative and quantitative, gathered during two separate waves of immersive field research in multiple warzones in the Colombian civil war. Juan Masullo conducted over 150 individual and group interviews with civilians and (ex)combatants, memory workshops, collective map-drawing and timeline-building exercises, engaged in direct observation, and used event data on armed groups’ military activity and violence against civilians.
The study breaks new ground in recognizing victims also as agents of social and political change. The implications of this are strong and many. Noncooperation has the power to shape the way war unfolds on the ground. Perhaps more important, it also creates new collective identities and cleavages that are likely to leave legacies that endure beyond the aftermath of the war. This close examination of civilian noncooperation improves our understanding of civilian agency and the way communities interact with armed groups. In addition, it will help us think more comprehensively about how wartime social processes present obstacles and opportunities for the protection of civilians, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction.

Juan Masullo’s thesis succeeds in combining parsimonious theorization with the smells and sounds of the complex processes that give life to noncooperation. In other words, providing sensitive simplification and empirically falsifiable theoretical claims is as central in his study as offering a realistic and fair account of the lives of the communities in the midst of which the author lived and worked over the past years. 

Short bio

Juan Masullo, Ph.D. (European University Institute), is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Bremen International Graduate School of the Social Sciences (BIGSSS). In 2016 – 2017 he was a Research Fellow at the Program on Order, Conflict, and Violence at Yale University. His academic interests include civil wars, collective action and, more broadly, contentious politics. He is also interested in social science methodology and research design. His current work explores the micro-dynamics and social processes of civil war, with a particular focus on civilian agency and civilian (self) protection. His work combines multiple types of evidence and methods for data collection and analysis, and relies extensively on immersive fieldwork in conflict-affected areas. At BIGSSS he is associated with the Methods Centre, where he teaches and supports research fellows in the areas of qualitative and mixed methods, as well as research design more generally. His work has been published in Terrorism and Political Violence, Mobilization, Journal of Peacebuilding and Development, Global Policy Journal, and by Amsterdam University Press and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. He has also contributed to internationally recognized blogs such as The Monkey Cage, openDemocracy and Minds of the Movement.




Mathilde M. Van DitmarsFamily & Politics. The enduring influence of the parental home in the development and transmission of political ideology

Mathilde M. van Ditmars

Thesis summary

How does the family influence citizens’ political ideology, and what role do family dynamics and structure play in this process of political socialization? Mathilde van Ditmars’ thesis provides new answers to this question by engaging with recent and ongoing changes in society and family forms that previous studies have not taken into account. She investigates specifically how the transmission and development of citizens’ political ideology is affected by the gender of parents and siblings, the experience of parental separation during childhood, and intergenerational social mobility. 

The empirical analyses are mostly based on household studies from Germany and Switzerland, which provide rich data on individual family members and family characteristics. Van Ditmars makes use of longitudinal models wherever possible to show individual change in the preferences of parents and children over time. The chapter on parental separation also makes use of European Values Study data, increasing the number of countries covered in the study and demonstrating that the findings apply across different social and political contexts. 

Van Ditmars shows how parental influence is important for adult children’s ideology until later in life, and which factors impact the transmission process. Gender of parent and child are not found to be significant factors, but the similarity of parents’ ideological orientation is. Upwardly socially mobile individuals are less influenced by their parents’ ideology, but Van Ditmars demonstrates that instead of social mobility causing such larger ideological differences, children who are able to move up the social ladder tend to diverge from the parents’ ideological orientation already beforehand. Importantly, her thesis demonstrates that family influence is not limited to transmission from parents. In Switzerland, moderate left-wing effects of the presence of an older sister are found for females, and in families with a centrist ideology. For males, however, having a female eldest sibling has a right-wing effect. Adults whose parents separated during childhood hold a more leftist ideology. Longitudinal analyses show that this effect is partially caused by the mother becoming more left-wing after separation from the partner. These results indicate that formative experiences in the family are decisive for the political development of individuals in ways that have not been adequately understood so far. The family is crucial not only because of parents providing political cues and role models, but also because of the day-to-day experiences that are implied by the structure of the family and the dynamics of relations within it.

Short bio

Mathilde M. van Ditmars is a postdoctoral researcher at Leiden University, where she coordinates an ERC-funded project regarding family socialization and its relation to educational choices, and co-supervises four Ph.D. students. She defended her doctoral thesis at the European University Institute in September 2017. Her research revolves around questions concerning the development and structure of individual preferences, and is marked by an interdisciplinary approach drawing from political science, sociology, and psychology. Previous work regards the policy preferences of political elites and voters and its relation to the quality of representative democracy, and the collection of a dataset on municipal councillors. While pursuing her PhD, she has been a visiting researcher at the Gesis EUROLAB in Cologne, the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin, and the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences (FORS) in Lausanne. Previously, she obtained her MSc at the University of Amsterdam and was a lecturer in the Political Science Department of the same university. She also worked at the Netherlands Institute for Social Research where she co-authored a study of the Citizen Outlook Barometer.





Dennison 150Re-Thinking Turnout. Explaining Within-Individual variation in Electoral Participation

James Dennison

Thesis summary

Why do citizens vote in some elections but not in others? James Dennison’s thesis presents four essays that aim to answer this question. The motivation behind the thesis is not only the importance of voter turnout to democracy, both as a guarantor of legitimacy and representation, but also the methodological and theoretical weaknesses in the existing literature caused by the lack of attention given to why individuals vote at some points in their lives and not at others. This deficit stands in contrast to the vast literature explaining why some individuals vote and others do not, as well as why national-level turnout varies both between countries and within countries over time. Each of the four essays seeks to re-think one of the existing explanatory models of between-individual voter turnout – mobilisation, resources, psychology and socialisation - by applying many of their determinants to within-individual variation, as well as, in some cases, adding new ones.

Dennison’s methodological approach to explaining within-individual variation is to use data from the British Household Panel Survey, the Swiss Household Panel Survey and the British Election Study. Each of these ask individuals the same questions repeatedly over time to capture change of attitudes and behaviours ‘within’ the individual. In the case of the former two surveys, this is done over the course of years and even decades. In the case of the latter, it is done over the course of a few recent years that include a number of elections. In using these data sources and testing only within-individual variation, Dennison’s models are able to control for all of the ‘hidden’ variables that vary between individuals and which surveys do not capture, such as intelligence, upbringing, peer group and countless others. According to Dennison, these models—primarily fixed effects panel data models, but intermittently random effects models, cross-sectional models and structural equation models—should give us more reliable results.

The thesis makes a number of theoretical, methodological and substantive contributions. Surprisingly, Dennison shows that within-individual variation in voting seems to be fairly unaffected by such issues as material resources, ‘anti-political’ sentiments, household politicisation or even feelings of personal ability to vote effectively – all of which have been mainstays of the literature on variation between individuals. Rather, he concludes that, regarding ‘political supply’, individuals vote when they are interested in the politics of the time, feel affinity towards a party or when a party has bothered to contact them. On the other hand, and more fundamentally, it is the lifestyle of the individual at the time of the election which determines his or her likelihood of voting – with lifestyles built on rootedness, social integration and roles demanding responsibility increasing the individual’s desire to turnout to vote.
Therefore it seems that the reasons that individuals are more likely to vote in some elections rather than others are less to do with socio-economics, as previously emphasised, and far more to do with a combination of an appealing political offer and the individual’s lifestyle at the time.

Short Bio
James Dennison is a Research Fellow at the Migration Policy Centre in the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies of the European University Institute in Florence. He defended his doctoral thesis—Rethinking Turnout: Explaining Within-Individual Variation in Electoral Participation—at the European University Institute in July 2017. His research interests include electoral behavior, attitudes to immigration, attitudinal formation, political psychology and quantitative methods. While pursuing his doctoral studies he authored a monograph, The Greens in British Politics: Protest, Anti-Austerity and the Divided Left, which was published by Palgrave in 2016. His research has been published as peer-reviewed articles in Party Politics, Mediterranean Politics, and Parliamentary Affairs, as well as a forthcoming publication in The Journal of European Public Policy and chapters in a number of edited volumes such as The Oxford Handbook to the Radical Right. He previously taught quantitative methods at the University of Sheffield and was a Junior Visiting Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. Prior to his Ph.D. studies, he earned an MSc at the London School of Economics and worked in the British House of Commons and House of Lords, as well as the European Commission.

He regularly writes blog posts for LSE Politics and Policy and LSE European Politics and Policy. His research has appeared in The Washington Post, The Financial Times, Sky News, La Repubblica, de Volkskrant, Le Soir, Folha de São Paulo, Il Foglio Quotidiano, Dagens Næringsliv, Pagina99, The International Business Times and elsewhere. He tweets @JamesRDennison.




Camille BrugierSoft-Balancing the United States, Forum-Shopping or Prestige Diplomacy? Explaining the Rise and Expansion of EU-China Trade Relations

Camille Brugier

Thesis summary

Theoretically, a strong trade relationship depends on a number of factors: reciprocal strategic interest, geographical and cultural proximity and similarity of the regimes involved. In this respect, the EU-China trade relationship is best characterized by a lack of strategic interest of the two actors in each other’s region, strong cultural differences, a great geographical distance as well as strongly contrasting regime types. However, in the last couple of years, the EU has remained China’s first trade partner and China is the EU’s second trading partner after the United States. The question Camille’s thesis tries to answer is how have these unusual partners managed to develop and consolidate such a strong trade relationship. She argues that despite their mismatching characteristics, two factors have pushed the EU and China to create a strong relationship from scratch since 2003: their common interest in maximizing gains from trade and their mutual responsiveness to each other’s needs in terms of international prestige.

Empirically, Camille focuses on four sensitive trade issues in order to investigate the driver behind the thriving EU-China relationship: food safety, geographical indications, textiles and solar panels. These show that China and the EU’s main goal is to be efficient and reap maximum benefits from trade agreements. Camille shows that political and trade matters are clearly separated in EU-China relations - “business is business”. The institutional design of their relationship, which clearly separates trade discussions from human rights talks for instance, reflects this mutual preference. The two actors navigate the negotiation fora at their disposal (World Trade Organization or the bilateral relationship) depending on which is most likely to be efficient to sign a deal or to settle a trade dispute. For example, in both the textile and the solar panel disputes, the EU and China show a strong preference for bilateral solutions because they are less time-consuming and less costly than the multilateral Dispute Settlement Mechanism of the World Trade Organization.

Camille’s data show that the preferred bilateral solution for trade disputes is not only linked to European and Chinese efficiency concerns. In times of turmoil, the bilateral route allows the EU and China to “privatize” their disagreements. This privatization serves another purpose – that of avoiding loss of prestige in the international community. To be clear, when two states oppose each other on a trade problem in the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism, the dispute is settled by clearly designating a “winner” and a “loser”. In order to keep their image intact, the EU and China deal with disputes face-to-face. For China, this avoids potential loss of face in front of its own population – which could have an impact of the legitimacy of its government at home. For the EU, the purpose is to fend off a potential loss in a dispute settlement judgment that could, in turn, have an impact on the EU’s image as an international law-abiding actor.

The findings outlined in Camille’s research show that common concerns for efficiency as well as their shared goal to increase their prestige – and working together to achieve this objective – has brought the EU and China closely together, drastically enhancing the flow trade over the last decade against all odds.

Short bio

Camille M. Brugier defended her Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences from the European University Institute in June 2017. During her doctoral studies, she worked for the European Institute for Security Studies as a Junior Analyst and spent three month in Renmin University in Beijing. She is now teaching Methods of the Social Sciences and International Relations in the department of political science of the Capitole University of Toulouse since September 2016.

Prior to her Ph.D. research, Camille graduated from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques of Grenoble, France, with a special focus on electoral studies in her undergraduate studies and the political science of the European Union during her masters’. She spent a great part of her childhood growing up in China in both Beijing and Chengdu where she went to a Chinese primary school.

Fluent in French, English and Mandarin Chinese, she focuses on the reasons that have brought the EU and China – two very different actors – to become each other’ s first trade partners in just a little over a decade. In her dissertation, she scrutinizes their behaviour towards one another at the bilateral and multilateral levels on trade in goods that have special appeal to developing countries (textile, green energy and agriculture).

Parts of her dissertation and other pieces have been published in Asia Europe Journal and on the website of the EUISS. Her research interests include international trade, European foreign and trade policy, Chinese foreign and trade policy.


Daniel SchulzToo Little, Too Late? How Central Bankers' Beliefs Influence What They Do

Daniel Schulz

Thesis summary

How do policymakers take decisions in the face of extreme uncertainty? What guides their policies when past evidence does not apply to the conditions they confront in the present? In his PhD thesis, Daniel Schulz argues that policymakers turn to their beliefs of ‘what works’ when designing policies in such situations. Empirically, the thesis examines central banks’ decisions during the Great Recession with a particular emphasis on the monetary policies of the European Central Bank (ECB). He shows that in 2008 central bankers faced an unprecedented situation in which they were unable to draw on historical experience and had to resort to their beliefs about how the economy works instead.

The thesis focuses on the ECB for two reasons. First, we know relatively little about how this powerful institution makes its decisions and why. In light of its ever-increasing importance in European governance and the criticism this has attracted, this seems particularly regrettable. Second, the ECB has adopted a more conservative approach to the crisis than other major central banks. It was criticized for doing too little to help the economic recovery by politicians, the financial press, and economists alike. In comparison to the US Federal Reserve or the Bank of England, the ECB has indeed been a laggard for a long time – regarding both conventional interest rate policies and unconventional balance sheet operations, such as ‘Quantitative Easing’. Why?

Schulz explains the ECB’s relatively timid response to the crisis as a function of its orthodox economic philosophy. He surveyed 422 central bank economists in order to quantify their different ways of thinking about the economy. His data shows that a) some economic beliefs matter for policy preferences and b) both beliefs and preferences are unevenly distributed among different central banks. In particular, European central bank economists lean more towards orthodox beliefs and preferences for low inflation than their colleagues in Britain and the US. They are considerably more conservative.

Regarding the situation within Europe, the data reveals a dividing line in economic philosophy between core and periphery. Northern European central bankers tend to be more skeptical regarding the role money can play to stabilize the economy than their Southern European counterparts; and they are also more opposed to accepting higher inflation. This suggests that the frequently surfacing conflicts inside the ECB’s Governing Council reflect a battle of ideas rather than a conflict of interests between creditor and debtor states. Proponents of more activist monetary policies at the ECB, such as its current president Mario Draghi, had to overcome the enormous resistance of skeptics within its own ranks before they could follow the examples set by other central banks. Schulz argues that this is a main reason why the ECB first did too little to support the economy, and only changed its orthodox stance very late.

Short bio

Daniel Schulz is currently a Research Associate at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the EUI and works for Sven Steinmo’s ERC-funded project on citizens’ willingness to pay taxes . His research interests focus on the field of comparative political economy, particularly on issues of monetary policy, financial regulation, and the politics of taxation. Prior to joining the EUI’s doctoral program (2013-17), Daniel studied in Berlin, Friedrichshafen, and Copenhagen. He earned his BA in Public Management & Governance at Zeppelin University (2005-08) and his MA in Political Science at Freie Universität Berlin (2011-13). Outside of academia, he has worked in public sector consulting for several years, providing policy evaluations and advising national and local public authorities on organizational reform.


Marco ValbruzziGovernment Alternation in Western Europe: A Comparative Explanation

Marco Valbruzzi

Thesis summary

Alternation in government has been usually regarded as a hallmark of liberal democracy. But what determines how often and when parties in government alternate? What are the conditions that make alternation possible, probable and real? These are some of the questions at the centre of this thesis, which investigates the determinants of governmental alternation in Western Europe since the end of WWII. 

‘The silence of democratic theory, even in its most modern versions, about alternation in office is astonishing’. The thesis breaks this silence by providing a new conceptualization of alternation. It treats alternation in power as a three-dimensional concept:  actuality, probability and possibility of alternation. Unfortunately, in the literature these dimensions have been frequently conflated, both in theoretical and empirical research. The result of this dismal state of affairs is that we do not have a theory explaining both the causes and the consequences of alternation.

With the new conceptual toolkit at hand, the thesis investigates the evolution over time and across space of the process of alternation in seventeen West European party systems. As shown in the empirical part of the study, alternation is considerably on the rise. Without doubt, there are still niches where alternation has not yet made its breakthrough but, these  exceptions  aside,  the  overall  trend  is  rather  clear  and  striking. The room for alternation has progressively increased over time, especially during the last three decades, and more parties have (re)arranged themselves or their strategies in order to grasp these rising opportunities. Moreover, it is important to stress that the rise in the frequency of alternation has involved countries featuring both two-party and multi-party systems. Which is to say that there is no one-to-one relationship between type of party system and type of change in government. Alternation in office is now widespread among all party systems, with only minor exceptions.

Given the multi-dimensionality of the concept, there is no overarching factor or condition explaining the occurrence of alternation. Indeed, different dimensions of the concept seem to be associated with specific configurations of explanatory factors. However, wrapping up the main findings of the research, it is possible to provide the general chain of causation linking the possibility to the actuality of alternation. As far as the explanation of the possibility of alternation is concerned, two factors emerge as the most relevant: 1) cabinet size, both of the outgoing and the incoming government; and 2) electoral volatility, that is, the attitude of the voters to change their mind (and vote) from one election to the next. Regarding the probability of alternation, two conditions have the strongest explanatory power: 1) the existence of large anti-system parties; and 2) the formation of a dominant party located around the metrical centre of the party system. Finally, two factors explain better than others the actuality of alternation: 1) party-system fragmentation; and 2) the closeness of the electoral results. 

Once this set of conditions has cleared the way for the occurrence of alternation, the interaction between two specific factors – increase in electoral volatility and waning of anti-system parties – lies at the heart of the observed rise of alternation in Western Europe since the 1980s. The transformation within the European electorate, on the one hand, and, the disappearance of the ‘traditional’ anti-system parties, on the other hand, have contributed to making alternation a more frequent event. Yet the recent emergence or strengthening of anti-system parties in the wake of the Great Recession puts a question mark behind the continuation of the upward trend in alternation.  


Short bio

Marco Valbruzzi is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Bologna (Department of Political and Social Sciences) where he works on a project investigating the political consequences of the economic crisis in Europe. He is also Adjunct Instructor at Gonzaga University (Florence campus), where he teaches a seminar on the Italian political system. Marco earned his BA and MA degrees from the University of Bologna. He has been visiting scholar at the University of California-San Diego (2008) and at the University of Sydney (2014) where he acts as Research Assistant for the Electoral Integrity Project (Harvard University). Part of his research has recently been published in the European Journal of Political Research, Contemporary Italian Politics and the Italian Political Science Review. He is currently writing a book on the transformation of the preferential vote in Western Europe.  


  • McDonnell, D. and Valbruzzi, M. (2014), Defining and classifying technocrat-led and technocratic governments, in «European Journal of Political Research», 53(4): 654-671. 
  • G. Pasquino and M. Valbruzzi (2015), A Changing Republic. Politics and Democracy in Italy, Epokè: Novi Ligure.
  • Valbruzzi, M. (2015), Trasformismo, in E. Jones and G. Pasquino (eds), Oxford Handbook of Italian Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 26-40.
  • Valbruzzi, M. (2014), Not a normal country: Italy and its Party Systems, in «Studia Politica. Romanian Political Science Review», 9(4): pp. 617-640.
  • Valbruzzi, M. (2005), Primarie. Partecipazione e leadership, Bologna: Bononia University Press.
  • Valbruzzi, M. and Vignati, R. (2017), Questione di preferenze. Com’è cambiato il voto personale in Italia, Bologna: Il Mulino (forthcoming).



Jan KarremansState interests vs citizens’ preferences: on which side do (Labour) parties stand?

Jan Karremans

Thesis summary

What matters more for public policy today: electoral programs or technical competence? This question is being raised from different angles in the political science literature, often in relation to the growing impact of processes such as globalization and Europeanization on national policy-making. This thesis argues that electoral programs still matter for public policy but they increasingly run the risk of being subordinated to the technical competences related to governing activities. This development, in turn, risks becoming a threat to the future of democracy as we know it.The thesis departs from the ideas of the late party-scholar Peter Mair, who claimed that in Europe today there is a growing gap between the political preferences of citizens and the activities of government. In Mair’s view, this gap is to a large extent generated by the increasing commitments that governments have towards institutions such as the EU or the IMF. As a consequence, governing become increasingly difficult and for political parties it becomes impossible to reconcile the activities of government with their electoral commitments. Consequently, the political preferences of citizens are bound to become less and less influential for public policy.

This claim is tested by looking at how governments justify their yearly budgets. More specifically, the thesis looks at the presentation of the budget, which in most countries is provided once a year by the government in front of the parliament. By comparing governments between the 1970s and today, the analysis identifies similarities and differences in how political parties approach public policy. The study concerns mainly left-wing parties who, according to different theories, should suffer most from the growing incompatibilities between the task of governing and the demands of left-wing voters. 

The findings reveal a two-sided story. On the one hand, they illustrate how the legitimacy of European democracies is largely based on a balance between political representation and the technical capacities of governments in delivering public goods. This balance is at the centre of the functioning of what we call party-democracy, and the findings show that today governments still rely a lot on the legitimacy deriving from the ideological identity of the parties in office. From this perspective, the political preferences that bind voters and parties still have a relevant impact on public policy.

At the same time, a deeper look into the justifications offered in parliamentary budget speeches reveals how the left-wing governments of the 1970s were willing to meet the demands of their voters to the extent that they would act irresponsibly. In the contemporary cases, governments are instead much more concerned to reassure the audience that they are competent caretakers of the public good and that they are acting within the boundaries of their institutional duties.

To some extent, thus, the findings of this study could be interpreted as a signal that democracy is working better today than a few decades ago. The political colour of the government still matters – meaning that citizens still have relevant political choices – and there seems to be a smoother interplay between the party-alternation in office and the institutional continuity of public policy. At the same time, however, governments’ actions appear to be strongly streamlined by specific guidelines which, in the long run, may have hindering effects for the competition between different political alternatives. This development, in turn, would strongly reduce the democratic choices available to citizens.


Short bio

Johannes (Jan) Karremans is currently a research assistant at the European University Institute, working at Hanspeter Kriesi’s POLCON project. From June 2017 Jan will be a Post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon, working for Dr Marina Costa Lobo’s MAPLE Project. Jan’s research interest resides mainly in the Responsive-Responsible dilemma of party-government, which he addressed in his Ph.D. dissertation with a comparative study of the arguments with which governments justify their national budgets. Prior to his doctoral studies, Jan earned his BA degree from the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam (2008-2011) and his MA from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (2011-2012). Part of his research has recently been published in West European Politics, and he is currently co-editing a special issue on the Responsive-Responsible dilemma that will be ready for publication in Autumn 2017.


  • Damhuis, K. & J. Karremans (2017) ‘Responsive to whom? A comparison of the Mitterrand and Hollande presidencies’, West European Politics,
  • Karremans, J. (2014) ‘Why Not Solve the Democratic Deficit within the EU Through Genuine Transnational Political Conflict?’, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. 2014/107, European University Institute.
  • Karremans, J. & Z. Lefkofridi (forthcoming) ‘Responsive VS Responsible government during the Eurocrisis’
  • Karremans, J. & K. Damhuis (forthcoming) ‘The weight of governmental responsibility in budgetary policy-making: A comparison of the Hollande and Mitterrand presidencies’
  • Karremans, J., Malet G. and D. Morisi (forthcoming) ‘A changing political landscape. The Italian transition from a bipolar to a multi-polar party system’. In Hutter, S. & H. Kriesi (eds) Transformative elections? Restructuring the National Political Space in Europe in Times of Multiple Crises, forthcoming.



Martín Portos GarciaVoicing outrage, contending with austerity. Mobilisation in Spain under the Great Recession

Martín Portos García 

Thesis summary

What motivates citizens in countries hit by an economic crisis to join protest movements or support new challenger parties? In his PhD thesis Martín Portos argues that it was not their economic grievances but their political dissatisfaction. Protesters were not the most deprived people, but those more angry with the political status quo and the policies being implemented.

This thesis deals with the Spanish cycle of protest in the shadow of the economic recession between 2007 and 2015. As his first task, Portos seeks to unravel the timing of the cycle of contention. He argues that  the peak of protest stretched over a long time (from mid-2011 until 2013) because institutionalisation was postponed and radicalisation contained. Specifically, he focus on three aspects that are key to understanding the trajectory of collective actions in the Spanish case (and beyond): 1) issue specialisation of protest after the first triggering points, 2) alliance building between established unions and new actors, and 3) the transition process towards more routinised repertoires of action as protests declined. 

Secondly, the thesis aims to shed light on the role that grievances play for mobilisation dynamics in a context of material deprivation. Covering multiple levels of analysis, the main argument developed here is that the effects of socioeconomic aspects (both objective-material deprivation and subjective-attitudinal grievances) are mediated by political attitudes, especially political dissatisfaction. In other words, why do people protest? What does account for the varying size of protest events over time? In the depth of the Spanish economic crisis, it was not economic factors but political attitudes that motivated Spaniards from different walks of life to participate massively in protests, and eventually led them to support new challenger parties. 

To empirically test these arguments, Portos draws on qualitative data from semi-structured interviews, which are combined with information from an original protest event analysis and different statistical techniques based on time series, panel data and other survey materials.



Short bio

Martín Portos G. is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre on Social Movements (COSMOS), Scuola Normale Superiore (Florence). He completed a PhD in Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute in February 2017, with a thesis focused on anti-austerity protests in Southern Europe. His research interests include political participation, social movements, democratic attitudes, institutions and nationalism. Martín holds a BA (Hons) in Political Science from the University of Santiago de Compostela (Regional and National Award for Excellence in Academic Performance, 2011), a MSc Politics Research from the University of Oxford and a MRes from the EUI. He has participated in different international projects and has been awarded grants and fellowships from Fundación Caja Madrid, Obra Social La Caixa, Linares Rivas–Oxford University, EUI-MECD, Banc Sabadell and Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas, among others. His contributions have featured in different international outlets. The monograph Referendums from below? Social movements and direct democracy in the neoliberal crisis is forthcoming in 2017 with Policy Press/ University of Bristol (co-authored with D. della Porta et al.).


  • Della Porta, Donatella; Francis O’Connor, Martín Portos, and Anna Subirats. (2017). Social movements and referendums from below. Direct democracy in the neoliberal crisis (book manuscript forthcoming with Policy Press/ University of Bristol
  • Álvarez-Pereira, Brais; Martín Portos, and John Vourdas. (2017). Waving goodbye? The determinants of autonomism and secessionism in Western Europe. Regional Studies. DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2017.1282609.
  • Portos, Martín and Juan Masullo. (2017). Voicing outrage unevenly. Democratic dissatisfaction, non-participation and frequencies of participation in the 15-M protest campaign. Mobilization (forthcoming).
  • Portos, Martín. (2016). Taking to the streets in the context of austerity: a chronology of the cycle of protest in Spain. Partecipazione & Conflitto, 9 (1): 181-210.
  • Portos, Martín. (2016). Movilización social en tiempos de recesión: un Análisis de Eventos de Protesta en España, 2007-2015. Revista Española de Ciencia Política, 41: 159-178.


Davide MorisiThe influence of information in political campaigns

Davide Morisi

Thesis summary

From Britain’s decision to leave the EU to Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S., recent political events in 2016 have shown how voters’ decisions in election and referendum campaigns can lead to unpredictable and sometimes troubling outcomes. Among the many factors influencing these outcomes, information plays a crucial role. How do voters react to campaign arguments when they need to make political decisions, such as voting for a candidate, a political party, or a particular issue presented in a referendum? How does availability of information sources influence these decisions?

Davide Morisi’s PhD thesis makes a unique contribution to understanding these fundamental questions. His investigation aims at identifying causal effects of information, which has been a persistent challenge for research on public opinion and political behaviour. This challenge has acquired increased relevance in the current information environment where the possibilities to access content have dramatically increased. In his PhD thesis, Morisi employs an original combination of quantitative methods, including experimental designs, survey research and regression discontinuity designs based on quasi-natural experiments. The combination of these methods provides us with novel empirical evidence on how information shapes voting behaviour in different political contexts.

The analysis focuses on three case studies. The first one concerns how campaign arguments influenced attitudes and voting behaviour in the campaign for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Drawing on data from a laboratory experiment, two follow-up surveys and additional survey data, Morisi’s analysis reveals that information increased the support for Scottish independence mainly through reducing the uncertainties related to this referendum option. In addition, results show that also in a referendum campaign voters display a series of “biases” in information processing, since they interpret the same arguments in completely different directions, depending on their prior opinions on Scottish independence (a so-called “confirmation bias”).

As Figure 1 illustrates, voters evaluated the same arguments in favour or against Scottish independence in opposite directions, depending on how they intended to vote in the referendum: while Yes voters found pro-independence arguments more convincing than anti-independence arguments, the opposite effect occurred among No voters. Among highly-engaged voters (i.e. those who considered Scottish independence a highly relevant issues), this gap is even larger (Graph B). These results tell us how difficult it is to persuade voters in a referendum campaign through the “forceless force” of the better argument, as Habermas famously put it, since voters filter new information through the lenses of their prior dispositions.


Figure 1. Evaluation of pro- and anti-Scottish independence arguments by prior voting intentions

Morisi graph 

Note: Data from control group only, N=59. Experiment conducted in May 2014. 

The second case study focuses on how negative messages by party leaders affected support for parties in the 2015 British general election in Scotland. Findings based on an online experiment and a representative panel survey show that negative campaigning polarised the electorate along national identity lines, by driving British and Scottish voters more apart in their support for parties. Morisi’s third case concerns how the recent introduction of digital television in Italy affected turnout and voting behaviour in a series of referendums and elections. By exploiting a quasi-natural experimental setting, the analysis reveals that the increased availability of entertainment channels brought by digital television reduced turnout at the elections indirectly by dragging out some voters from the political arena.

The main message of Morisi’ PhD thesis is that information does influence political behaviour in election and referendum campaigns, although this influence is subtler than generally imagined by earlier research, since individuals’ reaction to political messages differs markedly. Nevertheless, in a complex political world, subtle effects can still contribute to winning elections. Identifying how citizens make political decisions in response to information matters not only from an academic perspective but also for improving the quality of the democratic process.


Short bio

Davide Morisi is currently a postdoctoral research assistant at the European University Institute. He defended his thesis and was awarded a Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences on 4 November 2016. Davide’s research focuses on political behaviour and public opinion, with a specific emphasis on political psychology. In particular, he studies how citizens process information and how campaign messages affect voting behaviour in election and referendum campaigns. While writing his Ph.D. thesis, he spent a period as a visiting student at New York University, working with the research team of Professor John Jost. Before joining the EUI, he gained a Master’s degree in Media policy at the London School of Economics, and a BA and an MA from University of Bologna. Besides his academic experience, Davide has worked as a communication assistant for the Communication Directorate-General of the European Commission, and as a journalist for daily newspapers.

Personal website:


  • Morisi, D. (2016): Voting under uncertainty: the effect of information in the campaign for the Scottish independence referendum. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 26(3): 354-372
  • Karremans, J., Malet, G. and Morisi, D. (forthcoming): “A changing political landscape. The Italian transition from a bipolar to a multi-polar party system”. In Hutter, S. and Kriesi, H. (Eds.), Transformative elections? Restructuring the National Political Space in Europe in Times of Multiple Crises.
  • Morisi, D. (2014): “Shaping voting intentions: an experimental study on the role of information in the Scottish independence referendum”, EUI Working Paper RSCAS 2014/88, 2014
  • Craufurd Smith, R., Tambini, D., and Morisi, D. (2012): “Regulating media plurality and media power in the 21st century”. Media policy brief, 7. The London School of Economics and Political Science.


Katharina_MeissnerCompeting for Economic Power: South America, Southeast Asia, and Commercial Realism in European Union Foreign Policy

Katharina Meissner 

Thesis summary

The European Union (EU) is at the forefront of engaging in external economic relations with economic powerhouses and entire regions. Much of this happens outside of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Yet, current negotiations with Canada (CETA) and the United States (TTIP) face strong opposition from civil society groups and the election of Donald Trump deals a de facto deathblow to TTIP, reinvigorating economic nationalism. By pursing bilateral economic relations, has the EU already in the past developed a strategy of ‘commercial realism’ that can endure during an age of protectionism?

Over the last decade, the EU has made more and more frequent use of bilateralism in its external relations towards Asia and the Americas. Thereby, it has increasingly turned away from multilateral negotiations through the WTO or with regional organizations. The reason for this turn to bilateralism can be found in the EU’s motivation to secure its economic and regulatory power in these world regions. Factors explaining this turn are thus external to Europe, located in the international system, rather than within the EU. This puts into question conventional explanations that focus heavily on Europe’s identity, interest groups or EU member states.

Grasping the influence of factors located at the international level on EU external relations, Katharina Meissner puts forward a theory of ‘commercial realism’. ‘Commercial’ describes the fact that the EU’s power in trade is longstanding and it therefore strives to enhance its global economic position. ‘Realism’ describes the EU’s attempt to strive for relative economic gains and to be better off than other big players, such as China or the United States, in the global economy. These two components help us understand why the EU actively negotiates more and more agreements outside of the WTO and why it adds important new issues to these negotiations: investments, services and regulatory standards.

Relying on rich empirical data from 90 interviews with officials and stakeholders from Asia, Europe and Latin America, Katharina Meissner studies these dynamics in two regions: South America, especially Brazil, and Southeast Asia, especially Singapore. In both cases, the European Commission, representing the EU, was in the driver’s seat of international negotiations. It designed external relations in reaction to China and the United States and sometimes even pursued negotiations in opposition to European interest groups or EU member states. Commercial realism helps us understand these dynamics as well as the European Commission’s proactive and central role in the EU’s external economic relations.



Short bio

Katharina Meissner is currently Assistant Professor at the Institute for European Integration Research (EIF) at the University of Vienna. She obtained her Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences from the European University Institute in June 2016. Katharina Meissner works at the intersection of European Union studies, International Political Economy and International Relations. More specifically, she studies European Union external relations towards world regions in the context of trade negotiations. Before joining the European University Institute, Katharina Meissner completed a Diplom in Political Science at the University of Bamberg, Germany, and obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts in Peace and Conflict Studies with distinction from the University of Otago, New Zealand. 

Personal website:



  • Lachlan McKenzie and Katharina L. Meissner (2016) Human Rights Conditionality in European Union Trade Negotiations: the case of the EU-Singapore FTA. Journal of Common Market Studies. Doi: 10.1111/jcms.12522
  • Katharina L. Meissner (2016) Democratizing EU External Relations: The European Parliament’s Informal Role in SWIFT, ACTA, and TTIP Negotiations. European Foreign Affairs Review, vol. 21(2): 269-288 
  • Katharina L. Meissner (2016) A Case of Failed Inter-regionalism? Analysing the EU-ASEAN free trade agreement negotiations. Asia Europe Journal, vol. 14(3): 319-336
  • Sebastian Krapohl, Katharina L. Meissner and Johannes Muntschick (2014) Regional Powers as Leaders or Rambos? The Ambivalent Behaviour of Brazil and South Africa in Regional Economic Integration. Journal of Common Market Studies, vol. 52(4): 879-895 


Chiara ComolliFertility in Times of Economic Crisis

Chiara Ludovica Comolli

Thesis summary


Uncertainty blocks the decision to have a child

The recent recession has been the longest and strongest downturn that western economies have faced since the Great Depression of the 1930s. When individuals are uncertain about present or future earnings or occupation, they tend to postpone life-changing decisions. Empirical evidence confirms conventional wisdom and shows that the Great Recession had a paralyzing effect on childbearing in most western economies. After a period of positive trends, these countries saw their fertility rates plummeting after 2008.


The perception of general uncertainty in the economy matters

Chiara Comolli’s dissertation shows that the effect on fertility of the massive uncertainty generated by the crisis goes beyond the structural conditions of the economy and labor market insecurity. The thesis demonstrates, in particular, that if we limit our research to the usual macroeconomic indicators we miss a substantial part of the negative effects that the crisis had on childbearing. Comolli’s research points to the need for a wider definition of uncertainty that drives fertility rates during periods of exceptionally high economic insecurity.

Using the Economic Policy Uncertainty index (Baker et al. 2012, for 31 European countries and the US) and Sovereign Debt risk (Eurostat, ECB, OECD and FED, for Southern European countries), proves that economic and public financial uncertainty impacts on the persistence in the decline of birth rates, over and above the deterioration of labour market conditions. Even when unemployment rates return to pre-crisis levels, diffuse feelings of uncertainty about the near future inhibit couples from procreating. They postpone childbearing because they are insecure about their future job but, on top of that, also because they are uncertain about the financial solidity of their country.

Figure 1 illustrates the decline of fertility rates in different age groups in response to two different indicators of the crisis: unemployment rates and the cost of government debt. The graph shows that birth rates reacted similarly strongly to the increase in unemployment rates and to the rise in public financial risk (measured by long term government bond yields).


Figure 1: The impact of increasing unemployment and rising government debt on fertility during the crisis.


Comolli graph

Source: elaboration by the author based on data from the US and 31 European countries. Data sources: Eurostat, ECB, Bank of England, OECD and FED Data, US National Vital Statistics and US Treasury. Coefficients and 95% confidence intervals. Log-log models. 

This drop in fertility has been especially sizeable among young women in their twenties who can afford to postpone parenthood, even though a paper included in the thesis (co-authored with Fabrizio Bernardi) further shows that the crisis had a permanent negative effect also on births among American women close to the end of their reproductive life, around the age of 40.


Women’s upward mobility in the labour market facilitates child-bearing

Finally, findings on the US underline the growing importance of women’s employment and career for childbearing. Based on analyses of the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID), Comolli shows that during the crisis in the US it was largely women’s labor market status that determined their decisions on childbearing. American women have become mothers more easily when employed in better occupations than their parents. Women’s rewarding careers have thus favored motherhood in the US during the crisis. By contrast, occupationally inactive women are less likely to decide to have their first child compared to working women.



Short bio

Chiara Ludovica Comolli is post-doctoral researcher at SUDA, the Demography unit in the Sociology Department at Stockholm University. She defended her thesis and was awarded a Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute in Florence on 27 April 2016. Chiara’s main research focus is fertility behavior in developed countries. In particular, she studies how childbearing responds to various sources of economic and financial uncertainty in the United States and in Europe. Her other research interests cover more broadly changes in family dynamics in western countries and their consequences in terms of inequality. Currently, Chiara participates in the TITA project on Inequalities in Time of Austerity, working on changes in intergenerational mobility and brother correlation in income and class over cohorts in Finland, using Finnish register data. Chiara was born in Italy on 10 December 1984. She did her BA and MSc in Milan at Bocconi University in Economic and Social Sciences.



  • Bernardi, F. and C.L. Comolli, 2016, “Connubium: who marries whom”, in G. Ritzer (ed.), The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, Cambridge: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Comolli, C.L. and F. Bernardi, 2015, “The causal effect of the Great Recession on childlessness of white American women”, IZA Journal of Labor Economics, 4:21.


Enrique HernandezEuropeans’ Democratic Aspirations and Evaluations

Enrique Hernández

Thesis summary

Are ordinary citizens capable of forming coherent opinions on how democracies should ideally work? In contrast with the assumption that mass publics are ill informed about politics, Enrique Hernández’ PhD thesis reveals that most Europeans have a coherent idea about how democracies ought to work ideally. When thinking about their ideal model of democracy, a majority of individuals attribute higher importance to essential democratic features, such as free and fair elections, than to other features that apply also to not fully democratic political systems, such as the fact that governments explain their decisions to citizens. Hernández, who was supervised by Hanspeter Kriesi and defended his thesis on 21 October 2016, concludes that the democratic aspirations of most Europeans are coherently structured.

What happens when individuals perceive that their political systems do not fulfill these democratic aspirations? To answer this question, the thesis develops a series of measures of democratic discontent that reflect the extent to which individuals perceive that their political systems do not match their democratic aspirations and relates them to individuals’ political participation and party choice.  

Generally, most forms of democratic discontent reduce the likelihood of turning out to vote and increase the probability of participating in demonstrations. Whenever individuals perceive that their political system falls short of their democratic aspirations they are less likely to participate in politics through formal institutional channels and more likely to do so through informal and non-institutionalized means. Thanks to use of novel measures of democratic discontent that refer to specific dimensions of democracy, the thesis can assess for the first time how the relationship between discontent and participation is moderated by the presence of political parties that are capable of mobilizing different forms of discontent in the electoral arena. Hernández  analysis of European Social Survey data indicates that the negative impact of democratic discontent on the likelihood of turning out to vote is weaker if parties make proposals that address the roots of citizens’ discontent.

When it comes to party choice, the results confirm the assumption that discontent with the functioning of democracy increases the likelihood of supporting challenger parties. However, the empirical findings also indicate that this is not likely to occur independently of the specific nature of individuals’ democratic discontent. Individuals are more likely to support either a left-wing or a right-wing challenger party depending on the specific dimension of democracy for which their democratic aspirations are not fulfilled. For example, while those who perceive that their democracies fall short of their aspirations on the social dimension of democracy are more likely to vote for left-wing challenger parties, those who perceive a democratic deficit in the direct-democracy dimension are more likely to support right-wing challenger parties.  The implication of these findings is that the vote for challenger parties should not just be considered a protest vote, but a rational protest vote that is informed by individuals’ democratic aspirations. 


Short bio

Enrique Hernández is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Political Science Department of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. He defended his thesis and was awarded a Ph.D in Political and Social Sciences of the European University Institute in Florence on 21 October 2016. Enrique Hernández’s research interests include electoral behavior, political attitudes, public opinion and political participation. Specifically, he studies the formation and change of political attitudes and their relationship to citizens’ political behavior from a comparative perspective. Before joining the European University Institute Enrique completed a BA and a MA in Political Science at Pompeu Fabra University and a MA at the University of Konstanz. 

Personal website:


  • Hernández, E. and M. Ares (2016) Evaluations of the Quality of the Representative Channel and Unequal Participation. Comparative European Politics. doi: 10.1057/cep.2015.45 

  • Hernández, E and H. Kriesi (2016) Turning Your Back on the EU. The Role of Eurosceptic Parties in the 2014 European Parliament Elections. Electoral Studies. 44, 515-524 

  • Hernández, E and H. Kriesi (2016) The Electoral Consequences of the Financial and Economic Crisis in Europe. European Journal of Political Research. 55, 203-224. 

  • Hernández, E (2016) Europeans’ Views of Democracy: the Core Elements of Democracy in: Ferrín, M., and H. Kriesi. (Eds.), How Europeans View and Evaluate Democracy. Oxford University Press. 


Jerome RoosWhy Not Default? The Structural Power of Finance in Sovereign Debt Crises

Jerome Roos 

Thesis summary

Why do heavily indebted countries not default on their external debts more often? The question may seem simple but the answer has eluded economists for decades. We generally take it for granted that governments will honour their financial obligations under all circumstances — yet historical experience belies the notion that this is somehow a natural condition. During the Great Depression, virtually all European and Latin American borrowers unilaterally suspended payments on their foreign debts. Today, by contrast, the declaration of such outright moratoriums is exceedingly rare. Even as the European debt crisis reached a climax in 2011-2015, the total share of world public debt in a state of default fell to a historic low of 0.2 percent. How do we explain this extraordinary degree of debtor compliance in the contemporary period?

In his Ph.D. thesis, supervised by Pepper Culpepper, Jerome Roos sets out to answer this question through a comparative-historical study of international crisis management. The main objective of his research project was to uncover the often-invisible enforcement mechanisms of debtor compliance that lie embedded deep within the global financial architecture, and to explore the reasons why debtor countries — even if they generally honour their financial obligations — still occasionally choose to defy their lenders and default on their debts anyway. Building on case studies of Mexico (1982-1989), Argentina (1999-2005) and Greece (2010-2015), his thesis develops a novel approach to account for the recent decline in unilateral defaults on sovereign debt.

In contrast to the traditional explanations of debtor compliance in the economics literature, which have tended to depoliticize the subject matter by overlooking the importance of distributional conflict and asymmetries in the balance of power, Roos’ thesis proposes a political economy approach that foregrounds protracted political struggles over who gets to bear the burden of adjustment in times of crisis. In these struggles private and official lenders possess a unique advantage over their borrowers. Through their capacity to collectively withhold the short-term credit lines on which states, firms and households depend, they can inflict debilitating spillover costs onto a debtor’s economy, triggering a host of crippling knock-on effects that would risk undermining social harmony and the political legitimacy of the borrowing government.

The central argument of the thesis is that this capacity to inflict profoundly destabilizing spillover costs simply by refusing to extend further credit endows lenders with a form of structural power. Roos’ findings demonstrate how this structural power operates through three specific mechanisms: the market discipline enforced by an international creditors’ cartel; the policy conditionality imposed by the international lender(s) of last resort; and the bridging role fulfilled by financial elites inside the borrowing country. His thesis shows how these enforcement mechanisms have been strengthened as a result of the processes of globalization and financialization, involving a dramatic increase in the size, concentration and influence of financial institutions, and leading to a situation where a suspension of payments becomes so costly as to be almost inconceivable — with far-reaching consequences for the quality of democracy inside the debtor countries.



Short bio

Jerome Roos is a postdoctoral researcher in political economy at the Department of Sociology of the University of Cambridge. He obtained his Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences from the European University Institute in May 2016, and is currently working on the book version of his thesis, to be published by a leading American university press. Prior to taking up his Ph.D. position at the EUI, Jerome studied International Political Economy at Sciences Po Paris and the London School of Economics. Beside his academic work, he regularly provides commentary on current affairs for various international media, including BBC World, BBC News and Al Jazeera English. He is also the editor of ROAR Magazine, a quarterly journal of radical democratic politics.

Personal website: 


  • Leonidas Oikonomakis and Jerome Roos in: Angelovici, Marcos, Pascale Dufour and Héloïse Nez, Street Politics in the Age of Austerity: From the Indignados to Occupy, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.: A Global Movement for Real Democracy? The Resonance of Anti-Austerity Protest from Spain and Greece to Occupy Wall Street.
  • Jerome Roos and Leonidas Oikonomakis in: Della Porta, Donatella and Alice Mattoni (2014), Spreading Protest: Social Movements in Times of Crisis, Colchester: ECPR Press: They Don't Represent Us: The Global Resonance of the Real Democracy Movement from the Indignados to Occupy.


Céline ColomboPartisan, not ignorant: citizens’ use of arguments and justifications in direct democracy

Céline Colombo 

Thesis summary

How competent are citizens in direct democracy? While the popularity and use of direct democratic instruments is growing throughout the democratic world, criticism persists that ordinary voters lack the necessary competence to make complex policy decisions. The Brexit referendum and the Italian constitutional referendum are only the two most recent examples of controversial policy decisions taken by citizens directly at the ballot box. In times of increasing polarization, where the talk is of post-truth politics, fake news, and echo chambers, it is particularly important to asses to what extent citizens base their decisions in direct democracy on the consideration of different, polity-related facts and arguments.

The thesis assesses citizen competence by measuring the complexity of citizens’ political thinking. Analysing data from Swiss referenda and from the Scottish independence referendum, the thesis finds, first, that most voters know at least some arguments concerning the policy proposals. The complexity of their political opinions varies, however, along personal as well as contextual factors. In particular, intensive media campaigns and the involvement in political discussions with people who are not like-minded help to increase citizen competence in direct democracy. Furthermore, with complex and technical questions, citizens are significantly less competent than with more familiar proposals which are close to their everyday life. Finally, while most voters have some information and are aware of arguments, they tend to process these arguments in a biased way, preferring partisan information which is promoted by their preferred party while rejecting contrary information.

The thesis includes three studies. The first analyses citizens’ justifications for their vote decisions in 34 direct democratic votes in Switzerland. A content analysis of open-ended survey answers where voters are asked for their main reasons for voting yes or no finds that 70% of voters are able to mention at least one policy-related argument. 22% of voters are not able to mention any reason for their decision, and another 8% refer to recommendations, such as their preferred party’s recommendation. Voters are particularly competent in direct democratic decisions where the media campaign is intensive. They are least competent when they have to decide on complex and technical issues.

A second study[1] analyses two direct democratic votes in Switzerland more in depth by using panel survey data (i.e. the same citizens are surveyed three times during a referendum campaign). Here, we find that policy arguments shape people’s vote decisions. However, during the campaign voters tend to align their opinions and arguments with their preferred parties’ position. Thus voters seem not to be ignorant of facts or arguments, but they tend to process information in a way that is biased by their partisan attitudes.

Finally, in a third study, I conducted an opinion experiment during the Scottish independence referendum campaign in 2014. 179 Scottish residents were invited to write down their opinion on Scottish independence after having read a set of arguments pro and contra independence. When these individuals were told that they would have to take part in a group discussion where they would have to justify their opinion, they wrote significantly more complex opinion-texts. This suggests that being involved in deliberations with citizens holding different views might foster complexity of political thinking.

[1] This study is co-authored with Hanspeter Kriesi



Short bio

Céline Colombo is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Political Science Department, University of Zurich, with a focus on Political Psychology and Behaviour. She defended her thesis and was awarded a Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences of the European University Institute in Florence on 3 May 2016. Céline Colombo studies citizen competence and political decision-making, mainly in direct democratic settings. More specifically, she is interested in citizens’ political knowledge, motivated reasoning, the functioning of elite-cues versus policy-arguments and deliberation in decision-making, integrative complexity of political thinking, as well as the link between deliberative and direct democracy. Céline Colombo was born in Switzerland and has Swiss and Italian Nationality. She did her BA and MA at the University of Zurich, with a major in Social Psychology and a minor in Political Science. 

Personal website: 


  • Colombo, Céline (2016). Justifications and Citizen Competence in Direct Democracy – A Multilevel Analysis. British Journal of Political Science.
  • Colombo Céline and Kriesi, Hanspeter (forthcoming). Party, Policy – or both? Partisan biased processing of policy arguments in direct democracy. Journal of Elections Public Opinion and Parties.


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