The EDGE Programme

EDGE is a research programme of the Political Science Department and the Institute for European Studies of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Its central research theme is the functioning of modern democracy. The key problem underlying democratic governance in Europe is that political participation and decision making appear in a number of new forms and acquire new meanings which increasingly challenge the format and the underlying normative canvas of modern democracy. Quite crucial in this respect is the fact that national and international politics overlap and interact ever more. Politics in national states – where the forms and practices of modern democracy were developed – are deeply affected by the international economic, financial, ecological and cultural environment. New and quite hybrid institutional constructions like the European Union have become powerful but also quite contested actors shaping the life of the citizens and the decision-making processes and opportunities of the member states.

The EDGE research programme wants to analyze several aspects of these important changes in the institutional architecture of modern politics. It is organized around five major research lines.

  1. Political representation: Representation is at the core of modern democracy. Yet forms and practices of representation are being debated. Key question is the extent to which existing forms and procedures – mainly electoral and partisan – can truly grasp and reflect the variety of interests and identities in the complex modern society. We focus in particular on young people, ethnic minorities, gender and LGBT and on the intersection of these groups.
  2. Electoral politics: The traditional and ‘normal’ form of democracy is organized by political parties who compete in elections. This channel is however rapidly changing and poorly developed at the European level. In EDGE we look in particular at the rise and success of new parties (and radical parties in particular), at the personalization of voting, at strategic voting and at the electoral geography of the vote in multi-level systems.  
  3. EU policies and decision-making: This theme relates to the output-dimension of democratic governance against the backdrop of the increasing pooling of powers at the EU level. It zooms in on important aspects of the accountability and legitimization of EU policy-making, including its ability to effectively address and resolve key societal challenges. We focus on key challenges of modern societies and democracies like environmental and climate policy, energy policy, migration and immigration policy and eGovernment policy.
  4. Multi-level governance: We aim to investigate the consequences of the growing interdependence of Europe with other countries and regions worldwide in times of economic and political globalization. In focus are both the input and output-dimensions of the external/foreign policies of the EU and its member states in an evolving international context. More specific topics for investigation include the underpinnings, performance and democratic legitimization of external policy-making in international institutions, towards partner countries/regions or in international crises.
  5. Theoretical and normative reflections on the functioning of democratic governance in Europe: For discussing and assessing the quality of democracy we need a clear understanding of the criteria that are used in this respect. Democracy is indeed evaluated for its degree of accountability and legitimacy. Especially the latter is at the center of our work. We want to understand the meaning(s) of legitimacy and the related expectations for political participation, representation and policy-making.