Foreground liberalism, background nationalism: A discursive-institutionalist account of EU leverage and ‘democratic backsliding’ in East-Central Europe

James Dawson, Seán Hanley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


Abstract. This article argues for a fresh approach to debates on democratic backsliding and European Union (EU) influence in East Central Europe (ECE), drawing on the discursive institutionalism of Vivien Schmidt. Underlying assumptions about backsliding in CEE largely reflect a set of ideas derived from the rational institutionalist and historical institutionalist schools. Moreover, the same theoretical assumptions were previously deployed to explain the apparent success of democratization and EU leverage in CEE. A discursive institutionalism perspective, stressing the role of actors and their discourses in making and unmaking institutions, suggests that democracy in CEE was always less secure than assumed. It also highlights the key role of liberal mainstream parties in embodying democratic institutions. Case studies of the liberal centre-right in Bulgaria and social democrats in the Czech Republic highlight the way background ideas of ethnically exclusive titular states have increasingly impinged on foreground ideas of liberal pluralism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)710-728
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Common Market Studies
Issue number4
Early online date15 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019



  • East-Central Europe
  • Eastern Europe
  • democratic backsliding
  • democratic leverage
  • discursive institutionalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations

Cite this