Democracy in Question?

Kalypso Nicolaidis on Governing Together Through Demoicracy (Part 1)

Episode Summary

This episode explores the notion of “demoicracy” in the European Union - the ideal of a union of people that govern together, but not as one. What might pluralizing democracy look like? And do recent experiments warrant optimism in citizen assemblies? Listen to hear about emergent new models of transnational grassroots participation in the political process across Europe.

Episode Notes

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(11:53 or p.3 in the transcript)

Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher and social theorist in the mid-1700s, invented a social control mechanism that would become a comprehensive symbol for modern authority and discipline in the western world: a prison system called the Panopticon. The basic principle for the design, which Bentham first completed in 1785, was to monitor the maximum number of prisoners with the fewest possible guards and other security costs. The layout consists of a central tower for the guards, surrounded by a ring-shaped building of prison cells. The building with the prisoners is only one cell thick, and every cell has one open side facing the central tower. This open side has bars over it but is otherwise entirely exposed to the tower. The guards can thus see the entirety of any cell at any time, and the prisoners are always vulnerable and visible. Conversely, the tower is far enough from the cells and has sufficiently small windows that the prisoners cannot see the guards inside of it. The sociological effect is that the prisoners are aware of the presence of authority at all times, even though they never know exactly when they are being observed. The authority changes from being a limited physical entity to being an internalized omniscience- the prisoners discipline themselves simply because someone might be watching, eliminating the need for more physical power to accomplish the same task. Just a few guards are able to maintain a very large number of prisoners this way. Arguably, there wouldn't even need to be any guards in the tower at all. Michel Foucault, a French intellectual and critic, expanded the idea of the panopticon into a symbol of social control that extends into everyday life for all citizens, not just those in the prison system. He argues that social citizens always internalize authority, which is one source of power for prevailing norms and institutions. A driver, for example, might stop at a red light even when there are no other cars or police present. Even though there are not necessarily any repercussions, the police are an internalized authority- people tend to obey laws because those rules become self-imposed. source


Conference on the Future of Europe

(19:42 or p.5 in the transcript)

The Conference on the future of Europe officially started on 9 May 2021. Over the next year this citizen led series of discussions and debates will allow citizens from all over the European Union to make their voices heard on key priorities. Through a myriad of Conference events and debates held all across the European Union, aided by an interactive multilingual digital platform, the conference will place European citizens at the centre of the debate. The Conference on the Future of Europe is jointly chaired by the Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission. During the plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels (10 March 2021), António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal and President of the rotating Presidency of the Council, David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, participated in the signing ceremony of the joint declaration for the Conference of the Future of Europe. On 19 April 2021, the multilingual digital platform was launched to ensure that citizens can start contributing to the conference. During the closing event on 9 May 2022, the three Co-Chairs of the Conference’s Executive Board did present the final report to the presidents of the EU institutions. President Metsola, President Macron, and President von der Leyen delivered speeches alongside contributions from citizens representing the European and National Panels, and by the Conference Co-Chairs. source

Episode Transcription

Shalini Randeria (SR): Welcome to "Democracy in Question," the podcast series that explores the challenges democracies are facing around the world today. I'm Shalini Randeria, Rector and President of Central European University in Vienna, and Senior Fellow at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy at the Graduate Institute Geneva. This is the seventh episode of season seven, and my guest today is Kalypso Nicolaidis, professorial Chair in Global Affairs at the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute in Florence. She also chairs the EUI Democracy Forum and the school's Transnational Democracy Initiative. Kalypso was a Professor of International Relations at St. Antony's College, University of Oxford, before moving to the EUI. Her main areas of research are European integration, transnational legal empathy and social solidarity, global governance, and international trade, the impact of new technologies on international relations, and democratic theory, but with a twist, “demoicratic” theory, which will be the focus of our conversation today.

Kalypso is a prolific writer. Let me just mention a few of her seminal books: "A Citizen's Guide to the Rule of Law,"[i] which was published in 2021, "Exodus, Reckoning, Sacrifice: Three Meanings of Brexit,"[ii] published in 2019, "The Greco-German Affair in the Euro Crisis,"[iii] 2018, and "Echoes of Empire: The Present of Europe's Colonial Pasts,"[iv] which will also be a topic for our conversation. She has co-edited several volumes on intellectual debates on Europe, on Mediterranean frontiers, Greeks and Turks in the era of post-nationalism, and federal visions for the European Union. She served as advisor on European affairs to the Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, in the 1990s and early 2000s, and has advised the Dutch and British governments, the European Parliament, Commission, and Council, as well as OECD and UNCTAD.

I'm going to take my cue today from Kalypso's fascinating notion of demoicracy in the European Union, the ideal of a union of people that govern together, but not as one. And I will explore, then, with her some fundamental aspects of the legitimacy deficit, or even legitimacy crises, of representative democratic governance in Europe today. I'll ask her to explain how she arrived at the imperative of pluralizing democracy, and to reflect on her experience with emergent new models of transnational grassroots participation in the political process across Europe. How can engaged publics constitute themselves and enact their power of control over elected representatives? Are recent experiments with citizen involvement on the EU level promising enough to warrant optimism in citizen assemblies? And what are the potential pitfalls of the latter, especially in terms of mechanisms of exclusion, if one bases participation on the notion of citizenship? How could such a radically reformist transformation of politics be put into practice?

I'll also ask Kalypso to share her views on how the crisis of democracy can be easily exploited by populist authoritarian forces who are also promising similar models of democratic participation. And I look forward to hearing her thoughts on how the institutional norms of democracy can be restored and defended within the EU, from its internal right-wing attackers. We'll also, of course, talk about post-colonial critiques of European exceptionalism, and the historically situated foundations of ideals considered to be universal. What can Europe learn about democracy from the rest of the world? And could this learning generate patterns of truly democratic geopolitical engagement in the future?

Welcome to the podcast, Kalypso, and thank you so much for joining me from Florence today. I know you're about to embark on a journey to Athens soon, to launch your new project on Democracy, an Odyssey for Europe, and we'll come to talk about that as well, so, thank you so much for being here with me.

Kalypso Nicolaidis (KN): Thank you for having me, Shalini. It's a real pleasure, as with every conversation with you.

SR: Kalypso, let's start with one of your best-known conceptual interventions, which goes back two decades, your idea of demoicracy. You are using the plural of "demos." You use this concept to essentialize, pluralize the notion of democracy, not just in the abstract, but in the very specific context of the European Union. And as you put it in your article in 2012, and I quote you here, "The idea of European demoicracy is seductively simple, a union of peoples who govern together, but not as one." The EU was at that time, when you wrote, reeling from the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crises, which then became a sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone, which was also ultimately perceived by many as a crisis of democracy. And you also pointed to the problems with the architecture of what you have called democratic interdependence, which is inherently crises-prone, as long as citizens fail to engage across national borders to constitute themselves as a non-singular "demos." So, let me start by asking you to elaborate on your idea of demoicracy. What does it mean in theory? What does it mean in practice today? And how do you see it overcoming, in a way, the opposition between federalists and sovereignists? Because the idea which you start with is the need to counterbalance the power of elected and also non-elected officials with the power of constituent people, or as you say, peoples in plural.

KN: Well, indeed, Shalini, it is a notion that is very, very close to my heart as I try to make sense of this bewilderingly complex, fascinating, and vitally important in the world construct that is the EU. So, I have a passion for the EU. I have a love affair with the EU. And that theoretical construct is a way to do two things together, to describe analytically what the EU is with a different kind of language taking in all of the social science and philosophy that's out there on one hand, but also to provide a more normative, prescriptive norm and vision. Why? You cite this article I wrote, really, as we were in the middle of the first crisis, the beginning of a cycle of permacrises in the EU, the beginning of a decade that hopefully we're slowly coming out of.

But actually, there, the imperative was to say, look, we have to resist two demons of the EU, two very dangerous tropes. Let's not use big words. One is simply the retrenchment in sovereigntist, closed views of what politics is about. Each people, each country in Europe in its own politics, in its own solidarity patterns. The old nationalist reflex, on one hand, which was very strong at that time, because the EU was trying to make the Euro survive, and that implied a lot of constraints. And the other, of course, danger is also what I call the temptation of oneness, the obsession of resolving everything in the EU as if really, the best thing that could happen would be that it would become one country, with one president, one single government. Of course, it has a parliament, it has a structure, but that structure shouldn't look like a country. And one set of standards that are homogenous, fit-all kind of approach.

And so, this double danger, how do you navigate it? Well, you stay on that third-way course. So, this is why the idea of demoicracy is that the EU actually is a third way. It's not that it should be. So, my theory is not just normative. That comes afterwards. But it's really an understanding of the EU, that has always tried to respect two big principles. Non-domination is very important, of small states by big states, of peripheral states by big states. Remembering somehow that our historical DNA in the EU is that the Napoleons or the Nazis, the big states are always trying to swallow up the small states. There was a balance of power theory in the 17th, 18th, 19th century. We're trying to actually ask, well, how do you create a continent where we don't have this hegemonic temptation, the temptation of Rome? And the EU was built that way. There's over-representation of small states. It's wonderful. The problem is it doesn't always respect that philosophy. So, there is a sense that there's an essence, that then is to be respected, but that essence is not always understood, or at least fulfilled by those who decide.

And then the other principle is mutual recognition. And mutual recognition is really this horizontal idea, that the EU can only work if all of its institutions and its peoples engage horizontally. So, it's a horizontal theory. It's saying, well, of course, we need vertical authority. We need a commission and a council. All of these probably are in more or less an equilibrium, but we also need much more horizontal entanglement. And again, that was an original intuition of the EU. There was formal and informal integration in the '60s and '70s and all of that. But increasingly, the project has been captured by what I call the iron cage in a bubble, Weberian iron cage in Brussels, that's standing there above citizens. If we really want the EU to work, we have to make sure people get to understand each other. We are asking increasingly for solidarity between European peoples; that won't happen if they don't engage and understand each other. That book that you mentioned, "The Franco-German Affair," was a kind of investigation into the tropes, all of the ascriptions and prejudices between two countries, but between also all of the European countries, and mutual recognition was lost, but also recovered, because, Shalini, I always believe in the silver lining, that even when we're in trouble in Europe, somehow, we manage to move forward.

SR: So, let me turn to another idea of yours, which I find really fascinating. You've recently proposed that we put a positive value onto the idea of the panopticon, which has a long history of rather negative associations of surveillance, of discipline, from Bentham to Foucault, and then to Zuboff more recently. Let me quote you here as well, and you say, "By turning the connotation of the panopticon on its head, we can better convey the subversive power of transparency and accountability in politics." The democratic gaze of panopticized political participation, as you argue, would effectively mean not a permanent revolution in a sense, but what you call permanent participation by some people, some of the time, on some of the issues, and of course by others at other times on other issues. So, what you, I think, very rightly recognize is the need to counterbalance the power of representative democracy by active and engaged citizen participation. Citizens who control elected representatives, but also have oversight over policy initiatives. And let me quote another idea of yours here, which I thought I'd ask you to comment on, and that is, you say, "The process of deepening the reach of democracy remains the same as it has been for the last 200 years, a struggle to expand the franchise. This time around, it's a franchise that does not necessarily express itself the right to vote in periodic elections, but rather through widespread inclusion in the political process in all its forms." Could you give us some promising examples, Kalypso, of such participatory democratic experiments? And how do you think one could square the circle here between European publics, who often say they want more Europe, and one hears this in all parts of the continent, but when it comes to the crunch, they still prefer sovereignty, and are invested in more local power?

KN: Shalini, I think your questions summarize so well that it's a pleasure to simply provide a footnote, as it were, because, let me start with the last thing you said. I like to think that there are two rather different attitudes to Europe by majorities of citizens, as polls show. Yes, whether it's health, trade, even foreign policy, and all of the areas we know, citizens want more Europe. They realize that their countries are interdependent, that they need to do things together, that we need to collaborate. Anyone understands that. So, if you ask of “what Europe should do more?” Now, if we were not on a podcast but on a video, you would see one of my hands go up, the “what”, doing more, and you would see the other hand go down. That is the “how”. How is Europe doing? The more Europe does, the more it centralizes, the more states have to collaborate and constrain each other, etc., the more we have to go down, in terms of citizens' control, citizens' participation. So, it's a kind of a dynamic between those two: “what” up and “how” down. And this is why I think it's not a contradiction.

But then we have to ask, how do we do the “how” down? And that brings us back to the panopticon, first of all, because there are two sides to this story. There is the side of the watching, and then there is the side of the speaking. And the watching, indeed, this subversive notion of the democratic panopticon, is important to counter la petite musique douce out there. It says, well, citizens, they don't really know. Not only they don't really know, that's why we need Plato's guardians, but actually, they have better things to do and other interests. And I say, well, democratic control, what Rosanvallon called monetary democracy, doesn't require everyone all the time. Just enough sunlight, as Judge Brandeis used to say, enough sunlight on power, that if anyone, at any time, a hacker in a basement, or a student in a class, or a store owner scanning the internet, anyone, or indeed journalists involved in follow the money, wanna know, they can know. That you have the whole budget of the EU on the web, very clearly, how it's spent. When we do NextGen EU, this big fund of 750 billion, that boom, suddenly we have EU debt. Okay, that's fine. But then, its citizens should know, “What is the firm in southern Italy that is getting 200,000 euros to put up solar panels? And is there corruption?”

And I use this provocation, Shalini, because sometimes semantics matter. Have you ever heard of anyone being against transparency? So, if you just say, "Oh, we need to be transparent." And I say, well, yeah, but this is a radical idea. I believe in the radicality of sunlight. And I'm not the only one. We're gonna have a report on that, ask the ombudsman of the EU. And it's not happening, even in the European Parliament. So, this panopticon idea isto wake people up. Because after all, Bentham said, the guardian of the prison, who is at the center, the beauty of his scheme is that prisoners never know when they're being observed. And it's like power. It should never know when it's being observed. Maybe one day it's not observed. Who knows? What matters is that the tree is falling in the forest, and you think somebody will know.

So, that's the panopticon. And that, I would say, is a prerequisite. It's a condition of possibility. It's like a Hegelian position. If you can't do democracy, if you don't start there, once you have a democratic panopticon, or as you're developing it, then citizens engage more and more proactively. Again, not all citizens all of the time, of course. People have things to do. But deepening that breach of citizen control, yes, it starts with citizens' audit, but it then goes on to citizens' initiatives. It goes on with citizens' assemblies, and this is my big calling and my big project right now. But citizens' assemblies go along with probably and possibly referenda, or “preferenda,” something we advocated in 2006-07, with the Dutch presidency after the Dutch "no" not asking people binary choices. There are so many fears about plebiscites and referenda. But if you have real deliberation upstream, before that, I really believe in the importance, in our digital age, of consulting people directly, and not just through polls. And we could go on and on. There are many other types of democratic innovation. But Shalini, we are entering an age where we need to use all of them in this kind of third democratic transformation. And that's my advocacy, because you can't have a demoicracy if you don't use all of these mechanisms, tools, spaces to make sure that people have this civic space in which they can engage. And one last point, Shalini. Civil society organizations are key to this story. All of these amazing activists, workers of the civil space, who defend human rights and the rule of law, and democratic spaces in cities, and rural areas, and schools, and in all the spaces around Europe, as well as in firms. So, it should happen everywhere, and it won't happen if you don't have this army of civil warriors, as it were.

SR: So, let me pick up all three points which you've just made. You've called for a permanent European Citizens' Assembly, and I'd like you to share your ideas on that. But you were also actively involved with the recent Conference on the Future of Europe. So, could you share your impressions of that conference, your own constructive criticism of it, and then say something about your new project on the European Citizens' Assembly, before I come to the larger question of referenda and how to use the new infrastructure?

KN: This Conference on the Future of Europe, we all followed it with great fascination, and some of us were so-called experts, although I'm always very wary of using this term, because I think life experience, intuition, fears, and desires, knowledge of various kinds, all of these are the fundamental, the essential expertise of life, as it were. So, I always kind of go tongue-in-cheek when I'm asked to testify as an expert. But anyway, I was involved all the more that this Conference on the Future of Europe, as you know, Shalini, had four different citizens' panels, they called them, one of which met at EUI in Florence on December 1, and that was an amazing experience. And of course, I've written about this, tried to testify what it meant to have our ordinary, with lots of "citizens," meet in our premises. And I think that was a fascinating experiment, an experiment that I supported very much, as a so-called critical friend. Because, of course, the best friends are critical, and not just blindly following things. And this is why we created the Democracy Forum, with Niccolo Milanese and Alberto Alemanno, and had lots and lots of experts and friends in civil society organizations, as well as friends in the EU institutions who were actually pushing for this, participate and debate and critique.

So, it was a fascinating experiment. Of course, it had flaws. That's what an experiment is all about. There were pros and cons, and we could enter into the detail ofwere citizens really randomly selected. Was the facilitation always leaving space open for citizens? And indeed, the question citizens to this day are asking now, what is the actual follow-up of their recommendation? So, we can have that conversation. And there's been a new generation of panels that are trying to improve on the first, and it's a process within EU institutions, for the moment led by the Commission, but the Parliament is on it, and it will continue. 

SR: So, can you say something about the recommendations? What were some of the recommendations that came out of the process? And what could a follow-up look like? 

KN: The assembly which met in Florence was speaking about the rule of law in democracy. So, they had strong words on the rule of law and enforcing it, including through budget. It had stuff on sunlight in European investment. It had recommendation on education, civic education. on participatory democracy. And one of its recommendations was indeed to institutionalize what they were doing. They were experiencing the fact that here they were, chosen randomly, and that they were doing democracy, and they said, "Hey, this should happen in a more forceful way, regularly, in the EU." And it's that recommendation that I'm using, all my friends are using, in this adventure of the Democratic Odyssey, which starts with the advocacy to really take these words of the citizens seriously, that these words imply for us the creation of a standing body in the EU that will be an integral part of the EU landscape, that people will know is there, with citizens serving on it for maybe four months. So, we have to be careful when we use the word "permanent," because then people ask, "Well, is that, like, another European Parliament?" No, no, no. Because citizens would not stay very long, meaning they don't have time to get corrupted. But we can actually use their collective intelligence, and they might meet in different member states.

So, for instance, in the member state of the presidency of the EU every six months, maybe in smaller towns, invite the members of this standing body, of this permanent citizen assembly. They would include citizens from the enlargement countries. As we go through the enlargement process, these citizens would take part, and then bring some of the lessons back home. So, it's a way of socializing citizens as they enter the EU. But frankly, it's not because your country has been in the EU for decades, that you don't need to be socialized into the EU. So, this assembly, the importance of it being permanent is that it gets to be known in the social imaginary of Europeans, in the political imaginaries that citizens have of the EU. It's no longer this thing in Brussels. It's these people who look just like me, and who meet up around Europe. And it could be me, because I could be chosen tomorrow.

Democracy starts in the imagination of people. One day you imagine a king or a bishop in power. The next day, you start imagining that you write yourself in the story. For me, that's democracy,writing yourself in the collective story. That starts with your imagination. So, we're trying to access that imagination. Yes, it's about practice, very concrete, there are recommendations. But at the end of the day, it's imagination. You put theatre there, music, we have to appeal to the arts. Now, do this in a really fun way. I've even imagined that the assembly could be on a ship that would go from port to port, on rivers and seas around Europe. You can imagine all sorts of things and be playful about it. But at the end of the day, it's a serious topic. And we, in the Democratic Odyssey, we're trying to collectively think through all the different modules, the different ways in which this assembly should be organized, and we are doing our own prototype, our own pilot assembly, starting in next spring, and culminating next September in Athens, and hopefully continuing beyond that, but it's very expensive, so we have to make sure we can do it.

And in order to do that, we're calling on everyone to be part of notre assemblée constituante. Instead of a constituent assembly, it's a constituent network, because we're in the 21st century, and that's what we've imagined, is that they're friends of this process all over, and the process has to be radically open. That is very, very different from the Conference on the Future of Europe, because for all the positiveness of that conference, it was the well-kept secret in the EU, sadly. The ordinary citizens hardly knew about it. We want to change that. So, we're supporting what is happening in the institutions, but trying to create a process that is also bottom-up as well as top-down.

SR: So, I think you're absolutely right, Kalypso, to emphasize the importance of a collective imaginary for participatory demoicracy. It should generate and cultivate this collective imaginary of the idea or the ideal of "We, the people of Europe," as Étienne Balibar put it in a famous piece, and on which you have also written, so people come willingly together as publics, and constitute themselves as such, on a pan-European level. Now, my worry here is, this is a slightly autobiographical question, but you will see why. How could such an assembly avoid replicating the exclusionary logics of citizenship that exclude so many so-called third-country nationals like myself, who live in Europe, pay taxes in Europe, work in Europe since decades, but are politically disenfranchised because we are not granted citizenship for one or the other reason? Or even to go further, how would one include migrants, documented, undocumented, non-citizens, asylum seekers, people who are resident in Europe, but not considered to be part of Europe?

KN: Shalini, that is why we are doing our own pilot prototype, because we, that is, the flotilla of the Odyssey, you, me, anyone else who wants to join, we hold values and beliefs that we really hold dear. And these values have to do, indeed, with inclusiveness. Inclusiveness is the greatest challenge of these processes, because when you do random selection, first of all, people self-select. There's all sorts of issues there. So, you start with asking about inclusiveness of poor people, of people from marginalized community, even who are citizens of Europe. We have the citizen in the formal sense. So, inclusiveness is our biggest concern. Now, the nice thing about doing a prototype assembly is that we are not prisoners of the formality of European law, which indeed is very oriented towards formal European citizenship, which is all about you're a national, you have a national passport, and then you're Europeans. How simple is that?

So, like you, I believe that the peoples of Europe, the wonderful mosaic of our European continent, is made of everyone who lives and works or has families or not, but who exists and is looking for meaning in their life in Europe. And so, our prototype assembly will certainly and absolutely include residents of Europe. And as you say, these can be refugees, migrants. Well, I don't know if you are an eternal migrant, Shalini, but what does this term even mean? As we ask what diaspora mean? But the point is, intermingling is intermingling from where we come from. We may feel at home abroad in Europe, but we're still all, in some ways, abroad. And indeed, the question of migration is at the center of 21st century. In fact, that might be one of the topics that our citizens discuss. So, it would be weird to have only European formal citizens discussing about the fate of migrants in the EU. Migrants have to be part of the adventure. What's so fun and interesting in this whole project is that we are trying to put our values into practice.

SR: So, let me come to the other question which you just raised, Kalypso, on the material infrastructure, when you said, today, of course, we have very effective means of bringing people together through digital platforms, other communication channels, much easier than before. The worry I have a little bit about these platforms, the way they've been launched by the Commission, or maybe even the ones launched by critical individuals, intellectuals like ourselves, is how would these platforms fare in comparison with the formidable world of commercial social media platforms, which are replete with post-truth conduits and echo chambers? Do you think it's wishful thinking to hope that most citizens will abandon these, and instead flock to the multilingual digital platforms of the Conference on the Future of Europe, or the ones that we may create?

KN: Yes, Shalini, I think this is a challenge that we're gonna be involved in and answering differently as technologies evolve. Because on one hand, we can say, well, deliberation is at the heart of much of this new ways of thinking about democracy, and that is so much better face-to-face, as people meet, as they get involved socially with each other, go to a cafe, go dancing together, etc., and then look at each other in the eye and maybe say naughty things, because we're into agonistic democracy, but it's face-to-face. It's real. So, one side of the deliberative kind of family is very wary of thinking too much in digital term, but I think it's unavoidable. I think that indeed, if we want to scale up these dynamics, we have to find ways of being thousands, tens of thousands. I mean, yesterday, I was on a platform called Power to the People, that had 500 people listening. And we can scale this up very much. We're talking with Larry Lessig and many others in the U.S. about how to do this in the U.S. because in the end, you can't reach everyone physically in the same place. Although, of course, it starts with smaller, local face-to-face.

So, part of the challenge, isn't it, is that how do you combine these different modes of being together? How do you start small, the face-to-face, but maybe aggregate digitally? And then as you do this, the use of AI, and the use of computational intelligence. With friends, we're looking at how you make digital social contracts, and how you can actually develop software so that we can start creating platforms with each other, without relying on a Zuckerberg or Elon Musk to do this for us. Or cryptocurrency. So, either money or power from the top. It is possible, Shalini, technologically, to do this. And that is my dream for the future, that we invent grassroot assemblies, that are powered by digital innovation, as well as AI ways of aggregating. The experience of Taiwan is fascinating in this realm, but there are many, many other experiences in Latin America, and elsewhere. So, it's important to look at what is happening everywhere, but also to know that technology is gonna continue to really surprise us in a dark and bright way in the next few years.

SR: So, let me turn to a very practical aspect that you also mentioned earlier about who would participate, and how people would be chosen to participate. And I think you're absolutely right that grassroot democratic participation and inclusive participation needs to be ensured, and co-decision-making in the political process needs to be at the center of it. But how would we go about appointing groups of people to these assemblies? Self-nomination, sortition, mandatory? Would it be totally voluntary? Would they come through only civil society networks, so, people who are pre-organized in some sense, or could it be transnationally organized, by building on sub-national local networks? What are your thoughts on how to do this practically?

KN: Shalini, this is where we get into the space where our Democratic Odyssey is constantly asking these questions. Of course, I have my own opinions, although they change all the time. As the surrealist said, to have clean ideas, you have to change them as often as your shirt. I'm not sure it's that often, but I'm not welded to one vision I want to impose to the world. I'm welded to this whole story as a process, and we might change our mind. For the moment, this is through the conversation, so, the conversation is the key, of everyone who wants to contribute to this co-design, this co-construction of new modes of doing Europe, and then more broadly in the world. And so, I would say that we start with random selection. So, this is really key. Not all other mechanisms are born equal. No. Random selection is what the Greeks really understood in their democratic DNA. We are going to go and see next week the kleroterion, which was the machine that helped the ancient Greeks, every day, select people from the 10 different tribes in Athens. You know, you had tribes, each made up of people from the sea, people from the city and people from the rural area. Each tribe was like this, and then you selected people from the tribe, and everyone understood this is democracy, because that means, again, that everyone is there, but nobody can just push their way into it or buy their way into it, etc. They did that.

In the intervening 2000 years, we've forgotten the beauty of randomness for democracy. It was all over Mesopotamia. It was not just Athens. I don't want to be Greco-centric here. Many people had that idea. The roll of the dice is the most democratic technique. And we have to reinvent it, but also re-debate it, and internalize it in our social beings. So, this is why we think the assembly that we're going to be co-creating should have a pedagogy of randomness. We'll have a show, with, "Oh my God, how are we gonna do this? Okay, pick a number. Number two. Okay, everyone living on the second floor of the second city of every European country is gonna be in the pool," etc. So, you kind of start teaching that.

So, randomness is a story, but it has to also tell a bigger story about how this assembly is composed. What are the criteria to then select subgroups, so there's enough men and women, and other genders, as well as age and education level, etc. But are there other criteria? How do we do this? Once you have a certain story about the randomly selected core of the assembly, you then bring these people together, perhaps virtually, and then physically, and in a combination. But then you also ask, "Okay, who should they be meeting and deciding with?" And this is where your pre-organized civil society comes in the picture, your civil society organization, trade union, parties, etc., as well as politicians, technocrats. They have their own instances. So, in Europe, nobody decides by themselves. The parliament, the council, the commission work together, making decisions. There's no monopoly of decision. So, we can't say that this assembly will decide, and you just have to do what they say. No. It has to be meaningful, impactful, but they also will share power. But that, they will do also in conversation, in various ways, with other types of actors, that are not random, that are self-selected. And that's part of what the conversation will be all about.

SR: So, how thoroughgoing a reform of the electoral system, both at the national and the EU level, would it require to incorporate such a model? What do you think will be the obstacles, or what is it that you are getting in terms of feedback, already, on the whole process that you've been involved in for several years now, from both elected professional political class, as well as from the European Parliament, Commission, Council? What are you hearing about their views on this public counterpower as a permanent and equal partner?

KN: Well, we would need so much time to really discuss the intricacy and the sociology of power. It is very normal that whoever holds power, whether it's political, regulatory, all types of power wants to hold on to it. So, it is true to recognize that there are many politicians, and technocrats and eurocrats who are favorable to such evolution, but even in those circles, with limits. So, the idea of a permanent assembly is not something that is very cherished, in part because it goes against the idea that you decide, okay, today we want an ad hoc panel, tomorrow we want another ad hoc panel, but we decide, we control the parameters. So, this is about losing control, which is what democracy is about. Democracy was indeed historically, for hundreds of years, about how the wealthy and the powerful had to give up some of their power over the land. And we are still in that logic. And it's scary for those in power, because it means that democracy is very uncertain. You never know what's going to happen next, andthat's the beauty of democracy.

So, this fundamental hold on to power, of course, the political culture, and how it's legitimized by the idea of expertise, that we are in complex, Weberian states of the 21st century, where problems are so mind-bogglingly complex. How are these citizens going to do anything about that? So, that's the first kind of political and cultural obstacles. There is another kind of obstacle, which is, in a way, in our mindset, that democracy has come to be equated with electoral representation. So, I've had many elected officials who, in private, rather than in public, tell me, "I'm legitimate, because I was elected by 20,000 people. I went door to door, and I represent my electorate. These citizens, they have been chosen by an algorithm. Why is an algorithm more legitimate?" So, the idea that somehow a citizen assembly represents a group of people, because the way it was made up, even if each individual wasn't elected, it's something that was understood way back when, but it's not understood anymore because we have captured the term "representation" for electoral representation, which is just one kind. And the problem is, it's not just politicians who believe that, but many citizens say, "Well, you know, it's enough. Every five years, I elect someone, and I've elected someone." But did you choose who you could choose? Did you choose what the program was? Are you able to monitor this person or these people? No. Is that enough? Is that the limit of our ambition?

So, contrary to a number of people in the field of deliberative democracy and participatory democracy, I don't believe citizen assembly should be the be-all and end-all. I think electoral democracy should remain very central, then improved, always enlarging the franchise, making sure everyone participates. And I think that we need to find ways of combining electoral democracy, deliberative democracy, and then direct democracy, these preferenda, etc., and all of these innovations, in a happy mix of engagement of citizens.

SR: So, in this happy mix, let me ask you the last question on this part of our discussion, and that is about two mechanisms that we know have been used in different countries and contexts. One is referenda. And the Swiss system is a good example of how you can have a referendum, which is then a national referendum, on all important issues. But we've known some of the decisions can be progressive, and many are not. And then we have the mechanism of recall, that we know, recall of elected representatives, in some Latin American constitutions, interesting, they allow for that. But many people's enthusiasm, Kalypso, for referenda waned after the Brexit, once they realized the powerful effects of ideological manipulation by Tory leaders like Boris Johnson, but also foreign interference by Russia, after it came to light. And you were someone who was very involved in the anti-Brexit campaign yourself. So, my question here to you would be, what are the kinds of mechanisms we can think of, which we already know, that different systems have experimented with in order to build alternative or complementary counterpowers? And how could we use them better? Is one question. And my second one here would be, what we saw in the Brexit case is how easily propaganda, and manipulation, and disinformation, on a large scale, with a lot of money behind it, can function. So, my larger question to you would be, do you think this kind of countervailing power, citizens' power, can succeed without somehow a corresponding radical democratic pedagogical change?

KN: Exactly. I mean, at the end of the day, when we have these direct democratic involvements, you have to accept the results, if you'd said in advance that you would. And that's a big if, because the first point is not to say that if there's a referendum, you will accept the result 51 percent. Maybe it's more complicated than that. But above all, the condition of possibility, again, the prerequisite for this, is to ensure that our societies have had a democratic infrastructure, foundation, where, starting with schools, but in the media, etc., we counter all of these fake news and interference. So, it's going to be a constant struggle in the coming years between the subversion of news and the democratic education of our people. But it's every individual who needs to be resilient, in their mind, in their well-being, and relating to the news.

There is something called truth, not factual truth, but a genuine and honest relationship to truth. But it also implies a mutual respect, democratic respect, not necessarily saying everything the other side is wrong. So, on Brexit, for me, it was so important to engage with the arguments of the other side, about democratic control, a sense of losing control, that not just the British people had, but others. And I think we still need to engage with that reality. So, genuine debates, absolutely. And when you have referenda, my colleague, Francis Cheneval, in Switzerland, has written beautifully about this. If you don't want them to be plebiscites, or captured by fake news, there are many safeguards. That's why the Swiss example is so interesting, because there are many ways they have found in educating, debating around referenda. And unless and until we have that culture, yes, referenda are tricky. We know also this in the United States. This is why I really advocate, Shalini, this democratic infrastructure involves the multiplication of deliberative spaces, at all levels of governance, including our permanent standing body in the EU. But that is just a symbolic place. It will have to rest on this ecosystem. Once you have this ecosystem within 10, 20 years, people will be maturing. Our democracies will be resilient enough, a term the EU Commission uses, to actually engage in referenda, digital referenda, all sorts of new ways of engaging through new technology. But we need to have a culture of democracy for that to happen.

SR: Many thanks, Kalypso, for this fascinating conversation about ideas of pluralizing a democracy, but also about deepening it across Europe and within every European country, ideas which resonate with a lot of work on experimentation with the democratic forms also going around in other parts of the world, and that's something I would like to take up in my next conversation with you, after you've completed your first leg of the Democratic Odyssey next week, in Athens. So, thank you so much for joining me today.

KN: Thank you, Shalini, for having me.

SR: Kalypso's conceptual call for a genuine European demoicracy, democracy in the plural, that is, as a union of peoples that governs together but not as one, remains timelier than ever. She's just reminded us again of its renewed relevance as European Union's ideal of achieving ever closer union is being attacked in the name of national sovereignty by powerful ethnonationalist and popular forces across Europe. But as she argued, the project of building a transnational, continental, institutional architecture in Europe can only function if it's built on the principles of equality, pluralism, diversity, and mutual recognition. This will, of course, require a thick web of horizontal cooperation between and among peoples going beyond mere institutional design or top-down reforms, which many have advocated. Moreover, ordinary citizens must engage creatively and proactively in the democratic process. controlling institutions and holding elected and even non-elected officials accountable. Rather than fearing referenda and plebiscites, we should, therefore, recognize the transformative potential of participatory deliberation and civil society experiments, regardless of their current flaws, because we should together improve upon them. Citizen assemblies recently pioneered in the European Union can catalyze collective intelligence and also strengthen collective imaginaries urgently needed for deepening democracy. We risk reproducing exclusion if participation, however, is based on narrowly conceived citizenship criteria. It's therefore, important to ensure that grassroots demoicratic assemblies remain inclusive and open to all residents of Europe, irrespective of citizenship status. As a first step towards making this radical democratic project successful, we need to rethink our ideas about political representation, mechanisms of selection, and legitimacy. These are not historically unprecedented ideas and experiments, as Kalypso reminded us. Combining novel forms of representation with established forms of electoral democracy is an important challenge if we are to safeguard democracy in Europe and also elsewhere.

This was the seventh episode of season seven. Thank you very much for listening and join us again for the next episode in a fortnight. Please go back and listen to any episodes you might have missed, and of course, let your friends know about the podcast if you're enjoying it. You can stay in touch with the work of the Central European University at, and the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy at


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