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Conceptualizing representative democracy in the EU polity by re-thinking classical key conceptual clusters for the EU multi-level polity

Final Report Summary - EUPOLCON (Conceptualizing representative democracy in the EU polity by re-thinking classical key conceptual clusters for the EU multi-level polity)

1.1. Project aims
The key innovation of the project was to apply a core insight from conceptual history to the fields of European integration and the EU: Political concepts are not stable, but their meanings are always contingent and controversial. For understanding concepts with regard to the EU multi-level-system, this approach offers considerable potential: The EU is a changing polity and an object of actual political controversies. Therefore, conceptual changes and conceptual controversies in their different aspects not only are an everyday matter in European integration; they also decisively shape it. But so far, conceptual history approaches have only rarely been applied to the EU. The project therefore aimed at
1) extending the methodological insights of conceptual history on the contingent and controversial character of political concepts to past and present debates on the EU as a changing polity,

2) systematically developing a research agenda for researching European Integration from the background of conceptual history methodology,

3) analysing the EU-regime and its institutions in terms of the realisations and practices related to classical key concepts like Parliament, Government and Citizenship,

4) establishing a disciplinary link between conceptual history, Democratisation studies and European integration studies, supported by insights from constitutional law, philosophy, history, and linguistics.

1.2. Proceeding
In the first project phase, theory and methodology of Conceptual History were systematically and thoroughly studied via a) completing and b) studying the literature of a reading list on both classical and recent work in Conceptual History. The results of this study were then synthesised with regard to the project aims. The key result of the first phase was a comprehensive research agenda for studying conceptual change related to European Integration that was presented, discussed and further developed in a number of lectures, conferences and meetings in 2012, 2013 and 2014. A book publication is planned for 2015; pre-negotiations have taken place with several top-rank publishing houses.
In the second project phase, the research concentrated on applying the research agenda in a number of exemplary cases, namely Citizenship in the EU, Parliamentarism in the EU and the European Parliament, national European debates, and the institutional setting of the sovereign debt crisis. The work was a) based on the results of the first phase and b) on analyses of EU and national policy documents, law texts, as well as secondary literature on the respective topics. The results have as well been presented, discussed and further developed in a number of lectures, conferences and meetings in 2012, 2013 and 2014; moreover, a number of articles have been published. Part of the results shall also be included in the planned book publication.

1.3. Results and conclusions for further research
European integration is setting a new challenge with regard to two dimensions in the use of political concepts in the social sciences. First, concepts serve at decscribing, analysing, explaining, and understanding its research objects: Political concepts in political science serve as analytical and theoretical categories. But political concepts are themselves controversial and an object of politics, and their change always relates to changes in the real world: they are objects and indicators of social, institutional and political changes, conflicts or debates. European integration entails decisive social, political, institutional and conceptual changes that affect both dimensions:

1) European integration decisively affects key concepts as analytical and theoretical categories since it changes the political practices they refer to. Parliaments, citizens, governments and states (only to name core concepts), increasingly become part of a multilevel-system: National parliaments both lose competencies on the national level and create new institutional working routines, while the European Parliament has gained more and more formal and informal influence. Citizenship has developed into multi-level citizenship, spread between the member states and EU citizenship. National governments become part of a multi-level system where governmental institutions have developed on the EU level as well. These changing social, political and institutional realities point to an analytical problem:
Key analytical and theoretical concepts now refer to a changed world in two respects. The first one is usual in political science: its objects are in constant change and transformation, they change over time. The second aspect regards the established methodological framework of the nation state (or “methodological nationalism”). In the developing multi-level EU regime, nation states no longer are the only reference frame for parliamentarism, citizenship or government – even if nation states may still be central, the EU and sometimes sub-national entities have become other reference frames. Finally, the EU is not a finalised polity, but a polity in development. The social sciences are in need of concepts that can grasp these changes analytically. Concepts as analytical and theoretical categories should thus be systematically reflected or re-described with regard to the setting of the developing EU multilevel regime. Such reflections are rare, despite some exceptions (Representation, Legitimacy, Republicanism and Parliamentarism in the EU have been discussed).

2) At the same time, concepts are factors and indicators of the social, institutional and political changes brought about by European integration, as can be seen for instance in conceptual-political discussions in the individual member states (the debates related to the Constitutional Treaty, or the sovereign debt crisis are key examples). Moreover, EU authorities like the Commission, but also national politicians regularly try to act as “innovating ideologists” by symbolic and conceptual politics trying to forge a new conceptual language (“the area of freedom, security and justice”) and symbolism (flag, anthem, Europe day) with regard to the EU.
It is decisive to mention here that concepts´ functions as categories and as factors and indicators of debates and changes are related, since an analytical category can never be entirely separated from how the concept is and has been understood, debated and contested. The distinction made above hence is ideal-typical to a certain extent, but necessary for the researcher: When concepts are discussed and analysed as categories, it should be made explicit how they are understood or defined. Moreover, it is crucial to be attentive and sensitive on areas where the two dimensions cross-cut or are deliberately mixed. This is often the case with regard to European integration.
Analysing conceptual change through European integration requires a multi-level and post-nation state approach since the interplay between the political level of the EU, its institutions and actors, and the political level of the nation states is decisive: Conceptual change can be initiated on both levels, it can be discussed on both levels, and it can go along with political changes on both levels – and in reality all this occurs, but in varying combinations that need to be analysed in their interplay.
Finally, to apply the methodological perspective of Conceptual History to European integration necessarily brings about analysing conceptual change comparatively. The EU consists of 28 member states which are key settings of conceptual change and conceptual debates. In consequence, there is not one type of conceptual and / or political change via EU integration, but many interrelated processes on the basis of 28 national settings of politics and concepts. To get a comprehensive picture it is necessary to take into account the different settings in the member states in a comparative perspective, which means that approaches and standards of comparative politics and comparative historical analysis should be applied. Comparative conceptual analyses so far are rare; a recent step in this direction is the European Conceptual Histories-Project book series.

1.4. Added value
Applying the methodology of Conceptual History to the study of European integration and its effects in both the member states and on EU level brings an added value for the state of the art in the subfields of conceptual history, EU studies, comparative politics and political theory. The main potential of applying the methodological perspective of conceptual history to the new field of European integration lies in its capacity to grasp the interrelations of political, institutional, social, belief and value changes, and changes in the meaning of concepts, since changed meanings of key concepts like state, government and democracy both reflect and push forward political, social and value changes. Concepts hence are situated at the intersections of empirical changes and changes of meaning.
A better understanding of conceptual change and conceptual controversies in their different aspects also offers an improved understanding of the current controversies on the EU, the reasons behind, and potential alternatives for concrete policy decisions and institutional developments. The findings of the project therefore have an immediate added value both for policy makers and civil society actors, in particular in those parts which directly discussed empirical examples of current institutional settings (European Parliament and sovereign debt crisis) and political debates.

1.5. Output
The main project output consisted in
• numerous invited lectures, conference participations, and meetings (see 2.)
• a number of book and article publications published during the project phase (see 2.)
• the organisation and chairing of two sections on conceptual change and political science at the ECPR General conferences in 2013 and 2014, as well as the application for an ECPR Standing Group on the topic
• a concluding workshop in march 2014
• a number of publication projects that are in preparation, in particular a book on the main project findings

1.6. Project website: