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Popular Sovereignty vs. the Rule of Law? Defining the Limits of Direct Democracy

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - LIDD (Popular Sovereignty vs. the Rule of Law? Defining the Limits of Direct Democracy)

Reporting period: 2020-05-01 to 2021-10-31

Should it be permissible to launch a citizens` initiative demanding the reintroduction of the death penalty? May a proposal be put to a popular vote despite the fact that voters are not properly informed about its effects? Should the people be allowed to vote on the adoption of immigration restrictions that violate international law?

With the mushrooming of direct-democratic instruments throughout Europe and the introduction of the European Citizens` Initiative (ECI), the relationship between popular sovereignty and the rule of law is set to become one of the defining political issues of our time. Where should the legal limits of direct democracy be drawn? Who should review compliance with these limits? It is the objective of LIDD to provide the scientific basis for answering these questions.

This European Research Council (ERC) funded project builds on a comparative legal analysis, making it possible to capitalize on the wealth of experience gained with direct-democratic instruments in Switzerland and, more recently, other European states in order to develop general conclusions.

LIDD pursues three main objectives:
1) To help European states to define and apply the limits of direct democracy in an appropriate way
2) To contribute to the development of better institutional and procedural systems for reviewing compliance of direct-democratic instruments with these limits
3) To elaborate specific proposals for improving the admissibility test for the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)
Key achievement: Construction of a comprehensive database with detailed information on the direct-democratic instruments existing in all 47 Council of Europe states, including information on the limits imposed on these instruments; verification of all the data through an expert survey; the searchable database is publicly accessible on the project website (www.lidd-project.org).

Further major achievements: Organisation of a workshop with country experts from across Europe as well as members of the Venice Commission on the legal limits of direct democracy in various European states; that workshop will result in an edited collection, to be published by Edward Elgar (editing process ongoing); co-organisation (together with Queen Mary, University of London) of a workshop on agenda initiatives in comparative context; progress made on two PhD theses.
LIDD represents a leap forward in the research on direct democracy. The project innovatively combines comparative legal analysis with both qualitative and quantitative methods from other social sciences in order to capitalise on the wealth of experience gained with direct-democratic instruments in Switzerland and, more recently, other European states. This will make it possible, for the first time, to arrive at general conclusions as to what legal limits may be appropriate and how compliance with these limits should be reviewed.
Poster presentation LIDD