Governing Polarized Societies (GPS): new research programme to be launched
Researchers from the Institute of Public Administration and the Institute of Security and Global Affairs at FGGA are launching a new research programme: Governing Polarized Societies (GPS). The programme will focus on the way in which governments are dealing with the increasing polarisation in society. The researchers will use two recently awarded grants to start the programme: the LEGITIMULT ((Horizon2020) and the States in Shock (NWO Open Competition SGW).
The disparity between groups of citizens is growing on several social and economic levels. Refugees, nitrogen, COVID-19, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine all lead to problems that fuel the polarisation in society. The appeal of left- and right-wing extremist political ideologies during elections is only increasing in European and other democracies. ‘Issues that would have been seen as a societal problem in the past, are these days branded as a crisis. The perceived tensions push governments to take drastic measures. This makes it easier for left- and right-wing populist movements to turn groups of citizens against each other. The resulting polarisation feeds citizens’ political misgivings and makes it more difficult for governments to create policies that can rely on support from society,’ says Kutsal Yesilkagit, one of the founders of the programme together with Sanneke Kuipers, Brendan Carroll, and Dimiter Toshkov.
The research programme Governing Polarized Societies is built on two research projects. One is funded by the NWO and the other by the EU. The NWO funded project will analyse the ability of states to adapt to transnational crises. The project funded by Horizon2020 will examine the legitimacy of government interventions in transnational crises.
The adaptive capacities of national states
Sanneke Kuipers: ‘During the last twenty to thirty years, national states have endured a series of complex, transnational crises that shook the core of their sovereignty.’ Crises and shocks of such magnitude expose the vulnerabilities of political administrative systems. Pandemics, floodings, ash clouds, energy shortages, terrorist threats, and cyber-attacks do not stop at the border. Wars taking place elsewhere in the world can lead, for instance, to failed states that are taken over by corrupt and violent regimes. In turn, they do not only pose a threat to our own security, but they also result in large numbers of refugees. The housing of refugees in an overheated housing market consequently leads to a shortage in houses and a resurgence of xenophobia. ‘The interwovenness of these crises’, says Brendan Carroll, ‘requires a government that knows how to address the mutual dependencies between transnational problems when formulating policies.’
The NWO funded programme ‘States in Shock’ will compare the Netherlands with Germany, France and Norway and will be executed in collaboration with partners from the SOG-PRO project. The Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) is also a partner. ‘With these colleagues, we have a track-record in the field of comparative administrative research that dates back years. We will be trying to understand the mutual relation between politics, government, and society in the context of largescale societal challenges.’ To determine the extend in which national governments are succeeding in adapting to transnational crises the project will look at (1) the impact transnational crises have on the structure and organisation of national governments, (2) the role of political institutions and ideologies and (3) whether the adaptations implemented by the states are factual changes or whether they are purely symbolic gestures.
Effectiveness versus legitimacy
A national government’s ability to adapt to transnational crises has a huge impact on any possible interventions by the government should things get out of hand. Dimiter Toshkov: ‘During the COVID-19 pandemic we saw that governments responded in different ways to the virus. From previous research we know that the measure of trust citizens have in their government influenced the speed with which that government acted.’ The pandemic made it painfully clear that effective interventions, such as a lockdown, were not always seen as legitimate by citizens. The measures resulted in a lot of protest and questioned the legitimacy of the experts and administrators. The measures did not only have an impact on the population’s health but also on the constitutional state, human rights, minority rights, and the economy worldwide.
In the Horizon2020 programme Legitimate Crisis Governance in Multi-level Systems (LEGITIMULT), a consortium of researchers from ten European research institutes will research the effects of the COVID-19 measures on the quality of democracy in 31 European countries. Brendan Carroll: ‘We are interested to see what the impact has been of the multitude of measures implemented by international, national, and local authorities to stop the pandemic. Has the involvement of numerous different authorities been beneficial for the quality of the democracy or not? The central aim of the Leiden researchers within the programme is to develop a new concept of ‘legitimate crisis governance’. They will develop a perspective on governing in crisis situations that should enable administrators to make better choices when deliberating between the effectiveness and legitimacy of possible government interventions.