Containing Populism at the Cost of Democracy? Political vs. Economic Responses to Democratic Backsliding in the EU

  • Tom Theuns


This paper critically engages the legal and political framework for responding to democracy and rule of law backsliding in the EU. I develop a new and original critique of Article 7 TEU based on it being democratically illegitimate and normatively incoherent qua itself in conflict with EU fundamental values. Other more incremental and scaleable responses are desirable, and the paper moves on to assess the legitimacy of economic sanctions such as tying access to EU funds to performance on democratic and rule of law indicators or imposing fines on backsliding states. I hold such sanctions to be a priori legitimate, and argue that in some cases economic sanctions are even normatively required, given that EU material support of backsliding member states can amount to material complicity in their backsliding. However, an economic conditionality mechanism would need to be designed to minimize unjust and counterproductive effects. One way to pursue this could be to complement sanctions against the backsliding government with investment for prodemocratic actors in that state.