Skip to main content
Centre for European Research

Referendums in Europe: people power or political elite device?

30 October 2019

Time: 6:30 - 8:00pm
Venue: Arts One Lecture Theatre, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, E1 4NS

2019/2020 Debating Europe Seminar Series/ NEXTEUK Lecture

Based on the findings of her recent book ‘The Politics of Referendum Use in European Democracies’, Dr. Hollander will debate the strategic use of referendums in Europe. She will show that the assumed dichotomy between referendums and representative democracy does not do justice to the great diversity of referendum types and of how referendums are used.

At a time when more citizens' participation in European politics is required, she discusses the fact that although in all referendums citizens vote directly on issues rather than letting their political representatives do this for them, some referendums are more direct than others. Rather than reflecting the direct power of the People, most referendums in EU countries are held by, and serve the interests of, the political elites, most notably the executive.

The panel discussion will show that these interests rarely match the justifications given in the public debate with case studies from the UK, France, Denmark, The Netherlands and Sweden. In unraveling the strategic role played by national referendums in decision-making, Saskia Hollander makes an unconventional contribution to the debate on the impact of referendums on democracy.

The panel discussion will debate the following questions

  • how are referendums in Europe being used and for what purpose?
  • when do politicians use referendums? Is it mostly driven by the need to protect the position of their party?
  • are referendums a good tool to improve citizens' participation in European democracies? Or should their usage be revised?

The discussion will be followed by a Q&A involving the audience 





Stijn van Kessel

Stijn van Kessel - Chairperson (Queen Mary University of London)

Dr Stijn van Kessel joined Queen Mary in September 2017. Previously, he was Lecturer in Politics at Loughborough University (2012-2017). Between October 2013 and September 2015 he was based at the Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Germany, to carry out a postdoctoral research project funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He also held visiting teaching positions in the Netherlands at the Radboud University Nijmegen and the VU University Amsterdam (2011-2012) >>Read more here 



Saskia Hollander

Saskia Hollander - Speaker (Radboud University)

Saskia Hollander is director of knowledge management at The Broker and programme coordinator and knowledge manager for INCLUDE, the Knowledge Platform on Inclusive Development Policies. She holds a PhD in political science from Radboud University Nijmegen. She previously worked at the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) and the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) >>Read more here



Matt Qvortrup

Matt Qvortrup (Coventry University)

Matt Qvortrup is Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Coventry University, and an expert in referendums, European politics and comparative government. He was awarded the PSA Prize in 2013 for his research on political institutions and policy outputs. His book Angela Merkel: Europe's Most Influential Leader was translated into Russian, Chinese and Korean >>Read more here



Mario Mendez

Mario Mendez (Queen Mary University of London)

Mario Mendez is Reader in Law at the School of Law at Queen Mary University of London and a member of the Centre for European Research. One strand of his research agenda concerns direct democracy and recent projects in this area include a co-authored study on Referendums on EU Matters (2017) that was prepared for the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament and a co-authored monograph Referendums and the European Union: A Comparative Inquiry (Cambridge University Press 2014).  >>Read more here



This is part of the lecture series UK-EU relations 2.0. of our NEXTEUK project co-funded by the European Commission.

This event is hosted in association with the Mile End Institute



European Commission Beneficiary Logo

Logo of the Mile End Institute

Back to top