Research event

Calibrating the legal response to populism: Role and limits for the European Court of Human Rights

A presentation by  Alain Zysset (University of Glasgow). This event is part of the Fundamental Rights Research Colloquium hosted by the Centre for Fundamental Rights.

Political scientists and theorists have in recent years delineated some constitutive traits of populism as a distinctive social and political phenomenon. Despite the context-sensitive character of its occurrences and its thin programmatic dimension, scholars are now in a better position to articulate an ideal-type of populism in how it specifically relates to – and challenges – core aspects of the regime and some of the profound aspirations of liberal democracy.

Less studied, however, are the legal implications of the populist challenges to liberal democracy. It is intuitively clear that by attempting to revise the democratic demos, populism engages our basic legal and constitutional imagination. Yet, research has not yet clarified if and to what extent populism conflicts with fundamental legal norms, in particular the human rights norms and institutions that permeate the domestic-European divide today.

This project focuses on one prominent judicial actor whose decisions govern the legal architecture of the European continent and beyond, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In this context, the project aims to evaluate if the court should further develop the democratic rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) with a view to strengthening both the institutional and deliberative basis of democracy within state parties – a basis that populism can potentially but profoundly erode.

Alain Zysset is a Lecturer in Public Law at the School of Law, University of Glasgow. He previously held postdoctoral positions at the University of Oslo (PluriCourts Center of Excellence), the European University Institute in Florence (Max Weber Fellowship) and Goethe University Frankfurt (Excellence Cluster Normative Orders) on a fellowship of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). Alain’s research lies at the intersection of public law, international law and political theory. His main area of research is the theory and practice of the ECHR. His doctoral thesis examined the practice of the European Court of Human Rights from the perspective of human rights theory: The ECHR and Human Rights Theory (Routledge, 2016). He is a visiting fellow at the School's Centre for Fundamental Rights.