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Call: The future of liberal democracy in Europe

Type of Fund Direct Management
Description of programme
"Horizon Europe - Cluster 2 - Destination 1: Innovative research on democracy and governance"

Democracies are more fragile and more vulnerable than in the past. The Freedom in the World Report (2020) shows that democracies across the globe are in crisis[[]]. At the same time, various European surveys show declining levels of trust in the political institutions of democracy.[[W. Merkel, Past, Present and Future of Democracy - Policy Review, 2019:]] In terms of legitimacy, there are signs of a potential shift from governance based on expertise, multilateralism and consensual policymaking towards majoritarianism, unilateralism, nationalism, populism and polarization. Research on the past and present challenges and tensions in democracy can help to better understand and strengthen democracy, its resilience and stability. It will foster democracy’s further development with a view to enhancing representation, participation, openness, pluralism, tolerance, the effectiveness of public policy, non-discrimination, civic engagement, the protection of fundamental rights and the rule of law. These reflect the European Union’s values as defined in Article 2 of the EU Treaty[[Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union, Title 1 “Common Provisions”, Article 2: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail”.]].

Expected impact:

Proposals for topics under this Destination should set out a credible pathway to contributing to the following expected impacts of the Horizon Europe Strategic Plan:

  • Democratic governance is reinvigorated by improving the accountability, transparency, effectiveness and trustworthiness of rule-of-law based institutions and policies and through the expansion of active and inclusive citizenship empowered by the safeguarding of fundamental rights.

The implementation of the research activities of the destination will assist in the re-invigoration and modernisation of democratic governance. The aim is to develop evidence-based innovations, policies and policy recommendations, as well as institutional frameworks that expand political participation, social dialogue, civic engagement, gender equality and inclusiveness. Activities will also contribute to enhancing the transparency, effectiveness, accountability and legitimacy of public policy-making. They will help improving trust in democratic institutions, safeguarding liberties and the rule of law and protecting democracy from multidimensional threats. Rich historical, cultural and philosophical perspectives, including a comparative dimension, will set the frame for soundly understanding present developments and help to map future pathways. In the medium to long term, the knowledge, data, scientifically robust recommendations and innovations generated will enhance decision making on all aspects relevant to democratic governance. As the Destination aims directly at citizen engagement and at producing lasting change, it is of particular importance that the research and innovation actions promote the highest standards of transparency and openness. When applicable, it is encouraged to open up the process, criteria, methodologies and data to civil society in the course of the research.

Link Link to Programme
The future of liberal democracy in Europe
Description of call
"The future of liberal democracy in Europe"

Expected Outcome

Projects should contribute to all of the following expected outcomes:

  • Produce theoretically and empirically robust visions for the future of liberal democratic institutions.
  • Reflect upon and actualise what liberal democracy means in the 21st century in Europe.
  • Develop recommendations, toolkits, narratives and methodologies to reinstate the legitimacy and effectiveness of liberal democracies.


European societies are traversed by a multiplicity of identities, attitudes, cultural backgrounds and constitutional traditions. In the face of increasing complexity, certain political forces have promoted a vision of homogeneity, hierarchical control and order. Some extremist and some populist discourses, while not necessarily overlapping, have promoted strict majoritarian and nativist interpretations of democratic governance. Some have been challenging key tenets of liberal democracy like the protection of the rule of law, the separation of powers, women’s and minorities’ rights, etc. altogether or with some variation, providing visions that often conflict with EU priorities. These narratives figure prominently in public discourse and inform public opinion. They influence public views on pluralism and fundamental rights, but also inspire counter discourses and resistance. In addition, populist rhetoric also tends to crystallise in debates about borders and border control, where a tension emerges between the liberal policies of states and the actions called for. Together with the strengthening of the powers of executives, these developments could potentially undermine the stability of democracies. Furthermore, the liberal democratic model is challenged by non-liberal global players, such as China and Russia, and other external factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis. These external challenges paint a poor picture of democracies’ ability to solve collective problems in comparison to other actors, while disconnecting economic and political power from democracy on the global stage. A philosophic, sociological, legal, economic, historical and political reflection is needed on the foundations of liberal democratic governance in order to establish a viable conception of liberal democracy for the future.

Proposals are expected to address some of the following points: To examine the internal (within nation-states) and external challenges to liberal democracy and the discourses, social structures and institutions that underpin them. They should illustrate how such discourses depict social and political subjects as well as the structure of modern societies and institutions. How do these counter basic tenets of liberal democracy? When and why are they successful, or not? Long-term trends in the functioning of key elements of European liberal democracies (fundamental and human rights of individuals – such as freedom of expression, of assembly, of non-discrimination –, the rule of law, pluralism, separation of powers, access to justice, the independence of the judiciary and the media, protection of minorities, right to asylum, etc.) and their public legitimacy should be analysed and compared. Proposals may want to relate these to the impacts of major political and economic challenges of the past decades (e.g. the Great Recession, Cold War, dislocation of empires, “war on terror”, large inflows of mixed migration, the recent pandemic, etc.). The potential tension between liberal, egalitarian and other ideals held by citizens or promoted by political movements can also be examined. Proposals should analyse how institutional and political mechanisms built into European liberal democracies have functioned as limits and as a response to illiberal developments (e.g. checks and balances, enforcement of the rule of law). They should also examine how these mechanisms have evolved in recent years as a response to new threats. Research may provide theoretically rigorous and normatively informed reflections on how political liberalism can be actualised in order to take on the discourses that challenge liberal democracy. Finally, proposals should show the corresponding implications for the institutions of democratic governance.

Cross-cutting Priorities:

Link Link to Call
Thematic Focus Research & Innovation, Technology Transfer & Exchange, Demographic Change, Migration, Equal Rights, Human Rights, People with Disabilities, Social Inclusion, Community Integration, European Citizenship, Shared Services, Administration & Governance, Justice, Safety & Security, Art & Culture, Cultural Heritage, History, Media
Funding area EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Origin of Applicant EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Eligible applicants Education and Training Centres, Federal State / Region / City / Municipality / Local Authority, Research Institution, Lobby Group / Professional Association / Trade Union, International Organization, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, SMEs (between 10 and 249 employees), Microenterprises (fewer than 10 employees), NGO / NPO, Public Services, National Government, Other, Start Up Company, University, Enterprise (more than 250 employees or not defined), Association
Applicant details

eligible non-EU countries:

  • countries associated to Horizon Europe
At the date of the publication of the work programme, there are no countries associated to Horizon Europe. Considering the Union’s interest to retain, in principle, relations with the countries associated to Horizon 2020, most third countries associated to Horizon 2020 are expected to be associated to Horizon Europe with an intention to secure uninterrupted continuity between Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. In addition, other third countries can also become associated to Horizon Europe during the programme. For the purposes of the eligibility conditions, applicants established in Horizon 2020 Associated Countries or in other third countries negotiating association to Horizon Europe will be treated as entities established in an Associated Country, if the Horizon Europe association agreement with the third country concerned applies at the time of signature of the grant agreement.

  • low-and middle-income countries

Legal entities which are established in countries not listed above will be eligible for funding if provided for in the specific call conditions, or if their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority.

Specific cases:

  • Affiliated entities - Affiliated entities are eligible for funding if they are established in one of the countries listed above.
  • EU bodies - Legal entities created under EU law may also be eligible to receive funding, unless their basic act states otherwise.
  • International organisations - International European research organisations are eligible to receive funding. Unless their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority, other international organisations are not eligible to receive funding. International organisations with headquarters in a Member State or Associated Country are eligible to receive funding for ‘Training and mobility’actions and when provided for in the specific call conditions.
Project Partner Yes
Project Partner Details

Unless otherwise provided for in the specific call conditions , legal entities forming a consortium are eligible to participate in actions provided that the consortium includes:

  • at least one independent legal entity established in a Member State;and
  • at least two other independent legal entities, each established in different Member States or Associated Countries.
Further info

Proposal page limits and layout:

The application form will have two parts:

  • Part A to be filled in directly online  (administrative information, summarised budget, call-specific questions, etc.)
  • Part B to be downloaded from the Portal submission system, completed and re-uploaded as a PDF in the system

Page limit - Part B: 45 pages

Type of Funding Grants
Financial details
Expected EU contribution per projectThe Commission estimates that an EU contribution of between EUR 2.00 and 3.00 million would allow these outcomes to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of a proposal requesting different amounts.
Indicative budgetThe total indicative budget for the topic is EUR 9.90 million.
Typ of ActionResearch and Innovation Actions (RIA)
Funding rate100%
Submission Proposals must be submitted electronically via the Funding & Tenders Portal Electronic Submission System. Paper submissions are NOTpossible.

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