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In this ACES Seminar Jale Tosun, Professor at the Univerisity of Heidelberg, will elaborate on the indirect effects of direct democracy on agenda setting processes to demonstrate that, under certain conditions, it can open a policy window for both incremental and/or transformative policy change.

Event details of Veto Point or Policy Window? The indirect effects of direct democracy on policy change in the EU
Date 16 September 2021
Time 15:30 -17:00

Since the path-breaking research by political scientists Ellen Immergut (1990) on veto points and George Tsebelis (2002) on veto players, scholars in both comparative politics and public policy have regarded the use of tools of direct democracy as impediments to policy change. In this study, we strive to move beyond this unidimensional view on the relationship between direct democracy and policy change and explain the conditions under which even formally ‘toothless’ instruments of direct democracy can be conducive to policy change. More precisely, this contribution pays attention to the indirect effects of direct democracy on agenda setting processes to demonstrate that, under certain conditions, it can open a policy window for both incremental and/or transformative policy change. To this end, we offer a systematic and comparative assessment of the policy effects generated by all European Citizens Initiatives (ECIs) that met the threshold for collecting signatures and were answered by the European Commission since the instrument became operational in 2012. ECIs provide an ideal setting for uncovering the potential indirect policy effects of direct democracy because they do not have immediate legislative consequences. In the best of all cases, ECIs can put an issue onto the policy agenda. Despite this limitation, some ECIs such as Right2Water had a tangible effect on EU policies. Interestingly, these effects materialized over time and can be regarded as building blocks of transformative policy change. By adopting this perspective, we aim to bridge the gap between comparative politics, public policy and EU studies as well as to strengthen the engagement of the international public policy literature with key concepts of democratic governance such as responsiveness, and how it relates to the issue of transformative policy change. 


About the speaker


Jale Tosun is a professor of Political Science at the Institute of Political Science. After studying political and administrative science in Konstanz and Pavia, she completed her PhD at the University of Konstanz on the topic of transformative change of environmental policy in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Jale Tosun was a Research Fellow at the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research before coming to Heidelberg in October 2013 as an assistant professor of International and Comparative Political Economy. She has been a professor of Political Science since March 2015. Her teaching and research focuses mainly on the comparative study of regulation in areas of environment, energy, and climate change, as well as on distributive conflicts within the European Union and the influence of the EU on regulatory measures in third-party states. On behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Jale Tosun leads the project Change through Crisis? Solidarity and Disunity in Germany and Europe (Solikris).

As part of the research network of the support program on water research (, she also manages the project Effect-Net: A multi-scale effect network for hazard identification and risk evaluation of high consumption chemicals in aquatic ecosystems - drugs, pharmaceuticals and food additives - from receptors to biodiversity.


Moderator Jonathan Zeitlin

Jonathan Zeitlin is Distinguished Faculty Professor of Public Policy and Governance at the UvA and ACES Academic Director. His current research focuses on new forms of “experimentalist” governance within and beyond the European Union, with particular emphasis on market regulation, environmental protection, and social policy. He has (co)authored or edited 17 books and more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. His most recent book (co-edited with Francesco Nicoli) is The European Union Beyond the Polycrisis? Integration and Politicization in an Age of Shifting Cleavages (Routledge 2020).