The School of Law of the University of Central Lancashire, Cyprus and  the Jean Monnet Module entitled “European Union Law and Governance in Populist Times” (EU-POP), co-funded by the European Union and running at UCLan Cyprus for the period 2019-2022, held their final EU-POP Conference on the 12th and 13th of May, 2022. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Conference took place in hybrid format and allowed broad attendance and participation across the world. The Conference allowed scholars from various disciplines to deliver cutting-edge research in the area of populist studies, while providing an opportunity to the audience, which included legal professionals, other academics, undergraduate and advanced students, and others, an opportunity to engage with timely issues related to populism. Dr Andreas Marcou, chief EU-POP researcher, welcomed participants and the audience and provided an overall presentation of the EU-POP project that ran from 2019 at UCLan Cyprus and which was nearing its completion in the summer of 2022. Dr Marcou presented the various outputs the project has produced, summarised the series of public activities organised within the framework of EU-POP, including public lectures and summer schools, and introduced the new project secured by UCLan Cyprus, a Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence to establish and run the Centre for the Rule of Law and European Values (CRoLEV).

After the brief introduction, the first Session took place. In this session Carlotta Rigotti and Dr Christos Marneros presented their work on two distinct but equally engaging issues related to the question of populism. First, Ms Rigotti’s presentation investigated a series of issues and ideas related to penal populism as they apply to the sex-robots debate. In that discussion she successfully positioned penal populist claims within the broader context of the debate, connecting it with claims made by feminist scholars on the topic. Dr Marneros then presented a paper that was published in the Second issue of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Populism, available here, and which identified key shortcomings in the construction of ‘the people’ in populist discourse, drawing from Max Stirner’s notion of the ‘spook’ and Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of ‘ressentiment’.

Following a lunch break, Prof. Stéphanie Laulhé Shaelou, EU-POP Module Leader and Academic Coordinator, delivered a lecture entitled ‘Populist trends? When the Rule of Law meets digital technology’. The lecture explored the implications of smart information systems with a focus on Artificial Intelligence on human rights and Rule of law principles and any adjustments needed to the European Public Legal Order to counter any Populists trends in the digital world.

The first day of the Conference concluded with a session delivered by Mr Alex Moore. Mr Moore presented a paper that he co-authored with Mr Patrick Swayer, again published in the Second issue of the IJP and available here, and which explored the populism of Bernie Sanders’s electorate in the US. Entitled ‘Populism on the American Left: How Populist is the Sanders Electorate?’, the paper presented empirical research carried out by the authors which signalled that the size of the populist cohort that supported Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primary elections in the US, was much smaller in size than traditional left-wing groups that exhibited negative correlations with populist attitudes.

The second day of the EU-POP Conference commenced with a session delivered by Mr Dominik Schmidt and Mr Kiara Castaman. Mr Schmidt’s presentation, entitled ‘There is No Such Thing as Democratic Anti-Populism: A Critical Reflection on the Relationship between Anti-Populism and Democracy’ provided an insightful analysis of the relationship between democracy and anti-populism. Critically analysing the vast literature on populism and anti-populism, he was able to identify significant paradoxes and shortcomings with traditional models of populism/anti-populism that emerge in the literature. Following that presentation, Ms Kiara Castaman presented her research that culminated in a paper published in the Second Issue of the IJP entitled ‘Populism in India and Indonesia: a poststructuralist approach to Modi and Jokowi’s public performances (2015-2019)’, available here. Ms Castaman focused on the collection and analysis of data associated with the online presence and behaviour of the Indian and Indonesian leaders, drawing parallels and connections between the ways populist leaders use social media.

Immediately following that session, Prof. Dimitry Kochenov of the Central European University, leading the Rule of Law Workgroup at CEU Democracy Institute, delivered a Guest Lecture on ‘The Many Faces of the Fight for the Rule of Law’. In that lecture, Prof. Kochenov outlined the various threats that the rule of law across the EU faces today, while critically evaluating the behaviour of EU institutions on several instances, with specific emphasis on the Sharpston case. The lecture was followed by an engaging Q+A session that sparked an interesting discussion on the state of the rule of law across the European Union today.

Before the Roundtable discussion, which marked the end of the Conference, Dr Petr Oskolkov, who serves as the Guest Editor of the Third Issue of the IJP, briefly discussed the various papers submitted for the third issue. The third issue of the IJP will shortly be available here. The Roundtable discussion, moderated by Dr Andreas Marcou, centred on the evolution of the rule of law in populist times. During an engaging and constructive discussion, various participants provided their views on the fundamental shortcomings in the rule of law debates today (including concerns about accurate conceptualising of a contested terms), the threats the rule of law faces due to the rise of right-wing populist in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond, and the actions and limitations that EU institutions encounter in attempting to safeguard the rule of law. The roundtable discussion, therefore, amounted to a summary of various themes that have at various times been discussed and explored through the various activities organised within the framework of the EU-POP project since 2019.

Many thanks go to the EU-POP Team for their hard work in organising this Conference, incorporating Prof. Kochenov’s third EU-POP Guest Lecture. We therefore also like to thank all participants for their commitment and their valuable contribution throughout the various sessions and activities of the Conference. All material from the Conference will be available here