Challenges of European Integration

Doc.funds Doctoral College at the SCEUS


The SCEUS Doctoral College is growing! We are looking for six Doctoral Students in Political Science – check the details here


SCEUS Doks at work


What we are aiming at: Our Research Agenda

Our research agenda is based on the idea that the development of the European Union (EU) has
reached a novel phase in which the established logics towards ever more integration, i.e. new
institutions, competences and additional member states, are increasingly called into question. … read more




Dissertation Topics

We offer six positions for doctoral researchers working on specific topics:

Dissertations SCEUS

Download the complete list here







1: The enforcement of EU fundamental values – institutional and societal pre‐conditions

1) Topic, relevance and fit with research framework: EU member state violations against EU fundamental
values are among the most critical instances of the EU’s commitment‐compliance gap. By joining the EU, all
member states have committed themselves to respect for democracy and rule of law, but the EU’s efforts
to counter “democratic backsliding” in countries such as Hungary or Poland have had only very limited
success so far (Kelemen 2020). Whereas existing enforcement instruments are ineffective and most
proposals for new instruments or institutions appear politically unfeasible, this doctoral project will
investigate the prospects for enforcing EU fundamental values through (conditional) EU funding.

2) Research question(s) and hypotheses: The Commission’s proposal to make EU funding conditional upon
respect for rule of law (Blauberger and Van Hüllen 2020) was amended and adopted by the European
Parliament and the Council after intense negotiations in December 2020 and is currently challenged before
the Court of Justice. Two interrelated sets of questions arise: first, at an institutional level, what explains
the varying support for rule of law conditionality by different EU institutions, governments and party
groups? This enforcement mechanism may be supported for symbolic reasons (e.g. demonstrating the EU’s
capacity to act) or substantive concerns (i.e. remedying violations of EU fundamental values), which affects
to what extent its application will be credible and consistent. Second, at a societal level, under what
conditions is rule of law conditionality most likely to contribute to greater respect for EU fundamental
values? A broad range of expectations derived from literatures e.g. on sanctions, responsibility attributions
and legitimacy beliefs will be tested to understand what measures are likely to be perceived as rule‐based,
fair and legitimate as opposed to ad hoc, denunciating a specific government or an entire nation
(Schlipphak and Treib 2017).

3) Research design and methods: This project comprises two major empirical parts, which require a
combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. To answer the first research question, elite interviews
(cf. Closa 2018) and qualitative text analysis will allow for tracing the negotiation process on the
introduction of rule of law conditionality at the EU institutional level. With respect to the societal level,
survey experiments (Hainmueller et al. 2014) will serve to evaluate the likely effects of different
institutional design features on public support for EU conditionality. Taking these two parts together, the
project evaluates the chances that the EU’s new rule of law conditionality is likely to be effective and
societally accepted.

Should you have any specific questions regarding this doctoral project,
please contact Professor Michael Blauberger.


2: Anti gender movements as a backlash against EU values

1) Topic, relevance and fit with research framework: Women’s rights and gender equality stand out as
fundamental values of the EU enshrined in its treaties as well as in several key pieces of EU legislation. Yet,
in recent years, the EU has witnessed several ‘anti gender’ movements in its Member States. For instance,
the ratification of the Istanbul Convention bringing legally binding standards for the elimination of violence
against women—which should have been a consensual common denominator—encountered vocal
opposition in several EU Member States. These developments in social movements and public opinion at
large have considerable policy hindering potential, which could spill over in other policy domains such as
social and labor policies, as well as equal opportunity measures in many other domains, what recent
scholarship has coined ‘Backlash Politics’ (Alter and Zürn, forthcoming). So far, the literature has focused
on what explains the adoption of gender equality measures from grassroots movements to
Europeanization, largely conceived as interactions between the EU and national governments (Montoya
2013; van der Vleuten 2016), but have not yet looked at the potential for resentment against these very
forces. Nor has research scratched the surface of the potential for backlash against other fundamental
rights and democratic values that underpin the EU project amongst the wider public.

2) Research Questions & Hypotheses: Since little is known about the dynamics that underpin backlashes
against women’s rights and gender quality at the societal level, a doctoral dissertation exploring these
dynamics could engage in a series of key questions: What explains that previously consensual ideas of
gender equality face a backlash? How broad is this backlash and where does it find its source? For instance,
does the increased visibility of women as political leaders induce a backlash (Brescoll, Okimoto, and Vial
2018; Rudman et al. 2012)? Are perceived changes in the balance between group privilege and
disadvantage shaping group resentment (Townsend‐Bell 2020)? Or is the rising electoral success of radical
right parties that have espoused a reactionary view of women’s position in society also at work in shaping
attitudes towards gender equality (Wodak 2015)?

3) Research design, methods and data: The project will predominantly make use of survey data from both
the public and elites, as well as political parties position data. In order to examine these research questions
the primary source of data will be public opinion surveys which integrate questions pertaining to position
taking about gender, but also about different policy fields such as the European Values Survey, ISSP, Gender
and Generation Survey, the World Values Survey.

Should you have any specific questions regarding this doctoral project,
please contact Professor Jessica Fortin‐Rittberger.


3: Integration and politicization of EU health policy during the Covid‐19 crisis

1) Topic, relevance and fit with research framework: Addressing the Covid‐19 pandemic is a central
challenge for the European Union and has the potential to widen both, the commitment‐compliance and
capabilities‐expectations gaps characterizing European integration. On the one side, the efforts to coordinate
responses to the health crisis underline the need for transferring additional competences to the EU level and
lead to raised expectations (e.g. regarding the joint procurement of vaccines). On the other side, the
difficulties of EU institutions to provide an effective and rapid response open the door for member state
contestation and for further politicization and skepticism towards European integration.

2) Research question(s) and hypotheses: The current response of the EU to the health crisis is a prime
example of the tensions affecting European integration. We thus need to better understand: first, to what
extent has the Covid‐19 crisis reinforced the commitment‐compliance and capabilities‐expectations gaps?
Has the need for coordination led to spillover effects in the areas most affected by the crisis (e.g. health, crisis
management, free movement of essential workers)? To what extent do these responses live up to citizens
expectations regarding an effective and legitimate EU level response? Second, the efforts to coordinate the
EU response have become politicized leading a growing number of member state governments to opt for
unilateral solutions (e.g. acquisition of the Russian and Chinese vaccines). Therefore, why have some member
states deviated from the coordinated response to the crisis? To what extent is it linked to public support for
the European Union? Are particular types of government more likely to defect from coordinated EU
responses (e.g. due to ideology, populism and Euroscepticism, polarization of the party system, position in
the electoral cycle)? Expectations can be developed based on the literature on public support for integration
(e.g. Hooghe and Marks 2005, 2009), political systems support for EU integration (e.g. Norris 2011; de Vries
2007), and bottom‐up politicization (Bressanelli et al. 2020; Bremer et al. 2020).

3) Research design and methods: This project will combine the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data.
On the one hand, the project can rely on the Eurobarometer survey series (incl. Flash and Special
Eurobarometers) that provides frequent data on EU public support across member states. Interview dates
can be exploited to identify the effect of certain national and EU‐level crisis events and measures on public
support (e.g. policy initiatives, lockdown measures). In addition, qualitative data (e.g. press releases, media
coverage, social media, interviews) will be used to analyze 1) the EU’s response and the extent it has led to
strengthening European integration and 2) the response of member states’ governments and the grounds
behind their decisions to support further integration and a coordinated response or to opt for unilateral

Should you have any specific questions regarding this doctoral project,
please contact Professor Ariadna Ripoll‐Servent.


4: New Radical Right Euroscepticism and Transnational Populism? Assessing its impact

1) Topic, relevance and fit with research framework: The surge of Eurosceptical radical right populist and
nativist parties in nearly all member states has been one more challenge to the European Union and its
institutions. Conceptually, the threat posed has been seen as twofold: First, there are hard Eurosceptics
whose rejectionist position resonates with key population segments that regard European integration a
threat to their economic and social wellbeing and are permanently lost for European aspirations. Then,
there are soft Eurosceptic parties whose advocacy in the national interest has morphed increasingly into
advocacy for extensive “reforms” that intend to renationalize EU competencies and are designed to
weaken integration. Finally, there is now emerging a distinct group of parties that show evidence of
transnational populism: while opposing the EU in its current form, they transcend nationalist projects and
offer a different European project (McDonnell & Werner 2019, 2020). The phenomenon of the radical right
at the European level is understudied and existing insights are largely derived from studies centered on the

2) Research question(s) and hypotheses: The main research question asks about the relative effect of the
three challenges ‐ hard Euroscepticism, soft Euroscepticism, and transnational populism ‐ on European
integration. The research proceeds from the assumption that populist parties will follow to varying degrees
the policy/office/vote logic and opt for the strategy offering the greatest benefits first at the national and
then at European parliamentary level. It also assumes that parties will adopt a position on Europe that is
not only ideologically compatible but also offers an increased ability to influence political change. Thus,
previously rejectionist parties may appear to soften in order to form new alliances or work with willing
partners in other EP groups. The research also assumes that the interest of transnational populists and
radical nationalist will diverge. However, while hard Eurosceptics may self‐isolate and lose influence, soft
Eurosceptics and radical reformers and their allies may turn out to be more effective change agents.

3) Research design and methods: This project will rely on a combination of qualitative and quantitative
methods. First, election manifestos, leader’s speeches, and social media messages will be coded to see
whether they contain specific references to transnational populism and to see how the European change
agenda is constructed (similarities and differences across parties). In a second step students will conduct
interviews with key party officials and MEPs in the I&D and ECP EP groups on agenda setting, preferences,
and alliance formation. Qualitative findings will be compared with the demand‐side and supply‐side profile
of these parties which will be based on regression analysis of election data (CSES) and expert surveys
(CHESS). The goal here is to understand the interaction between party positioning and voter preferences.

Should you have any specific questions regarding this doctoral project,
please contact Professor Reinhard Heinisch.


5: Realizing capabilities or staying behind expectations? The EU’s strategic trade policy and

climate change

1) Topic, relevance and fit with research framework: Beyond doubt the European Union (EU) is a formidable
trade power. With about 450 million relatively affluent consumers, innumerable firms in third countries
depend on access to the EU market, making the EU a much sought‐after trade partner. The EU can and does
use its economic power to achieve trade‐related goals such as opening foreign markets for European
exporters and protecting key sectors of the European economy; one indication that the EU has comparatively
strong capabilities in trade policy (Dür and Zimmermann 2007). The EU, however, is also committed, and
expected by various actors, such as policy makers or civil society members in the EU, to using trade to pursue
wider foreign policy objectives that go beyond a purely economic focus on the flow of goods and services.
One particularly topical and prominent example of this is climate change.

2) Research question(s) and hypotheses: The main foreign policy tool for the EU in the realm of trade are
preferential trade agreements (PTAs) and all modern EU PTAs address environmental protection and climate
change in particular. However, a key question on the matter is still being debated: do these provisions indeed
affect actual climate change policies in partner countries? Thus, is the EU able to use its trade power
strategically to influence important non‐economic foreign policy goals, in this case climate change policy and
thus live up to its expectations? An obvious example is the EU‐Mercosur trade agreement currently under
negotiation, in which the issue of climate change features prominently. The relevant literature suggests that
while such non‐trade clauses in PTAs can under certain conditions be relevant in influencing domestic
outcomes in partner countries this effect is conditional on political factors in the partner country (Postnikov
and Bastians 2014; Spilker and Böhmelt 2013). How strategic trade policy can and does look like in the context
of climate change has, however, been understudied so far. Based on the extensive literature on the
enforcement of and compliance with international treaties (Simmons 2009), this doctoral project will
investigate whether and if so how the EU’s strategic trade approach towards climate change varies with
partner countries domestic political structures and whether the EU is more successful in influencing climate
change policy in more democratic countries which have a more vivid civil society.

3) Research design and methods: This project will rely on a combination of qualitative and quantitative
methods. First, EU PTAs will be coded as to whether they contain specific reference to climate change. Using
statistical regression models that can also account for selection effects, the student will first investigate
quantitatively the relationship between EU PTAs and partner countries’ climate change policies, measured
among other things by using countries’ nationally determined contributions as part of the Paris Agreement.
Secondly, this project will use elite interviews to trace the process of influencing policy makers and civil
society members in EU partner countries.

Should you have any specific questions regarding this doctoral project,
please contact Professor Gabriele Spilker.


6: The Politicization of the EU’s Trade Policy: Individual‐level Evidence

1) Topic, relevance and fit with research framework: In the past decade, issues of trade policy have become
increasingly contentious in the European Union and its member states. While trade could traditionally be
described as a technocratic policy field dominated by expert negotiators and industrial lobbyists, recent years
have seen far‐reaching civil society mobilization and contentious (social) media debates about agreements
such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Comprehensive Economic and Trade
Agreement (CETA), and – most recently – the EU‐Mercosur Trade Agreement. This growing contestation of
international trade at the elite level has also led to a politicization (meaning an increase in the public salience
and public contestation) of EU trade policy among the broader public, at least in some EU member states.
This development poses a major challenge for the EU in its pursuit of trade policy objectives.

2) Research questions and hypotheses: Several studies have analyzed the recent politicization of EU trade
policy. However, existing research has mainly looked at aggregate developments, thus largely ignoring what
happens at the individual level. Who are the people that take a position on EU trade policy, that is, who gets
politicized? What explains whether someone supports or opposes current EU trade policy? Are specific elite
strategies particularly successful in politicizing or de‐politicizing EU trade policy? Do we see any variation in
how the process of politicization plays out at the individual level across EU member states? These are just
some of the questions that remain open with respect to the individual‐level processes underlying the
politicization of the EU’s trade policy. The thesis will draw on the large literature on determinants of public
opinion, and an emerging literature on the politicization of trade policy, to develop a theoretical framework
that addresses these questions. Key hypotheses can relate to the kind of frames that may increase the
salience of trade policy to individuals, socio‐economic characteristics of the individuals, or the broader social
views of these individuals.

3) Research design and methods: This project can draw on a variety of data sources, among them public
opinion surveys and social media data. Some existing public opinion surveys contain data on respondents’
assessments of the EU’s trade policy. Moreover, social media have become a major source of social science
data. In particular, the project could analyze tweets on the topic of EU trade policy. It may also be possible
to have some questions on EU trade policy included in academic public opinion surveys that are regularly
carried out, or – together with the supervisors – to get funding for a survey on the topic (which then could
also feature a survey embedded experiment). The data will be analyzed using state‐of‐the art methods in
public opinion research.

Should you have any specific questions regarding this doctoral project,
please contact Professor Andreas Dür.