Faculty of Law contributing to research on democratic governance that was awarded millions in funding

The Faculty of Law is participating in two extensive joint European research projects focused on the challenges of democratic governance in contemporary Europe.

Päivi Leino-Sandberg, professor of transnational European law at the Faculty of Law, is a member of two international research consortia, which succeeded in acquiring highly competitive NORFACE funding for the coming years. From a total of 240 applicants, only 14 European research consortia were awarded funding under NORFACE’s (New Opportunities for Research Funding Agency Cooperation in Europe) Democratic Governance in a Turbulent Age research programme.

The goal of the NORFACE network is to promote funding collaboration between science organisations that provide funds for the social sciences. For the projects successful in this application round, the Academy of Finland is awarding €500,000 in funding, with the rest coming from the science academies of the other participating countries.

The projects to which Leino-Sandberg is contributing are Information in the EU’s Digitalised Governance (INDIGO) and Separation of powers for 21st century Europe (SepaRope), both of which are research consortia established for a three-year term (2020–2023).

Of these, INDIGO was awarded €1.5 million and SepaRope €1.2 million in NORFACE funding, which will be divided between the participating universities.

“Our mood is pleasantly expectant. Applying for funding is hard work, work that for this round had to be done mainly last July. We spent weeks pondering with our researcher colleagues how each individual’s expertise complements that of the others, and how research groups working in different countries could establish a genuinely collaborative community. Having both of my personal projects be among the consortia that were awarded funds is a pleasant surprise,” Päivi Leino-Sandberg says.

SepaRope is a joint project of the University of Amsterdam, the University of Helsinki and the University of Gothenburg focused on the separation of powers. Executive power gaining ground over legislative and judicial power is typical of uncertain times. The project focuses on the grand challenges of the EU: the economic and monetary union, immigration and new international trade agreements concluded by the EU. The ongoing coronavirus crisis is adding another dimension to all of the above. Traditionally, the EU has legitimised its actions through results. The project considers whether the tripartite separation of powers is an outdated concept. Is there another model that could be employed to ensure the responsible conduct of decision-making?

INDIGO is a consortium joined, in addition to the University of Helsinki, by the University of Luxembourg, the University of Freiburg, FIZ Karlsruhe – Leibniz Institute for Information Infrastructure and Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. The consortium investigates the effects of digitalisation on democratic governance as well as the relationship between the individual and the public sphere. The project is carried out by assessing digital decision-making and its impact on various areas of EU policy and different EU states. A further goal for the project is to describe how, on the one hand, the principles of rule of law, democracy and transparency as well as the protection of fundamental rights, and, on the other, efficiency in governance can be realised in the era of digital governance. In addition to legal scholars, the project involves social scientists and specialists in computer science.

Both projects will commence operations on 1 September 2020 at the Erik Castrén Institute, whose researchers will collaborate closely with the researchers from the universities participating in the consortia.

“Since decision-making and its targets are often transnational in nature, the challenges of democratic decision-making are not bound by national boundaries. In fact, international projects offer a natural way of approaching such research subjects, with each party providing their own perspective. For instance, challenges in democratic governance in the EU in particular and related crises are perceived from markedly different viewpoints in different corners of the continent. It's important to bring findings specifically based on research to these discussions. Indeed, public engagement is one of the central criteria of the NORFACE programme,” Leino-Sandberg says.