Understanding political behaviour: CIVICA PoBI conference


On 30-31 May, the European University Institute (EUI) hosted the second annual edition of the CIVICA Political Behaviour and Institutions (PoBI) conference.

With the 2024 European Parliament (EP) elections fast approaching, early-stage and senior researchers from across the CIVICA alliance gathered at the EUI to discuss topics across political behaviour, the European elections, and political institutions. 

Organised by EUI Professor at the Department of Political and Social Sciences (SPS), Elias Dinas, the conference counted the participation of SPS Professor Simon Hix and Professor Sarah Hobolt (The London School of Economics and Political Science), for a roundtable discussion and Q&A session on the upcoming European elections, followed by eight panel discussions.

During the roundtable, Professors Hix and Hobolt delved into the dynamics of the European Parliament’s political landscape, their predictions on the outcome of the upcoming elections, and its potential impact on EU policies.

Considering the rapid growth of populist movements over the last few years, the two Professors predict "a strong shift to the radical right" in the upcoming EP elections. "My perception is that the populist right has evolved over the last five years, and they are no longer the same Eurosceptics they used to be. […] We will see a much more right-wing European Commission, much more right-wing European Parliament, and a much more right-wing European Council," noted Professor Simon Hix.

Professor Hobolt also expressed her concerns that the normalisation of the radical right on the European level could feed back into the "domestic parliaments" and that this political shift could lead to a rollback of the European Green Deal.

"One policy where I would be concerned is climate: that is where we have had a quite progressive policy in Europe [...]. A more conservative Parliament could go backwards if perceiving voters feel so," stated Professor Hobolt.

Abbas Sibai, CIVICA Ambassador and Policy Leader Fellow at the EUI Florence School of Transnational Governance, was present at the PoBI conference and gave an opening speech emphasising "the importance of fostering collaboration among researchers to address the complex challenges facing our democracies."

The remaining panels of the conference focused on a range of topics, including democratic participation and MPs performance; political parties and governance; strategic communication, influence and accountability; geopolitics and local dynamics.

Reflecting on the conference, Professor Elias Dinas noted: "The workshop provided the opportunity to share ideas and insights about pertinent questions in political behaviour: what motivates voters to vote and how they make their voting decisions. Particular attention was placed on the success of the radical right, as well as its ever-changing ideological profile."

"The conclusions from the workshop will help us to better grasp the roots and consequences of the coming EP election, which seems quite likely to increase the representation of the radical right in the European parliament to unprecedented levels," added Professor Dinas. 

The PoBI conference offered the chance to connect researchers across the CIVICA institutions, believes Professor Hobolt: "The CIVICA PoBI conference provided an excellent opportunity to exchange research ideas and findings with scholars from the top social science universities across Europe. And what better time to discuss public opinion and political behaviour than just before the kick-off of the European Parliament elections in 27 EU member states? The EUI provided the perfect setting for these intellectual exchanges. I was grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of it."

For the panellists and participants, the conference was a great opportunity to get topical feedback on their research.

"We were exposed to a number of terrific presentations, and, personally, I got top-notch feedback on my research. Small-scale conferences like PoBI are indeed great opportunities for early-career researchers like me. They provide a friendly environment that is conducive to meeting – and potentially building novel collaborations with – academics from different institutions, with different methodological backgrounds, and of different seniority," said Riccardo di Leo, Research Fellow at the EUI SPS Department.

"This year's PoBI conference once again featured exciting research from across Europe. It was particularly beneficial to us early-stage researchers as we had the opportunity to share panels and receive detailed feedback from experienced professors at Europe's leading universities," added Ludwig Schulze, SPS Researcher.

On the added value of the CIVICA alliance, Schulze mentioned: "CIVICA events like this conference allow us to extend our networks, get to know different academic cultures, and foster collaborations that can significantly advance our research."

Written by Beatriz Carvalho (EUI). 

Photo credits: EUI.