Direct Democracy Instruments in Europe

March 18, 2019 Weekly Graphs

Over the last decade, direct democracy has become more popular around the world, with an increase in the use of referendums. The European Union ratified the use of the citizens’ initiative, a participatory instrument which allows citizens to suggest concrete legal changes in 2011. This has been subsequently adopted by a number of countries such as Finland and Denmark, respectively in 2012 and 2018. Switzerland has a long tradition of direct democracy. More than 200 popular initiatives have been voted on since its onset in 1874. Slovenia also has a strong tradition of direct democracy, holding 24 successful national referendums and initiatives from 1990 to 2015. 

By using V-Dem’s Variable Graph tool, we illustrate the direct popular vote index by comparing countries in Europe since 1990. Direct popular voting refers to institutionalized processes on which citizens register their choice or opinion on specific issues through a ballot, embracing initiatives, referendums and plebiscites. The index measures the extent to which the direct popular vote is utilized, on a scale from low to high (0-1). While direct popular votes are not frequently used in Europe, we can observe its consistently high levels in Switzerland. In comparison to other new democracies such as the Baltic States, Slovenia certainly relies heavily on direct democracy, even surpassing Switzerland for a period. In some countries such tools for direct popular consultation can serve to promote a more inclusive decision-making process.

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