Prof. Dr. Sonja Grimm




A Collaborative Research Consortium funded by the European Commission

Since the colour revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Southern Caucasus, and the Arab Spring in MENA, few countries in the European neighbourhood have made progress in democratisation. Instead, reverse trends towards de-democratisation and il-liberalisation can be observed. With an Horizon Europe fund of 3 Million EUR, the EMBRACE consortium under the scientific lead of PD Dr. Sonja Grimm will investigate obstacles to democratisation in the neighbourhood and identify ways to overcome them. It will examine various types of blockages (behavioural, institutional, structural) and study the cultural, historical and geopolitical contexts in which they emerge. The project will engage 14 partners (universities, think tanks, research organisations) from EU and non-EU countries. Its work will include the development of an innovative policy toolkit supporting the EU’s efforts in promoting democracy in its Eastern and Southern neighbourhood. The kick-off conference has taken place at the Berghoff Foundation's Berlin office in October 2022. More about EMBRACE can be found here.

EMBRACE is funded under Grant Agreeement No. 101060809 by the European Commission as a REA Horizon Europe activity. The UK Associate Partner grant is funded by UKRI.

Democracy Promotion in EU Enlargement Negotiations

An Original Contribution to Democratization

Grimm, Sonja (2019): Democracy Promotion in EU Enlargement Negotiations: More Interaction, less Hierarchy. In: Democratization, Vol. 26, No. 5:  851-868.

In the integration literature, the relationship of the European Union (EU) as a donor and the (potential) candidates for EU membership as recipients of democracy promotion is described as asymmetrical. The donor is portrayed to have full whereas recipients have moderate or even no leverage over democratic reform what brings a hierarchical notion of active donors versus passive recipients into the analysis. Taking the local turn into consideration, however, this contribution argues that democracy promotion, is better conceptualized as a dynamic interplay between external and domestic actors. It reveals the toolbox of instruments that both sides dispose of, traces the dynamic use of these instruments, and systematizes the structural and behavioural factors that constrain the negotiation interplay. A case study of negotiations over public administration reform in Croatia in the context of EU enlargement shows that domestic actors dispose of leverage that counterweights external leverage and mitigates the implied hierarchy.

Domestic Elites and External Actors in Post-conflict Democratization

A Conflict, Security and Development Special Issue, Vol. 18, No. 4 (July 2018)

Following the end of the Cold War, post-conflict democratisation has rarely occurred without significant international involvement. As a consequence, scholars have explained the outcomes of post-conflict democratisation foremost with an examination of external actors, their mission mandates, and their capabilities and deficiencies. A special issue for the journal Conflict, Security and Development edited by Sonja Grimm and Brigitte Weiffen innovatively sheds light on the domestic side of post-conflict democratization.

Two theoretical (Grimm/Weiffen; Zürcher) and three empirical (Groß; Bunk; Zimmermann) contributions to this issue focus on the domestic elites, their preferences and motivations, as well as their perceptions of and their reactions to external interference. They find that particularly the patterns of external-internal interactions may explain the trajectory of state-building and democracy promotion efforts. Empirical evidence is taken from the universe of cases of international peace building missions (Zürcher) and case studies from different world regions, namely Guatemala (Zimmermann), Mozambique (Bunk) and Kosovo (Groß).

With the following contributions:

Democratization via Aid?

An Original Contribution to European Union Politics

Sonja Grimm/Okka Lou Mathis (2018): Democratization via Aid? The European Union’s Democracy Promotion in the Western Balkans 1994-2010. In: European Union Politics, Vol. 19, No.1, pp. 163-184.    

In this article, we investigate the effect of European Commission democracy assistance on democratization in the countries of the Western Balkans. The analysis is based on a comprehensive dataset of the financial assistance given by the European Commission to the region from 1994 to 2010. Since this dataset is disaggregated into different sectors, it allows for the distinction between direct and indirect approaches to democracy promotion. The regression results do not confirm the expected positive association between direct democracy promotion and democratization in the Western Balkans. We contextualize our findings by considering the specific post-conflict context in the region and the European Commission’s conflicting policy objectives in play.   

Dataset, Online-Appendix, do- and log-files availabe on the EUP website and upon request from the authors.

Habilitation Examination Completed

At 14 February 2018, I have successfully completed my habilitation examination at the University of Konstanz. It is based upon my habilitation thesis "Studies of International Democracy Promotion in Post-conflict Societies and Fragile States" and a lecture about "Autocractic behaviour in interstate violent conflict". 

Blog Posts

Grimm, Sonja/Weiffen, Brigitte (2018): Domestic Elites and External Actors in Post-conflict Democratization. In: EDP Wire, posted 9 August 2018.  

Steinert, Janina/Grimm, Sonja (2015): From the Battlefield to Ballot Boxes: How Effective is the United Nations’ Post-War Democracy Promotion? In: Political Violence at a Glance, posted 9 December 2015.   

Grimm, Sonja (2015): Conflicting Objectives, Neglected Relationships, and Authoritarian Backlash: The Crisis of EU Democracy Promotion. In: Democratic Audit UK, posted 2 September 2015.

United Nations Peacebuilding and the Democratization of War-torn States

An Original Contribution to Conflict Management and Peace Science

Steinert, Janina/Grimm, Sonja (2015): Too good to be true? United Nations Peacebuilding and the Democratization of War-torn States. In: Conflict Management and Peace Science, Vol 32, No. 5: 513-535.

This article examines the effectiveness of UN peacebuilding missions in democratizing war-torn states, emphasizing those missions that include democracy promotion components in their mandates. Based on a multinominal logistic regression, we reveal that democratization is significantly more likely if a UN peacebuilding mission is deployed. Furthermore, regimes categorized as more liberal at the outset have an increased risk of revealing antidemocratization trends over the postwar period. Oil wealth impedes democratization and clear victory of one conflict party makes regime transitions more likely, yet in both directions. Descriptive statistics suggest that an increase in the mission’s capacities may be conducive to democratization.

Dataset, Online-Appendix, do- and log-files availabe on the CMPS website and upon request from the authors.

Fragile States: A Political Concept

A Third World Quarterly Special Issue, Vol. 35, No. 2 (April 2014)

This special issue investigates the emergence, the dissemination and the reception of the notion of ‘state fragility’. It analyses the process of conceptualisation, examining how the ‘fragile states’ concept was framed by policy makers to describe reality in accordance with their priorities in the fields of development and security. Contributors investigate the instrumental use of the ‘state fragility’ label in the legitimisation of Western policy interventions in countries facing violence and profound poverty. They also emphasise the agency of actors ‘on the receiving end’, describing how the elites and governments in so-called ‘fragile states’ have incorporated and reinterpreted the concept to fit their own political agendas. A first set of articles examines the role played by the World Bank, the OECD, the European Union and the g7+ in the transnational diffusion of the concept, which is understood as a critical element in the new discourse on international aid and security. A second set of papers employs three case studies (Sudan, Indonesia and Uganda) to explore the processes of appropriation, reinterpretation and the strategic use of the ‘fragile state’ concept.

With the following contributions: 

Do all Good Things Go Together? Conflicting Objectives in Democracy Promotion

A Democratization Special Issue, Vol. 19, No. 3 (June 2012)

A Routledge Special Issue Book (2013)

Democracy promotion is often pursued under the umbrella of “All good things go together!”. Positively evaluated items like peace, stability, prosperity, freedom, good governance and rule of law are expected to be strengthened by the implementation of democratic institutions. However, various problems arise if such an instrumental understanding of democracy support is applied. Firstly, international actors tend to overload their democracy promotion agendas. In doing so, they also raise expectations that can be hard to fulfill. In addition to this, unintended risky conflicts of objectives may evolve during the process of democracy promotion. Finally, policies to support democratisation might conflict with other interests and policies of actors involved. These setbacks urgently need an in-depth theoretical and empirical investigation. Vast amounts of literature have emerged in different sub-disciplines. For example, whilst peace researchers are interested in the compatibility of democracy promotion and peace building, development studies asks whether democracy is best suited to promote socio-economic development. Although individually these research results might be of equal importance to the understanding and effectiveness of democracy promotion policy, no major efforts have hitherto been made to bring them together. To fill out these research gaps, we ask in our special issue: What are conflicting objectives in democracy promotion? Under which conditions do they emerge? How do internal and external actors deal with these conflicting objectives? What are the effects of conflicting objectives on democratisation?

With the following contributions:

For more information, please see also newsletter no. 9 (2011) of NCCR Democracy (p. 16-17).

Conference: “Domestic Elites and Public Opinion – The Neglected Dimension of Externally Induced Democratization”

5-7 September 2012, University of Konstanz, Germany

The purpose of the conference is to assess the role of internal elite behavior and the influence of public opinion on decision-making in externally induced democratization processes. It will bring together political science expertise on the internal dynamics of democratic transitions and external democracy promotion, historical knowledge on the impact of external influences and foreign occupation of political elites and societies in longue durée, and sociological approaches to the role of elites in societies in transition.

After the end of the Cold War, the international community has become more and more active in building peace and supporting the development of democratic institutions in conflict-ridden societies. Such post-conflict reconstruction activities equally gained the attention of researchers in political science, international relations, history, and sociology. The overwhelming majority of these post-conflict studies focus on the contribution of external actors to peace- and democracy-building in the frame of peace-building and peace-keeping missions or international trusteeship administrations. 

It comes as a surprise that there is a certain neglect of what scholars of transition studies, drawing on a broad range of historical examples of regime change, have highlighted as most important factors for successful transitions to democracy: a domestic elite consensus and the support of the electorate for the emerging democracy. The literature on elites acknowledges that profound political crises, such as the attainment of national independence, defeat in warfare, a revolutionary outbreak or a civil war, are pivotal events that often produce changes in elites and regimes. Many crises, in turn, derive from elite confrontations between old regime elites and new oppositional. However, with their focus on domestic actors, elite-centered approaches stand in stark contrast to recent analyses in transition and post-conflict studies that advance the concept of successful democratization from the outside by external actors.

Apparently, there is a lack of dialogue between those different strands of research. Hardly any recent study in the field adopts the perspective of domestic elites or past developments in post-conflict countries whose transition process is externally monitored, supervised or even administered nor do they consider the relevance of public opinion in such a controlled democratization process. The conference contributers seek to close this gap.

With contributions of John Higley, Susan Woodward, Manfred Öhm, Ursula Hoffmann-Lane, Solveig Richter, David Chandler, Lisbeth Zimmermann, Anja Osei, Bettina Bunk, Vadran Džihić, Sonja Grimm, Britta Weiffen and Christoph Zürcher.

A report of the conference is available at Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft/Comparative Politics and Governance, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 85-88.

The conference is funded by the DFG and the Center of Excellence "Cultural Foundations of Social Integration" at the University of Konstanz.