In Eastern Europe, the liberal parties, which were the main actors during the transition period, are now facing increasingly strong competition from a variety of populist political players in the guise of nationalists, conservative traditionalists or simply political opportunists - a phenomenon which has been described as a ‘rising populism' or ‘democratic backsliding'. The proposed research project aims to study the effects of this unexpected rise of a populist wave on the rule of law, as the focus will be on the reaction of the judiciary to the changing political environment. Against a background of a Bulgarian case study, the research addresses the question to what extent the performance of the judiciary - mainly those of the constitutional and other high courts - has been affected by populist pressures.
The proposed research focuses quite directly on the causes for and the effects of the troubling absence of trust in Eastern European institutions - both political and judicial. It explores the hypothesis of a complex interplay between developments in the political and the legal sphere, which might lead to problems for the rule of law, unsatisfactory judicial performance, and ultimately - to even lower levels of public trust in both political and legal institutions. While John Hart Ely believed that courts might help remedy some of the defects of majoritarian democracy, the proposed research explores the opposite hypothesis, namely that imperfections of the democratic process may undermine the work of judicial bodies and the rule of law.