Institute of Political Science

Current Research Projects

1) Institutions for Future Generations – A Cross-Country Comparison

This research project explores the possibilities and limits of the institutionalization of future citizens’ interests in democracies. It is placed within the wider field of the internal challenges and antinomies of democracy as a form of government. The backdrop is the ‘presentism’ of democracies that is nowadays widely recognized as a challenge in its own right among political scientists and philosophers. Both voters and those they elect typically pursue short-term interests, with benefits they will live to experience. But the effects of their decisions will affect people of tomorrow, too. According to the all-affected principle all citizens that are affected by decisions – both current and future citizens – should have their say on the laws that rule their lives. This right to participate in the decision-making process is an important normative justification for democracy (just recall the famous maxim “no taxation without representation”). But future generations of the citizenry cannot vote (or participate otherwise) today. Conflicts of interest are decided according to the opinion of the majority of eligible voters, not the majority of those affected by the decision. This presents an internal deficiency of present democratic systems.

Research on institutions for future generations has gained momentum recently. In 2016/2017 alone, several remarkable dissertations (Boston: Governing for the future; Rose: Zukünftige Generationen in der heutigen Demokratie; Köhler: Die Repräsentation von Non-Voice-Partys in Demokratien) and one anthology (González-Ricoy/Gosseries: Institutions for future generations) have addressed institutional responses.

Still, no democracy has yet fully closed the ‘representation gap’ and established a successful institution to ensure the representation of future generations and thereby overcome presentism. On the contrary: the two most ambitious organizations that ever existed (Commissioner for future generations in Israel 2001-2006 and Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations in Hungary 2008-2011) have been disbanded or disempowered. Both institutions were allowed to take part in the legislative process (with a reactive role). They showed traits of a fourth branch of government (after executive, legislative and judicative) before their demise. Throughout the globe there is still a considerable number of organizations with a mandate for sustainability and intergenerational justice. They are supposed to act as agents against presentism. However, most of these enjoy merely consultative status and thus exercise little actual power in a Weberian sense. A decisive touchstone is whether or not such institutions have the right to intervene in legislative procedures, be it pro-actively or reactively.

Often, institutions for future generations are designed from scratch in the (philosophical) literature. One premise of my research project is that this will not work because it ignores the path-dependency of political systems. Instead of designing a one-size-fits-all model for all democracies (such as an ombudsman), a successful institution has to be tailor-made for the political environment of the specific country. An institution that might be successfully implemented in Sweden might fail in France, and vice versa. A profound knowledge of the existing political system of a country is a prerequisite for designing an institution for future generations for this very country.

Due to research (and teaching including supervision of seminar papers) since 2013, I have already taken stock of sustainability institutions around the world. They (and potential future ones) can be systemized with the help of a 3-axis graphic model: the ‘cuboid of sustainability institutions’ (see below). Sustainability institutions can be differentiated into

a) Commissions/councils/bodies created by way of a constitutional amendment or a legal provision. Members of these bodies are either appointed or elected by the general population. They are not required to have previously been members of parliament, and their term of office usually does not overlap with that of the parliament. Examples are the previous mentioned commissions in Israel or Hungary.

b) Parliamentary committees comprised of elected members of parliament. The term of office of the members of these parliamentary committees overlap that of the other members of parliament. The ‘future committee’ within parliament usually has a similar standing as the other committees within parliament (finance committee, education committee etc.). Examples are the Committee for the future in Finland or the Parliamentary Advisory Counsel for Sustainable Development in Germany.


These two variations make up the cuboid’s horizontal axis. Usually, type A-institutions are more person-centered in the sense that the head of such a commission is more visible (e.g. in the focus of the media) than type B-institutions.

The vertical axis of the cuboid shows how the tasks of both types of organizations can be related either to sustainability in general, that is: in all policy areas, or sustainability only in certain policy areas. In the case of the latter, the policy areas in question are usually environment or finance policy.

Lastly the sustainability institution can be established at an international level, a supranational level (such as the EU), a national or a sub-national/regional level. This is depicted in the diagonal plane. If, for instance, the new institution is designed for the national level it is aimed at ensuring the representation of the future demos of a specific people (e.g. the Hungarians) but not of future generations of mankind.

This heuristic tool is well-suited for exploring the ‘uncharted territory’ in the ‘universe of cases’. Some sub-cuboids are filled already, others are not. Each sub-cuboid represents a potential separate case study.

Within my research project the following questions are on the agenda for 2018-2020:

As there cannot be a one-model-fits-all solution for the representation of future generations, these questions have to been answered specifically for each country. To cut this research agenda to a feasible, still very ambitious amount, five countries will be identified by in spring 2018.

Related Publications:

Tremmel, Jörg (2018): Ein Palliativ gegen die Gegenwartsfixierung der deutschen Demokratie. In: Mannewitz, Tom (ed.): Die Demokratie und ihre Defekte. Heidelberg: Springer VS. Forthcoming.

Tremmel, Jörg (2015): Parliaments and future generations – the Four-Powers-Model. In: Birnbacher, Dieter / Thorseth, May (Hg.): The Politics of Sustainability. Philosophical Perspectives. London: Routledge/Earthscan. S. 212-233. - Download.

Tremmel, Jörg (2014): Parlamente und künftige Generationen – das Vier-Gewalten-Modell. In: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 38-39/2014 (15.9.2014), pp. 38-45.

Related Presentations:

Institute for Future Studies “Anxieties of Democracy Program”. Presentation: “The wisdom of many? Individual-led and group-led institutions for future generations” (7.12.2017 Stockholm, Sweden).

Oxford Martin School workshop “How can institutional mechanisms safeguard for tomorrow, today?” Presentation: “Parliaments and future generations” (21.10.2014, Oxford, UK)

European Science Foundation ENRI “Representing Future Generations” workshop. Presentation: “An extended separation of powers model as the theoretical basis for the representation of future generations” (4.5.2013, Munich, D)

Related Teaching:

SoSe 2017: Political Institutions for Sustainability

SoSe 2016: Political Institutions for Sustainability

SoSe 2015: Political Institutions for Sustainability

SoSe 2014: Institutionen für Zukunftsverantwortung in der Politik

2) Normative Hypotheses

This research project is connected to the habilitation thesis

In my habilitation thesis, I first addressed, in general terms, the ontological status and the cognoscibility of the ‘rightness’ of empirical and normative hypotheses. More specifically, I discussed the distinct methodologies of both normative and empirical research, as well as the differences in fluidity regarding the subject area of empirical disciplines in both the natural and the social science. Moving forward, I then assessed the Popper-Kuhn debate within the philosophy of science in reference to disciplines in the natural sciences. Next, I moved the debate on objectivity vs. relativity to the normative realm, and I subjected the provability or falsifiability of normative propositions to critical scrutiny. The novel concept of ‘Archimedean points’ in ethics at which I arrived from there paves the way for an epistemic stance according to which a few normative hypotheses are falsifiable in principle, but have not been shown to be false as yet and are therefore, at least for the time being, ‘right’ in terms of the intersubjective consensus theory of truth. In concluding, I conducted a case study to discuss the prohibition of using violence against one’s political opponents.

While this opus magnum (in German) is completed, the extraction of some key chapters of the habilitation, after being translated into English, still rests to be done. To offer some key elements of my thinking for discussion to an international audience, I currently submit translated and extended chapters to peer-reviewed journals.

Former Research Projects

Research Projects in the field of "Intergenerationally Just Policies"

1) The use and establishment of ‘intergenerational justice’ (and related terms) in the media and in political discourse

In 2000, trend researcher Opaschowski predicted that ‘intergenerational justice’ would be the keyword in our society in the coming years. However, is the concept of ‘intergenerational justice’ really about to conquer the political agenda? Since empirical data pertaining to this question are still largely missing, this research project will provide insight as to how the use of certain terms in the general public and debates in the German Bundestag are developing. To this end, beginning in 2010, the “generationally just politics” department has been conducting quantitative and qualitative analysis of the use of such terms in selected press papers and the plenary of the German Bundestag. In this context, the study also determines whether the conjectured shift in discourse concentrated on certain policy areas and whether particular parties function as the pillars of this process. The analysis for the 15th and 16th legislative periods is complete and has been published in the Zeitschrift für Parlamentsfragen (Journal for Parlamentary Questions) 4/2011, (Vol. 42), pp. 691-70. Indeed, the results showed the “generational justice” (and related concepts) was used noticeably more in 2009 than in 2005 (570 times vs. 249 times). See results, uploaded here in 2011.
A methods attachment that could not be included in the journal due to a lack of space can be found here.

The analysis of leading German newspapers showed an even sharper trend: While the concept was used only 5 times per year between 1990 and 1999, between 2000 and 2009 the frequency of use rose to almost 100 times per year.

2) The shift of power relations between generations

Germany is getting old. In 2060, every third person will be over 65 years old and merely one in six will be under 20; currently, the numbers of those over 65 and those under 20 in Germany are still approximately equal. Thus, the relationship between the proportion of the population in retirement versus the proportion of the working-age population will change drastically.
For political science, traditionally interested in power and interest, the question of changing balances of power due to an aging society has come into the spotlight (keyword: ‘gerontocracy’). Some key questions here are: How will processes of political participation, especially election outcomes, be affected by the changing demographic? How does a rising average age of party members change the agenda of political parties? Do new actors, such as special senior parties, emerge as players in the political arena? Does the elderly citizen vote according to the interests of his age/generation (“age effect”)? In other words: do older voters opt for rather for increasing retirement benefits than for better provisions in education and family policy? Is the opposite true for younger voters? Does the spending pattern of welfare states change actually shift so that expenditures for older generations (pensions, nursing costs, disability benefits, health coverage) increase relative to spending for younger generations (education, family support)?

A special issue on gerontocracy was issued in German („Journal für Generationengerechtigkeit 1-2012“)

For a comprehensive overview on economic indices for intergenerational justice, see:
Vanhuysse, Pieter / Tremmel, Jörg (2017): Measuring intergenerational justice for public policy. In: Poama, Andrei / Lever, Annabelle (Hg.): Routledge Handbook in Ethics and Public Policy. London: Routledge. Im Erscheinen.

3) Intergenerational equity in the labor market

In this research project the focus lies on the unequal treatment and the possible resulting injustices between different generations/age groups who work in companies and the academic system. The label ‚Generation Internship’ refers to interns, who sometimes work just as much as full employees, but without achieving equal remuneration and social security. But unequal treatment can also happen between younger and older permanent employees in the same company, e.g. in relation to remuneration, working hours, leave entitlements, employment protection legislation and social security. Is that unfair? As long as young people have the chance to find themselves in the same situation as their predecessors with increasing age, it’s not necessarily unfair. The reason is that any serious theory of intergenerational justice needs to be based on indirect comparisons which cover the complete life span. Some recent studies claim, however, that today's young generation is disadvantaged compared with previous generations. 1986 the 25-40 year-olds earned 11.8 percent less than the 50-65 year olds. Today it is 24.2 percent. In addition to that, more and more graduated academics become interns afterwards. According to several studies the number of graduates who contract an internship after graduation has increased in the past three years by sixty percent in some European countries.

A better standing of one generation is not automatically unjust. Simply because of the size of their cohort, different age groups had had all along different opportunities in the labor and thus on wealth and personal fulfillment (Easterlin 1980). The crucial question is whether the reason for this standing is sheer bad luck (e.g., belonging to a very huge job entry cohort) or injustice (for example, discriminatory collective working agreements). We would speak of injustice if there were ways for the generations to be treated equally, but interest groups block them.

Related publications:

Tremmel, Joerg C. (Ed.) (2010): A Young Generation Under Pressure? Financial situation and ‘rush hour of life’ of the cohorts 1970-1985 in a generational comparison. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer Verlag. - Flyer of the Book. - Full text download.