The European Union and party politics in Central Europe

Lewis, Paul G. (2007). The European Union and party politics in Central Europe. In: International Studies Association, 28 Feb - 03 Mar 2007, Chicago, USA.


It is only recently that political scientists have begun to focus on the influence of European Union involvement on national parties. Mair's study of the impact of Europe on the parties of Western Europe is now a standard point of reference, and relatively little divergence can be seen from his view that the direct impact of EU involvement has been strictly limited. An extensive research project on the Europeanization of national party organizations has recently been completed and it, too, seems to have found little evidence that European-level decision-making has greatly changed the balance of power within national political parties. In the past few years, publications on Central Europe developments have also begun to appear. Empirical studies of the Europeanization of CE parties have, however, been less common than work on EU effects in related fields. We conclude here that in CE party politics the logic of national competition has overridden other logics, including that of the EU. But integration has still shaped party systems in various ways. Parties converge, though with significant exceptions, towards the classic European ideological patterns and are rapidly integrating with the European party federations. Coalition alternatives and policy options have generally been constrained by the integration process, but it is not possible to state generally whether the EU has affected the stability of CE party systems. Integration may well have increased the distance between elites and citizens and depoliticized certain issues but, in contrast to claims made of WE, we cannot really speak of a 'hollowing out' of party competition. Some organizational changes can be identified. The EU has had an impact on the internal norms of some parties as far as gender quotas are considered. But party organization as a whole has not greatly changed, although MEPs have often been given representation in the party leadership. The pervasiveness of EU impacts is nevertheless highly differentiated and far from unambiguous, leaving considerable scope for continuing variation in post-accession party politics in Central Europe.

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