Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies

By Paul Webb; David Farrell et al. | Go to book overview

10 Parties at the European Level

Simon Hix

Since the 1970s, academic interest in 'parties at the European level' has gone full circle. The story began in the 1970s, in the wake of the decision to hold direct elections to the European Parliament (EP), with widespread expectation of the coming of transnational European parties. In the 1980s, when it was apparent that European elections would not produce European parties, and that transnational party activity would be restricted to the 'party groups' in the EP, a period of scepticism towards transnational parties set in. As a result of the retarded development of parties at the European level in this early period, attempts to explain their behaviour and adaptation tended to see them as sui generis phenomena, to which traditional ('comparative') theories of party organization and competition could not be applied (see, for instance, Pridham and Pridham 1981 ; Niedermayer 1983).

Nevertheless, since the 1990s, with the 'party article' in the Treaty on European Union, the new role of 'party leaders' summits' and the emergence of rival party-political agendas for the single market (Hix 1995a), there is renewed discussion of the desirability and feasibility of Euro-parties as a way of connecting voters' preferences to the European Union (EU) policy process. These recent arguments have emerged from such diverse sources as Italian professors of political science (Attinà 1992) and Demos, a British think-tank with links to the New Labour government (Leonard 1997). Moreover, as these Euro-parties have taken on the organizational characteristics and pursue the same goals as political parties in similar institutional settings, their evolution and behaviour can more easily be explained using concepts and theories from the comparative study of political parties (cf. Hix and Lord 1997).

The roots of the contemporary European parties go back to 1972, when the heads of government of the then European Communities (EC) agreed to introduce a system of direct European-wide elections to the EP. The implementation of this decision was delayed until 1979. In the intervening period, three 'transnational party federations' were established in the expectation that European-wide elections would require and facilitate the creation of pan-European political parties. These party organizations were the Confederation of Socialist Parties of the EC, established in April 1974; the Federation of Liberal and Democratic Parties of the

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