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Are we getting a European party system?

The Guardian just published a nice timeline-map visualisation on “how political shifts have altered the map of Europe” mainly showing the change of political left-right majorities across Europe over the past 40 years.

Let’s complement this with an academic perspective:

Through the analysis of 264 elections in 30 European countries (EU-27 + Norway, Iceland and Switzerland) in 8 five-year cycles between 1970 and 2008 (a similar time period as the Guardian chose), Daniele Caramani has found that party system patterns have become more and more similar across Europe over time.

This seems to be in particular true for those parties among the 25 party families identified that are situated on the classic left-right axis (communists, socialists, greens, liberals, conservatives, extreme right with the four party families on the middle-ground covering ~70% of the total vote share). In other words, voters across Europe have and seem to make similar choices on the left-right axis of the political spectrum.

The fact that there are still differences and heterogeneity in the electorates, so Caramani, can be explained by more culturally oriented parties such as “religious, agrarian and ethno-regionalist” parties for which voting patterns are more divergent.

The interesting thing is that looking at the voting timeline-map provided by the Guardian one could also suspect that beyond the more similar patterns of the party systems described by Caramani, voters appear to make the same political choices at the same time.

In how far this is actually true depends on the way we interpret the fact that party systems have changed over time (i.e. that a “blue” Italy 30 years ago may reflect a different party system than a “blue” Italy today) and how important the cultural dimension of the party systems plays into composition of what mostly are and were coalition governments.

Which doesn’t say the Guardian’s visualisation isn’t a nice and interesting visualisation.

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The article “The Europeanization of electoral politics: An analysis of converging voting distributions in 30 European party systems, 1970 -2008” by Daniele Caramani was published online before print in March 2011 in Party Politics.

2 Responses to Are we getting a European party system?

  1. Nice perspective Ronny and although the trend seems to be in that direction I don’t believe we will see this happening in our lifetime.
    I know there now already are European parties and independent members of parliament. There question is what is neccesary for the countrires tot make this step?

  2. avatar Aymeric L says:

    There definitely are common trends in elections across Europe, and the Guardian’s visualisation could have made it appear more clearly if they hadn’t made so many mistakes (e.g. France, where ‘cohabitation’ governments are not taken into account, or Poland, which was somehow not red immediatly between 1989 and 1993).

    But beyond elections, how can we negate the role of globalisation, ageing demograpgics, environmental questions, emerging countries, new media, the crisis of the welfare state, immigration, and growing ethnicist-paranoid movements on European politics? All these factors shape European party systems in the same way, and they are not going to stop overnight.

    Saying that “it won’t happen in our lifetime” is a bit like seeing the glass one-quarter empty when it’s three-quarter full, I think. It’s already happening, and the role European political parties have taken in only 40 years is in itself a revolution. PES and EPP are most certainly going to have their candidates for commission president in 2014. If that’s not already europeanisation, I don’t want to know how far europeanisation should go for us to see it…

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