Sussex European Institute

EPERN Briefing Paper No 1

The Comparative Party Politics of Euroscepticism

(Sussex Workshop)

Dr. Paul Taggart and Dr. Aleks Szczerbiak

This briefing paper summarises the results of a research workshop that took place at the Sussex European Institute on December 7, 2001. The workshop was the first of five workshops funded by the Economic and Social Research Council Award (R451 26 5110) and organised by the Opposing Europe Research Network. Each workshop brings together country case studies drawn from EU member and candidate states with conceptual and comparative papers and the aim of the series of workshops is to improve our understanding of Euroscepticism by bringing together researchers and practitioners. Individual presentations are also generally available as short briefing papers.

The workshop combined studies of two extreme cases of Euroscepticism. Denmark, a long-standing EU member is famed for its rejection of European initiatives in referendums and for having two substantial single-issue anti-EU parties while Romania is one of the current candidate states whose immediate accession to the EU seems unlikely but which has extremely high levels of public support for EU membership. The contrast between the two was put into context by a wide-ranging comparative introduction while the workshop ended with a general discussion of the salience of the European issue.

The Comparative Context of Euroscepticism across EU Member States and Candidate States

Laying out the comparative context Dr. Aleks Szczerbiak (Sussex European Institute) and Dr. Paul Taggart (Sussex European Institute) presented the conceptual distinction between 'hard' and 'soft' Euroscepticism. 'Hard' Euroscepticism consists of those in priinciple opposed to European integration and therefore arguing for their respective countries to either exit from (in the case of member states) or not to accede to (in the case of candidate or putative candidate states) the European Union. Soft Euroscepticism is where actors use the rhetoric of contestation about Europe as part of their political repertoire and where they offer objections to particular aspects of the nature of European integration as embodied in the EU. Using this distinction, they presented an overview of political parties in 25 member and candidate states showing which parties expressed which sort of Euroscepticism. Data revealed that there are more similarities than differences between the manifestations of Euroscepticism in member and candidate states. Levels of public Euroscepticism are not necessarily reflected in their party systems' manifestation of hard Euroscepticism. The left-right ideological spectrum is a poor guide to which parties will be Eurosceptic. Parties expressing hard Euroscepticism are not central to any European governments. The main difference lies in the relatively higher incidence of soft Euroscepticism among political parties in candidate states than in member states.

Key Facts:

• Euroscepticism is an almost universal feature of party systems in EU member and candidate states
• There are similar patterns of parties expressing Euroscepticism in member and candidate states.
• There is a misfit between levels of public Euroscepticism and the strength and number of parties expressing Euroscepticism.

Euroscepticism in Romania

Looking at one of the cases of a candidate state whose immediate accession seems unlikely but which has very low levels of public Euroscepticism Laurentiu Stefan (University of Bucharest) argued that the Greater Romania Party (PRM) demonstrates soft Euroscepticism. Drawing on research using party documents he argued that this position is most apparent in their position towards the accession process. The PRM emphasises a 'Europe of nations' and stresses the need for a 'dignified' accession process as a way of drawing a distinction from the conduct of the accession process by government parties. He also suggested that the Social Democracy in Romania (PSD), the current government party seems to show 'ultra-soft' Eurosceptic tendencies with the potential to express stronger Euroscepticism in the future. The high levels of public support for European integration was explained in terms of both the low visibility of the issue given Romania's lagging position in the accession process and in terms of support for European integration as a way of enforcing governmental responsibility.

 Key Facts:

• Despite accession difficulties, Romanian population expresses highest support (80 per cent) for membership among candidate states
• Very little Euroscepticism expressed within Romanian party system with only one party, (the Greater Romania Party) as unequivocally 'soft' Eurosceptic party

Euroscepticism in Denmark

Examining the prominent case of Danish Euroscepticism Associate Professor Hans Jørgen Nielsen (University of Copenhagen) argued that tensions over Europe are diffused by its low salience in domestic politics and by the particular Danish system of dealing with European issues in an almost separate political system (i.e. through referendums and European Parliamentary elections). He argued that the structure of public opinion over Europe reveals that Danish voters are in favour of a wider Europe but one with less 'deep' integration. The issue of Europe, insofar as it is salient, cuts across the parties with no parties having a majority of its rank and file in favour of deeper integration and left wing and right wing parties being Eurosceptic. The structure of coalition government in Denmark means that Eurosceptic parties are never in government but are often necessary as supporting parties for governing coalitions. Professor Nielsen ended by arguing that the peculiarities of the Danish system mean that while tensions over Europe are removed from 'normal' politics in the short term, they also prolong these tensions in the long term.

Key Facts:

• Only 5-10 per cent of Danish voters mention relations with the EU as one of the important issues
• Danish political system treats European issue under separate system of referendums, European Parliamentary elections which effectively has its own distinct party system

The Salience of the European Issue

The level of Euroscepticism indifferent countries varies but so does the salience of the European issue. In order to address this Professor Paul Webb (University of Sussex) presented a paper outlining some of the key questions and strategies involved in trying to determine the levels of salience in different national contexts. Linking salience to agenda-setting, he argued that we need to consider three aspects of the national political agenda in order to assess the overall salience of Europe in a country: party agendas, media agendas and public agendas. He went on to consider how the prominence of Europe could be measured within these agendas, focusing on the possibilities of content and survey analyses. However, notable lacunae in the relevant cross-national data present problems for those investigating the phenomenon of Euroscepticism.

Overall Key Points:

• The national context, in terms of the political and party systems, seems to play a key role in determining levels of Euroscepticism
The meaning of 'Europe' varies considerably from case to case with particular differences between member and candidate states. The issue of Europe seems to be bundled with other political issues
The salience of the European issue varies considerably by case and by context. Europe can be a divisive issue for parties without being a 'hot button' issue.
Any causal model for explaining levels of party-based Euroscepticism needs to take account of public support for European integration, the different meanings of 'Europe' and the particular nature of national political systems.