Sussex European Institute

OERN Briefing Paper No 3

The Comparative Party Politics of Euroscepticism

(Leicester Workshop)

Dr Paul Taggart and Dr Aleks Szczerbiak

This briefing paper summarises the results of a research workshop that took place at the University of Leicester on 21 June 2002. The workshop was the third 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 Leicester workshop brought together one comparative presentation examining the divergent agendas of the candidate states in how they understand, or construct the European issue, from the case in existing member states, and three case studies of member and a candidate states. The case of Bulgaria as one of the candidate states with low chances of immediate accession but with high levels of public support for European integration has received little attention and therefore this presentation brought in some new data. The other cases were Greece and Italy. In the Greek case, we have seen a politicization of the European issue and some real change in party positions, whereas in Italy, only recently has the issue of Europe been politicized in party terms and there has been an absence of Euroscepticism until recently. The workshop finished with a conclusion by Dr. Paul Taggart which stressed some of the methodological, conceptual and comparative issues raised in different ways by the various presentations and which argued that we need to consider changes in types and levels of Euroscepticism in the light of changes in the process of European integration itself.

Euroscepticism in Central and East European Countries: Divergent Agendas?

Karen Henderson (University of Leicester) examined the extent to which political parties in the EU candidate states are operating with the same agenda as current members when addressing EU issues in political argument. The point was initially illustrated by looking at the previous weekend's Czech parliamentary election, where the manifesto of the victorious Social Democrats had concentrated on pointing out the practical benefits of membership and the need to ensure in negotiations that the Czech Republic would be treated as a fully-fledged EU member after accession, while Václav Klaus's less successful Civic Democratic Party had - untypically for a political party in a candidate state - engaged in complex discussion of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism with reference to the Convention. She reiterated arguments from earlier work, which suggest that attitudes to the EU in candidate states are still heavily intertwined with aspirations relating to the post-communist reform process in general. Anti-EU sentiment - most particularly 'hard' Euroscepticism - is often a form of 'europhobia' in which 'transition losers' reject the post-communist opening up of society in general, while pro-integration forces are often motivated primarily by the desire to consolidate democracy and the market economy at home, rather than any vision of a future united European polity where political decision-making is shared at an international level. However, the party systems themselves are still very much in flux in most of the Central and East European countries, and show some signs of gradual convergence with patterns more familiar in current member states.

Key ideas:

• Broader European debates on the future of the EU still have little resonance in the candidate states.
• The EU accession process itself is important because, once underway, it restricts options available to parties in governing coalitions in the CEECs, and pushes 'Europhobic' parties to the margins of parliamentary politics.
• After accession, the new members of the EU are likely to share many policy stances in common, but the cleavage between the interests of old and new members will be mitigated by cross-cutting cleavages of differing party interests

The European Issue in Bulgaria

Examining the Bulgarian case of the lack of any record of Euroscepticism Dr. Krassimir Y. Nikolov (Institute for European Studies and Information - Sofia, Bulgaria) departed from the elite and popular consensus on EU accession established in Bulgaria throughout the 1990s, and focused on the parliamentary and presidential elections of June & November 2001 as a turning point in the public debate on "Europe". Through analysis of the electoral programs of major political parties for the parliamentary elections he showed that all major parties support preparation for EU accession as their primary foreign policy objective, while the EU-attitudes of smaller parties vary - from Euro-activism in action to issue-based soft Euroscepticism. The electoral debate proved the inability of the outgoing government to use EU integration as a winning topic, which led to the absence of "Europe" from the discussions (and to the fall of the government). At the presidential elections, again, "Europe" was a non-issue, although anti-European candidates did not appear, either. The speaker gave two possible explanations of broad popular support in Bulgaria for EU membership (registering a stable average of 80% between 1997 & 2002). One is that the slower pace of implementing EU legislation has not yet fully produced its impact on citizens' everyday life. However, these stable positive figures can also be a reflection of a more general detachment between private life and public authority and alienation of citizens from participation in the political process. The latter provides a fertile soil for populism/nationalism, which can be triggered by the explosion of status-related issues, such as the early closure of reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant.

Key Points:

  • High and sustained levels of public support for European integration among the Bulgarian population
  • Euroscepticism present at the margins of the Bulgarian party system but absence of any 'hard' Euroscepticism
  • Europe not present as political issue and only salient where linked to other issues (such as NATO membership)

Greek Euroscepticism: From the Cold War to the Euro

Examining the Greek case over the four decades since the signature of the 1961 Association Agreement, Dr. Susannah Verney (University of Athens and Visiting Fellow, University of Bradford) suggested a three-phase periodisation. During the Association (1961-81), decades marked by democratic breakdown, dictatorship (1967-74) and democratization, Euroscepticism moved from a marginal position associated exclusively with the communist Left into the political mainstream. Hard Euroscepticism was adopted by the communists and, after 1974, the socialists; while the Eurocommunists (post-1974) were soft Eurosceptics. Accession in 1981, followed by the rise to power of the Eurosceptic socialists, inaugurated a Eurosceptical decline. The socialists' initial tactical shift to national interest Euroscepticism gradually became a strategic change under the impact of governing responsibilities and the deepening of integration. The end of the Cold War, coinciding with the EMU programme, opened a third phase, completing the socialists' move from Europhobe to Europhile. In a two-party system with two pro-European parties, an official Eurosceptic line is now confined to minor parties. The 11% vote share gained in 2000 by the three significant Eurosceptic parties (the hard Eurosceptic Communist Party, soft Eurosceptic Left Coalition and national interest Eurosceptic socialist breakaway DIKKI) under-estimates potential levels of societal Euroscepticism, recently reflected in the populist discourse of the Orthodox Church.

Key Points:

  • Pre-accession, Euroscepticism was initially shaped by the Cold War (external factor) and developed under the impact of dictatorship and democratization (internal factor).
  • Accession resulted in a 'rendezvous with reality' in which the most salient factor became the deepening of the integration process itself; this resulted in the decline of Euroscepticism, with EMU marking a second turning-point.
  • The Greek case apparently corroborates the thesis that a hard Eurosceptic stance in an EU member-state is incompatible with government participation and leads to marginalisation in the party system.

Euroscepticism in Italy

Looking at the issue of Europe in one of the EU's key member states Dr. Lucia Quaglia (Sussex European Institute) stressed that Euroscepticism has primarily been represented on the right of the political spectrum and that recent unforeseen developments concerning EU policy of the second Berlusconi government have pushed into the limelight the issue of Euroscepticism in Italy. Looking at the period from 1994 she examined party-based Euroscepticism by focusing on three main parties of the centre-right coalition, namely, Forza Italia, the National Alliance and the Northern League. The overall argument was that, despite the remarkable changes that the Italian political system underwent in the 1990s, the pro-European attitudes of Italian public opinion have remained strong, whereas Eurosceptic positions have surfaced amongst centre-right political parties. The caveat was that this trend has not been uniform. The Northern League's embracing of soft - and, increasingly, hard - Eurosceptiscism is an electoral strategy with very few roots in the ideology of this party and with seemingly limited consensus amongst its supporters. The National Alliance's abandonment of its past soft Euroscepticism was portrayed as part of a wider top-down 'rehabilitation' strategy, which tends to clash with the ideology of this party and is minimally shared by its supporters. Forza Italia's stance was described as very fluid because it is a large and composite party, with an ideology that is rather vague and, most importantly, the positions of its leaders on EU issues are still unclear. Under the Berlusconi governments, Quaglia argued, the bi-partisan approach that characterised Italy's EU policy from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s has come to an end, or, at least, it has been questioned seriously. Quaglia concluded that in this key EU state there has never been a serious debate about Europe but that there is evidence of a 'politicisation' of Italy's EU policy is now under way.

Key Points:

  • The recent politicisation of Europe in Italy is extremely unusual in the party system's (non-) post-war treatment of European integration
  • The importance of the right's recent realignment and its disparate sources of Euroscepticism among the three parties

Key Overall Points:

  • The role of government participation seems in some cases, such as PASOK in Greece, to moderate Euroscepticism whereas in others, such as Berlusconi's Forza Italia, it has seen an increased Euroscepticism
  • The nature of European integration needs to be viewed differently from the perspective of member and candidate states
  • In some states, such as Bulgaria and Greece, there appears to be electoral potential for political parties to exploit Eurosceptic agendas that is, as yet untapped
  • The importance of national (and regional) context in shaping the role that Europe plays as a party political issue