Sussex European Institute

OERN Briefing Paper No 5

The Comparative Party Politics of Euroscepticism

(LSE Workshop)

Giacomo Benedetto

This briefing paper summarises the results of a research workshop that took place at the London School of Economics and Political Science on 6 December 2002. The workshop was the last 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. The aim of the series is to improve our understanding of Euroscepticism by bringing together researchers and practitioners.

The LSE workshop brought together a contextual paper on the link between Euroscepticism in Denmark and Ireland and the party politics of referendums, with two country-based case studies on applicant states. The case of Turkey as a State with which the European Commission has yet to open formal negotiations on accession, was very current in view of the recent election of the islamist Justice and Development Party to government in November 2002. The presentation introduced new data concerning the attitudes of Turkish public opinion and the party system to European integration. The other case was that of the Czech Republic, an advanced applicant in the accession process with significant party-based Euroscepticism. The workshop ended with a discussion led by Dr Aleks Szczerbiak, which posed the question of where next for the study of Euroscepticism and party-based responses to European integration.

Euroscepticism and the Party Politics of Referendums

Dr. Mads Qvortrup (LSE) argued that the cases of Denmark and Ireland show that in times of economic prosperity, it is more likely that referendums will go against further integration since public opinion does not perceive significant benefit from it. The question of the EU is an issue of balance within political parties, whereby Euroscepticism arises primarily under the guise of factionalism within large, mainstream parties. It is these parties that opt for the referendum so that they are not obliged to compete over European policy in electoral terms. In fringe parties for which Euroscepticism is a primary focus, referendum campaigns offer the chance to thrive. Part of the failure of the Yes campaign in the first referendum on Nice held in Ireland was the media's greater focus on a Dail byelection held in County Tiperary on the same day, the proximity of the next national elections and intense competition between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the Progressive Democrats, which constituted the Yes cartel. The Danish referendum of 2000 on entry into the Euro was subject to a united No campaign by an ideological disparate coalition of fringe parties from right and left, which coalesced on this single issue, putting up joint posters. The Yes side in Denmark, consisting of the mainstream parties which usually compete against each other, proved less compelling. In times when the Yes side has won in referendums on the EU, the countries concerned have perceived a benefit from joining if they took place during periods of economic crisis, as in Sweden and Finland in 1994, or Great Britain in 1975, when the respective governments campaigned on economic policy and the costs of staying out. Until the referendum on Nice, the Irish perceived themselves to be economically backward and therefore significant beneficiaries of EU membership. Referendums in the accession states of central and eastern Europe are likely to follow the same pattern as Ireland in the past, on the grounds of economic benefit and belief in the "return to Europe" scenario.

Key Points:

Referendums are more likely to be in favour of EU integration in poorer countries, or in times of economic crisis, when it is perceived that EU brings economic benefits
• No campaigns successfully mobilise around the single issue, even if organised by ideologically disparate forces from left and right
• Yes campaigns are less convincing since they are supported by the mainstream parties that are the usual competitors for political office

Euroscepticism in Turkey

Professor Ayse Ayata (Middle East Technical University, Ankara) explained that prior to the elections of November 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) made no mention of the European Union in its discourse. Following the election, Europe became a priority for the party. The attitude of the AKP has not been unusual in this regard, since nearly all parties in Turkey have oscillated around various forms of scepticism towards the EU. However, the election of the AKP, a party with islamist origins, was not well received in the EU, provoking the opposition of the German Christian Democrats and of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing to Turkish membership of the EU. For this reason, the AKP has been anxious to pursue the Turkish application for membership of the EU as a means to establish its own democratic legitimacy within Europe. While a large majority of Turks surveyed in opinion polls favour joining the EU, an equally large majority is uninformed about the conditions for membership. Supporters of the opposition Republican People's Party, as well as parties from the previous government, globalised business and those with a university education are high supporters of EU membership, while the lowest support is found among the more conservative voters of the AKP, providing a challenge to the party. Historically, the nationalist left in Turkey had adopted a Eurosceptic stance based on opposition to western imperialism and protecting Turkish agriculture from impoverishment. There was a perception of EU insincerity, imposing human rights standards to encourage Kurdish secessionism, along with harsh economic criteria, without the slightest intention of ever admitting Turkey. Once the left had gained power during the 1990s, its stance became much softer. The perceived advantages of economic development and free movement of citizens in Europe are popular in Turkey. The parties of the nationalist right also perceived that the EU wished to weaken Turkey by favouring the Greek Cypriots and the Kurds, yet the military and other pro-secular elements on the right believed that the EU would need Turkey in order to become a world power. The same nationalist right did not block EU imposed measures on Kurdish rights or capital punishment. During its time in opposition, part of the AKP saw the EU as a Christian club, while others believed that the human rights commitment of the EU could help to protect freedom of religious practice from the secularist persecution of the Turkish State. The lack of salience of the EU issue in public opinion allows it to adapt to the ideology of the AKP, so that the wearing of headscarves by Muslim women, for example, becomes an EU-protected human rights issue. Although the powerful secular military did not block the Copenhagen criteria, the Cyprus issue has remained a problem and the neo-islamist attitude of the new government is unlikely to encourage the military to relinquish its political power.

Key Points:

  • The EU issue is of little salience in party competition and public opinion in Turkey, allowing it to be moulded to the electoral and ideological needs of each party
  • The military, the secular left and right, as well as the AKP have oscillated  from hard to soft Euroscepticism over time, according to perceptions of the EU as imperialist, pro-Greek, pro-Kurd, or rather as an entity offering enhanced economic rights or freedom of religion
  • The rapid adaptation of the neo-islamist AKP to a pro-EU discourse, that is no more Eurosceptic than its predecessors in government

Euroscepticism in the Czech Republic

Dr. Petr Kopecky (University of Leiden) argued that again low perceptions of benefit from European integration explain why Czechs are among the most Eurosceptic of the Accession State citizens. The losers of transition to capitalism, such as farmers and workers, are more negative. This is accompanied by a low intention to actually vote in the accession referendum, recorded in opinion polls. Of those intending to vote, there is an overwhelming majority in favour of accession, such that indifference is more common than active opposition. The strong Euroscepticism of the  agricultural sector, accounting for just four percent of  the population, attracts little public sympathy. The result is that only fringe groups actively campaign against EU membership and that success for the No campaign in the referendum would require the strong leadership of leading political parties. Questioning the validity of the terms "soft" and "hard" Euroscepticism, as developed by Szczerbiak and Taggart, Kopecky maintained the analytical framework developed with Mudde that sees attitudes on Europe take the form of Euro-enthusiasts, Euro-realists, Euro-rejects and Europhobes. While half of the Czech Parliament and about half of the Czech population are Euro-enthusiasts, represented by the Social Democrats (CSSD), Liberals (ODA) and Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), designation of the remaining half is less straightforward. Vaclav Klaus' Civic Democrats (ODS) on the right oppose aspects of the EU, favouring intergovernmentalism and free trade. The ODS is located within the Euro-realist category, reflecting the fact that most of its supporters in the private sector are favourable to the EU. The ambiguous position of the ODS has helped legitimise the Czech Communists (KCSM), one of the few unreformed Communist parties in Central and Eastern Europe that retain electoral significance. Although opposed in principle to EU membership the Communists recognise its inevitability and are likely to move from being Euro-rejects to Euro-realists. Any No campaign will be weakened by the refusal of ODS to campaign together with the  Communists, while the Yes campaign will be much more active than that of the first Nice referendum in Ireland.

Key Points:

  • Opposition to the EU is strong among the losers in the transition to capitalism and, similarly to Denmark and Ireland, is connected to the perception of the EU bringing few economic benefits 
  • Turnout in the referendum is likely to be low, with opposition to the EU manifesting itself through abstentionism rather than an active No vote 
  • The No campaign will be weakened by lack of support from most of the mainstream parties, and the ambiguous stance of the centre-right opposition ODS

    Concluding Remarks: The Study of the Comparative Party Politics of Euroscepticism and Where We Go from Here

    Dr. Aleks Szczerbiak
    (Sussex European Institute) led the concluding discussion, which brought an end to this series of research workshops. He sought to address and move forward the debate on two recurring theoretical questions that have occurred throughout the workshop series: how do we define and measure party-based Euroscepticism and what causes it? He argued that analysts need to be careful to ensure that definitions of party-based Euroscepticism are not over-inclusive and should refer specifically to party attitudes towards European integration through the EU in principle and the EU's current and future trajectory. The next stage in the process of theory-building, he argued, is to locate party-based Euroscepticism within a broader typology of party positions on Europe that breaks down attitudes among pro-integrationist parties. However, the more complex and fine-grained the typology is, the more difficult it is to operationalise. Finally, he argued that the debate on causality (as well as that on conceptualisation and definition) has been confused by the conflation of Eurosceptic party positions and the use of Eurosceptic discourses in inter-party competition. These two phenomena need to be clearly distinguished for analytical purposes and have different causal mechanisms. The discussion on the paper ended with consideration of the idea of transforming the OERN into a wider network concerned with the parties, elections and referendums and tied together by an concern with the impact of European integration on them.

Key Points:

  • Need for a wider more inclusive conceptualisation of party positions on Europe to take in varieties of pro-integrationist positions
  • Need to distinguish between party positions on European integration and use of European issue by parties for competitive purposes
  • Transform the OERN into wider network concerned with the parties, elections and referendums and European integration