Parties and Cleavages in the European Political Space
In its hybrid form, the EU represents a novel political space; this paper discusses the evolving European party system in the light of historical and comparative parallels. By commenting on the present state and suggesting some predictions for the future, the paper thus invites to a critical reflection on the mechanisms creating and sustaining different sorts of cleavage-based party systems.
What kind of political system is the European Union and what will it be like in the future? Questions about the present and the future are hard to keep apart as the EU is an evolving project, currently engaged in the twin processes of enlargement and constitution making. When discussing the prospects of Europarties it therefore makessense to deal with both.
Democratic aspirations are central to the EU project; in order to make a working democracy, then, the regime needs a competitive party system. In this paper I argue that we should not only survey internal EU trends – institutional as well as at party developments – to make judgements about democratic potential. We could also benefit from looking at historical experiences, and not only in the WestEuropean arena; the histories of competitive party systems in large-scale, multi-ethnic, federal states like for example U.S.A and India could be equally suggestive. The purpose here is to bring forward some speculations on the potential future party system of the European Union. The theme also invites reflections on the mechanisms creating and sustaining cleavage-based parties, i.e. parties deeply entrenched in territorial, cultural or economic interests. Non-cleavage based party systems would not by any means exclude a competitive party system, but it would be of a different sort.