This chapter introduces the proposed theoretical toolbox this book intends to use for the studying of democracy in Europe. The idea is that the analytical concepts created by this toolbox will prove useful for understanding the various aspects of democratic politics seen throughout Europe. The fundamental philosophy of this book is the idea that to understand democratic governance, in particular in Europe, there needs to be a model. The goal isn’t to include every single possible detail of what is observed in the real world. Rather, it is to consider the essential elements for understanding democratic politics and to use those to highlight the various nuances found in the real world. A model is a comparative and analytical tool, rather than a method of example.
2. Democratic Politics
6. Electoral Systems and Direct Democracy
This chapter starts off with an overview of the institutions that decide how citizens cast ballots, firstly, in elections, and secondly, directly for policy. The former is related to electoral systems and the latter to direct democracy. The chapter considers the implications of these institutions for party systems and political representation from the view point of the principal–agent framework. There is a large variety of electoral systems used in Europe. Most elections are held using the system of proportional representation. However, there are important institutional differences that need to be remembered. The chapter then goes on to examine the effects of electoral systems on the party system. This is carried out with electoral change over time in mind. Finally, the chapter turns to direct democracy and analyses the use of referendums, specifically with regard to the question of the European Union (EU).
14. European Politics into the Future
This chapter explores recent changes in European politics and looks to the future for European democracy as it stands now. The chapter explores the ongoing political change that can be seen within European countries and also at the European Union (EU) level. It aims to highlight four important debates about the state of democracy in Europe. These are: the debates about the rise of political fragmentation and its consequences for democracy; democratic backsliding in central and eastern Europe; the impact of the United Kingdom leaving the EU on democracy; and the democratic deficit in EU politics.
Catherine E. De Vries, Sara B. Hobolt, Sven-Oliver Proksch, and Jonathan B. Slapin
Foundations of European Politics introduces important tools of social science and comparative analysis. The first part of the book acts as an introduction to the topic, looking at democratic politics and multilevel politics in Europe. The second part moves on to citizens and voters, considering issues related to ideology and voting decisions. Part III looks at elections and introduces electoral systems and direct democracy, representation, political parties, and party competition. The next part is about government and policy. The last part looks at the rule of law, democracy, and backsliding.
4. Ideology and Issues
This chapter looks at the changing nature of ideology in Europe. It also delves into the issue of voter preference and considers how that has changed over time. It is all too often assumed that voters, as well as parties, exist along a single ideological left-to-right continuum. However, the truth is that there more deviations from this continuum than we might have in the past assumed. With the emergence of new salient issues, such as immigration, the environment and European integration, the old assumptions no longer hold true. The chapter also looks at populism, which it defines as a thin-central ideology. The final questions of this chapter are: how has populism challenged our current model of democracy? What does the future hold in this regard?
The Introduction argues that to understand European politics there are two premises that need to be accepted. Firstly, the interplay between European and national-level politics must be taken seriously. The two cannot be studied independently. Secondly, a theoretical model of politics is necessary to help us to make assumptions about politics explicit and to ensure that the arguments used are logically consistent. Models help us to zoom in on a particular aspect of politics and apply our analysis to real-life examples. It also helps us to spot the similarities and differences across political systems and governments so we can make comparisons. The Introduction answers the question: why focus on Europe? One of the most obvious reasons is that Europe is the home to the largest number and variety of democratic governments anywhere in the world.
11. Law-Making in Governments and Parliaments
This chapter explores how political systems across Europe actually make policy and also how they change policy. It examines in detail how coalitions are formed and looks at how coalitions function. The chapter uses the theoretical lens of the Veto Players theory to consider how the nature of governments, and parties within governments, affect the type of policies that become law. It also looks at the ease with which governments can change existing policy. The chapter moves on to address the role of informal actors such as interest groups. Processes differ across different countries and at the European Union (EU) level and that is examined in this chapter as well.
3. Multilevel Politics in Europe
Thsi chapter considers territory in European politics. The idea is that policy-making in Europe acts like a system of multilevel governance. Here, policy authority which exists at the national level, is increasingly being shared with institutions at the supranational European Union (EU) level and by regional governments at the subnational level. The chapter also looks at concepts such as pooling, delegation of policy authority, federalism, and decentralization. Although we tend to think of nation-states as the building blocks of modern politics, more and more, this chapter agues, we must consider how these so-called building blocks interact with each other and also what they themselves are made up of. This is where the term multilevel governance is relevant. This term characterizes the complex relationship of policy authority between political actors situated at different territorial levels of governance.
9. Party Competition
This chapter looks at competition between parties. First, the chapter outlines the ways in which party systems are described and categorized, in terms of the number of parties (in other words, fragmentation) and their ideological position (polarization). The chapter then addresses the theological models that aim to explain party competition. The chapter uses the simple spatial model here which predicts that parties position themselves close to the centre of politics to appeal to the modern voter. It then looks at competition models. These models expect parties to champion issues they ‘own’. The chapter also looks at valence models which focus on competence, leadership traits and other non-party characteristics of candidates and parties. The chapter ends with a discussion of mainstream parties, looking at how they seek to respond to the rise of challenger parties.
12. Policy Outcomes in Europe
This chapter explores policy outcomes by looking at a number of European countries. It considers some salient policy areas, including those that are decided primarily at the national level, for example health, and policies that are determined at the more macro, European Union (EU) level, for example trade. It also looks at policy areas that involve shared decision-making across different levels of government, examples here include immigration and the environment. The chapter also focuses on the role of position-taking by political parties and other groups, such as interest groups and social groups or movements. It considers how these explain variations in policy outcomes.
8. Political Parties
This chapter looks at the nature and evolution of political parties in a number of European democracies. It analyses the important functions of political parties. It charts how they have developed over time. Starting with the social cleavage approach, the chapter addresses the origins of European party families and party systems. It then turns to the transformation of European party families and systems. It considers this both nationally and within the European Union (EU). It provides evidence of the ‘unfreezing’ of European party systems and thinks about whether a dealignment of traditional cleavage patterns can currently be witnessed. It asks: is there also a realignment along a new ‘cultural’ dimension of politics? Finally, the chapter addresses the evolution of party types from cadre over catch-all to modern entrepreneurial challenger parties.
10. Political Systems and Government Formation
This chapter considers executive branch politics in a number of European democracies. It addresses the nature of parliamentary democracy and compares it with other forms of democracy. For example, it looks at separation-of-powers systems using the principal–agent framework of Chapter 2. The chapter examines in detail the link between parties and institutions in order to understand the process of government formation and government collapse. It begins to consider the foundations of the process of law-making which is relevant for the remainder of the book.
This chapter addresses the various concepts of political representation, such as substantive, descriptive, and symbolic. It then examines which institutions foster different types of representation. It presents two different visions of democracy: proportional and majoritarian. It considers what they imply for congruence and responsiveness. The chapter delves deeper into descriptive representation by looking at the representation of women across legislatures. When considering symbolic representation it looks at action taken by members of parliament. The chapter asks the basic question: to what extent, and in what ways, does a political system represent its citizens?
13. Rule of Law and Judicial Politics
This chapter examines the importance of law and the rule of law by looking at real-life situations through the lens of theoretical models that consider why people obey the law and how judges interpret the law. The chapter considers when and why citizens and elected officials follow the law. It then moves to the conditions under which this obedience of laws falls. It also explores the importance of courts and judges in interpreting the law, and analyses the interaction of politics and law as a way to try to understand how judges come to their decisions. In particular, it looks at the interaction between national and European Union (EU) law.
5. Voting Decisions
This chapter analyses how citizens in Europe vote across elections. Elections are an integral part of democracy as they allow citizens to shape collective decision-making. The chapter addresses the issue of trying to explain why people vote in the first place. It also looks at the inequality of turnout between citizens: why do some people just not bother to vote at all? The chapter also looks at different explanations of vote choice. This is achieved by introducing the proximity model of voting which assumes that voters and parties can be aligned on one ideological dimension. It presupposes that voters will vote for the party that most closely resembles their own ideological position. Complications can be added to this model, however, that consider the role of retrospective performance evaluations and affective attachments to social groups and political parties. The institutional context also needs to be considered, though, as this can influence voters’s decision-making.