National Dimensions of Political Conflict and the Mobilization of Euroscepticism by the Extreme Populist Left and Right.

Paper presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA), Washington, DC, September 2-5, 2010.

This paper investigates to which degree political parties in the fifteen old EU member states have mobilized Euroscepticism. Contrary to the prevailing view, neither national politics, nor orientations regarding Europe are one-dimensional. From this perspective, the EU-issue does not necessarily crosscut national lines of conflict. Rather, economic and cultural forms of Euroscepticism map quite nicely onto the state-market cleavage and the new cultural dimension structuring party systems in Western Europe. In principle, therefore, the congruence of European and national preference spaces favors the representation of differing preferences over Europe. Furthermore, the empirical analysis based on individual-level data from the European Value Study shows that a potential for parties to differentiate their appeals with respect to Europe exists throughout the continent.I argue theoretically and show empirically that the configuration of the party system conditions the manifestation of Euroscepticism. The manifestation of Euroscepticism results from an interaction between parties’ ideological credentials and the strategic room to maneuver. Due to a variety of factors, the mainstream left and right downplay the issue of European integration and tend to take Europe-friendly positions. The representation of citizens holding Eurosceptic views therefore remains the domain of the extreme left and right, who can easily link the EU-issue to their respective core ideologies. Thus, cultural anxieties over European integration are only voiced where an extreme right-wing populist party is present, while the extreme left mobilizes exclusively on economic Euroscepticism.The paper concludes by discussing the desirability of a politicization of the integration process in normative terms. I claim that by instilling mechanisms of accountability and responsiveness, the politicization of the EU in the national political arena might actually be a good thing, as it may bolster the legitimacy of the integration process. The paper therefore discusses why, given the ease with which national parties can assimilate the EU-issue into their programmatic appeal, we see so little conflict and debate over Europe.

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