To what extent does Europeanization affect national political parties?

A case study at the example of the Italian Northern League

Term Paper, 2008

29 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction
1.1 Structure and aim of the paper
1.2 Hypotheses and analytical framework

2. Theoretical background
2.1. Europeanisation: meanings and dimensions
2.2 Europeanisation and Italy
2.3 Europeanisation and national parties

3. The Italian “Lega Nord”
3.1. Origins, development and electoral evolution
3.2. Party organisation and political discourse

4. Analysis of the case study
4.1. Programmatic change
4.2 Organisational change

5.Conclusions and outlook



Politische Parteien spielen eine zentrale Rolle in der Organisation parlamentarischer Demokratien in Europa. Die meisten Politiker, die auf institutioneller Ebene in der EU tätig sind, gehören zu polischen Parteien. Sie stellen demzufolge den direkten Bezug zwischen europäischer Politiken und Bevölkerung dar und konstituieren aus diesem Grund eine der wichtigsten Quellen für die Legitimation der Europäischen Union. Trotz ihrer wichtigen Funktionen gibt es bisher wenig wissenschaftliche Forschung, die sich auf den Einfluss der Europäischen Integration auf nationale Parteien konzentriert und deren Europäisierung analysiert hat.

Ziel folgender Hausarbeit ist es, am Beispiel der italienischen Partei „Lega Nord“ zu erforschen, in welchem Ausmaß nationale Parteien von der Europäisierung betroffen sind. Demzufolge werde ich in der Einleitung drei Hypothesen aufstellen, die ich im weiteren Verlauf genauer erörtern werde. Im zweiten Kapitel werde ich den Begriff „Europäisierung“ diskutieren und dessen Gebrauch in vorliegender Hausarbeit erklären (Kap. 2.1). Anschließend werde ich sowohl die Auswirkungen der Europäisierung auf das Regierungssystem Italiens (Kap. 2.2) als auch auf nationale Parteien (Kap. 2.3) herausarbeiten. Das dritte Kapitel soll als Einführung in die für die Fallstudie ausgewählte Partei dienen. Hier soll der Ursprung, die Entwicklung, die Wählerschaft (Kap. 3.1), die Programmatik und die Organisation (Kap. 3.2) der Partei dargestellt werden. Das vierte Kapitel ist der Analyse der Fallstudie gewidmet. Im ersten Teil (Kap. 4.1) werde ich den programmatische Wandel mit Blick auf das Wählerverhalten und auf die Rolle von Parteieliten untersuchen. Im zweiten Teil (Kap. 4.2) werde ich mich mit dem organisatorischen Wandel beschäftigen, genauer formuliert mit der Position von EU-Experten und kollateraler Organisationen innerhalb der Partei.

In den Schlussfolgerungen werde ich die Resultate der Analyse aufzeigen, um zu verdeutlichen in welchem Ausmaß politische Parteien von dem Europäisierungsprozess betroffen sind, um abschließend die Rolle nationaler Parteien im europäischen Regierungssystem und deren Bedeutung für das Demokratiedefizit der EU diskutieren zu können.

1. Introduction.

1.1 Structure and aim of the paper.

Over the last decades, academic research on Europeanisation pointed predominantly to the changes occurred during the process of European integration in domestic institutions (cf. Börzel/ Risse 2003), in the public policy-making (cf. Radaelli 2003) and in the socialisation mechanisms among the affected actors in the national and transnational length (cf. Whitaker 2005). Surprisingly little research has concerned the Europeanisation of national parties, as the subsequent tables show:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(After Featherstone 2003:5-6)

The intention of the following paper is to analyse to which extent Europeanisation affects national parties at the example of the Italian “Northern League”, and to examine to which degree the impact of European integration has led to an organisational adaptation in the party. The analysis will be based on a set of hypotheses derived from recent researches on the topic (cf. Carter et al. 2007, Poguntke et al. 2007).

In the first part, I will provide a theoretical background on the meaning of “Europeanisation” (chapter 2.1), on its significance for the Italian government system (chapter 2.2) and on its implication for national parties (chapter 2.3) in order to conceptualise the use of the term in the present paper. Subsequently, I will briefly describe the principal features of the party chosen for the case study with reference to its origin, development, electoral evolution, organisation and political discourse (chapter 3). In the fourth chapter, I will come to the analysis of the programmatic and organisational change of the party, examining its stance towards the European Union, the role of party leadership and EU-specialists[1], and the significance of collateral organisations[2].

In the conclusion, I will summarize the findings of the analysis to discuss the viability of the hypotheses. After all, I will try to offer an outlook concerning the principal problems encountered during the analysis and offering consequently a critical evaluation on the sense of Europeanisation of national political parties as a new research agenda.

The choice of the “Northern League” as case study for the following paper relies principally on two reasons. First, because of its populist nature and “right-wing conception of the people” (Chiantera-Stutte 2005:127), the party refers to a trend in Europe concerning the widespread of ethnoregionalist movements, which could be ascribed to the changes occurred in the process of European integration concerning the redefinition of the centre-periphery cleavage (cf. De Winter/ Cachafeiro 2002:487-8). Therefore, the examination of this case study could offer a wider understanding on the adaptation and reaction to the European level of this kind of party family.

Secondly, although a government position could threat the political distinctiveness and exclusionary identity of populist parties (cf. Pallaver/Gärtner 2006), the Northern League has been able to find an equilibrium between its position as member of a government coalition and its nature as movement of opposition (cf. Albertazzi/ McDonnell 2005). In this sense, the change of stance of the party in relation to the EU could correspond to a strategy to sustain its “anti-system propaganda” (Chiantera-Stutte 2005:121), either to exploit new platforms for its political discourse, or to improve its position in the international political system. For that reason, a closer analysis pertaining to the Europeanisation of the party may extend the focus on the depoliticisation of European issues by national parties (cf Ladrech 2007a).

1.2 Hypotheses and analytical framework.

The examination of the case study should lead to the discussion of following hypotheses:

- Hypothesis I: “European integration has resulted in a shift of power within national parties in favour of national party elites” (Carter et al. 2007:12);
- Hypothesis II: “European integration has resulted in a shift of power within national parties in favour of EU-specialists” (Carter et al. 2007:14);
- Hypothesis III: “Many collateral organisations may find it harder to maintain their leadership” (Poguntke et al. 2007:28).

I will in part base the analysis on the framework proposed by Ladrech (2002:396-400) to approach the study of the Europeanisation of political parties, consisting in five criteria: the programmatic change, the organisational change, the patterns of party competition, the analysis of party-government relations and of the relations beyond the national party system. I will hold down the focus on the programmatic and organisational change, including the study on the party-government relations in the latter criterion and linking the examination of the patterns of party competition to the programmatic change. I will not take into account the fifth point of comparison, because I consider that it could shift the focal point of the paper to a level, which concerns transnational relations among national parties. I will interpret firstly the programmatic change occurred in the Northern League regarding the EU to clarify to which extent it could depend on a adaptation subsequent to the process of European integration. I will approach the programmatic change of the Northern League quantitatively and qualitatively with the aim to decipher if the growing mention of the EU about European policies per se or other policy domains could be considered as an “additional factor” for the achievement of domestic policies (cf. Ladrech 2002:396). If this axiom will be confirmed:

This will reflect enhanced European policy expertise among party specialists, as well as agreement with the leadership to integrate the European dimension into reference to domestic policy” (Ladrech 2002:396).

In order to discuss if “European integration has resulted in a shift of power within national parties in favour of national party elites” (Carter et al. 2007:12), I will inspect closely the causes behind the positional change of the party, including in the evaluation the analysis of patterns of party competition, to be exact if new voters have been reached by the party through its change of stance. I prefer to connect the two issues for two reasons: firstly because, due to the “small size” of the case study, an exclusive analysis of its programme would not lead to significant results in absence of counterfactual analyses or comparisons with other parties. Moreover, linking the two topics, it should be possible to identify the grade to which European issues have been “capitalized” (Ladrech 2002:397) by the party.

In the second part, I will come to the organisational change of the party. I will pay attention principally on party members holding a public office position, focusing on the role of the MEPs and party elites. I will link the examination on the party-government relations to the analysis of the organisational change. This second aspect will lead to the discussion of the third hypothesis concerning the comedown of the leadership of collateral organisations within the party.

2. Theoretical background.

2.1. Europeanisation: meanings and dimensions.

In the last decades European studies have enlarged the analysis on the developments of policies at European level and their outcomes in the member states to a perspective concerning the extent to which Europeanisation affects the national policy making (cf. Knill/ Lehmkuhl 2002:255; Börzel/ Risse 2003:57). According to Risse et al. (2001), the research should tend to explain, “how the ongoing process of European Integration has changed nation-states, their domestic institutions, and their political cultures” (p.1). The difficulty to define univocally the meaning of ‘Europeanisation’[3] has brought some scholars to outline what the concept does not imply[4] (cf. Radaelli 2000:6; Fabbrini 2003:3-5), while others have questioned the usefulness of the term as organizing concept (cf. Kassim as quoted in Olsen 2002:921). The primary reason for this lack of conceptual definition is probably due to the unsystematic impact of the European Union on the domestic level, which generate consequently confusing and divergent empirical and theoretical findings (cf. Knill/ Lehmkuhl 2002:255). Therefore it results complex to draw a precise theory for the study on the evolution of institutions as well as a single set of simplifying assumptions about the changes occurred through Europeanisation (cf. Olsen 2002:944). Notwithstanding this conceptual contestation, two pathways have been usually preferred to explore the degree of and the response to Europeanisation at the domestic level: the top-down and the bottom-up approach. The essential differences between these two approaches concern the route of examination and its starting point.

The top-down model focuses on the “emergence and development at the European level of distinct structures of governance” (Risse et al. 2001:13). Organised in a three-step framework, it points its spotlight on the degree of “misfit” or “fit” (“goodness of fit”) revealed by the member states in the process of European Integration. Following its conceptual layout: “the lower the compatibility between European and domestic processes, policies and institutions, the higher the adaptational pressure” (Börzel/ Risse 2003:61). The bottom-up perspective, which “starts and finishes at the level of domestic actors” (Radaelli 2004:4) and aims to verify “if, when and how the EU provides a change in any of the main components of the system of interaction” (Radaelli/ Pasquier as quoted in Beichelt 2007:7), opens a larger ground for the analysis but is less practical in the classification of the results. Furthermore, including in the study the regional and global dimension, the model could stretch the concept of Europeanisation to a wider understanding as a macrophenomenon, touching “all functional instances of the policy cycle” (Beichelt 2007:12).

One of the main troubles regarding the methodological itinerary in the research probably consists in the fact that every model has “specific strengths and weaknesses that cannot be counteracted on an across-the-board manner”(Beichelt 2007:17). In this sense, it could be useful to distinguish between two “properties” of the concept: as form or process, differentiating two ideal types of Europeanisation: as institutionalisation and as discourse (cf. Fabbrini 2003:6-7, Radaelli 2004:6-8).

In the understanding of Europeanisation as institutionalisation, the top-down model could be the most suitable because of its attention on the adaptational pressure, which precedes the analysis of the change at domestic level (cf. Radaelli 2004:7). On the other hand, the top-down approach is restricted to the case in which the EU-level is clearly noticeable (cf. Beichelt 2007:17). Therefore, the top-down perspective is more effective in the case of positive integration, in which the character of the EU is chiefly prescriptive and subsequently the degree of institutional compliance higher (cf. Knill/ Lehmkuhl 2002:257). In its discursive “arrangement”, Europeanisation represents an “interactive process” (Radaelli 2000:8) oriented to explain and trace the relation between the phase of policy-making and the stage concerning its public formulation. In this case, the bottom-up approach could better describe changes concerning new structures of opportunity at the domestic level as in the case of negative integration (cf. Knill/ Lehmkuhl 2002:268-271).

Nevertheless, the absence of a single theoretical structure suggests to concentrate firstly on the empirical classification of the results (cf. Beichelt 2007:17), namely in separating the elements of the object of analysis in order to conceptualize “the changes of political systems during the process interaction, cooperation, and integration between various forms of collective entities within the realm of the EU” (Maurer et al. 2003:53).

In the paper, I will refer the term Europeanisation to the phenomena produced by a “central penetration of national systems of governance” (Olsen 2002:923) during the process of European integration. Consequently, the top-down approach will be more appropriate for the identification and distinction of the “adaptational pressure” deriving from the European level, while the bottom-up perspective will be more suitable in the case of analyses concerning socialization effects pertaining to the actors involved in the examination.

2.2 Europeanisation and Italy.

Even if a larger analysis on the Europeanisation of Italy goes beyond the aim of this paper, it is important for the contextualization of the case study to provide a background of the circumstances, which brought some scholars to confer to the influence of European integration on Italy the magnitude of a “nation-building” process (Ruggiero as quoted in Masala 2006:201).


[1] As party elites are to intend the inner party leadership as well as cabinet members in the case in which the party holds a government position. The category concerning “EU-specialists” regards members of the European Parliament and national politicians with a EU brief as in the case of members of the national European affairs committees (Carter et al. 2007:12-14).

[2] Poguntke (2000:37) distinguishes among four types of collateral organisations according to their dependence from the party: “ancillary”, “affiliated”, “corporative” and “independent” organisations. I will restrain the focus principally on the role of the trade union (SinPa) and employers’ association (ALIA) of the party.

[3] An example to capture the size and the extension of the concept is the definition proposed by Radaelli of Europeanisation as a “process of (a) construction (b) diffusion and (c) institutionalisation of formal and informal rules, procedures, policy paradigms, ‘ways of doing things’ and shared beliefs and norms which are first defined and consolidated in the making of EU decisions and then incorporated in the logic of domestic discourse, identities, political structures and public policies” (Radaelli 2000:3).

[4] Radaelli (2000:6) distinguishes three domains, which should not be confused with Europeanisation, namely: convergence, harmonisation and political integration. On the basis of an understanding of Europeanisation as a process, convergence can be at the most a consequence of Europeanisation. Due to the different solutions adopted by the institutions of the member states Europeanisation does not imply the achievement of a trans-national harmonisation. Finally, Europeanisation should not refer to political integration, because, while the latter concerns the ontological phase of research, the former characterizes its post-ontological stage (Radaelli 2000:7).

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To what extent does Europeanization affect national political parties?
A case study at the example of the Italian Northern League
European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)
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M.A. Fabrizio Capogrosso (Author), 2008, To what extent does Europeanization affect national political parties?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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