The Influence of Party Cohesion on Subjective Political Representation in the European Union

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2019

22 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents


1. Can party cohesion solve the representation deficit in the EU? An introduction

2. The accusation of a democratic deficit and the role of party cohesion: A literature review

3. How does party cohesion influence subjective political representation? A theoretical argument and hypothesis

4. An empirical analysis on the relationship of party cohesion and political representation
4.1 Description of the Data
4.2 Operationalisation of variables
4.3 Analysis of the Results

5. To what extent do higher degrees of party cohesion in the EP improve the subjective political representation of the electorate? Discussion and Conclusion



This research paper deals with the topic of the representation deficit in the European Parliament. It is observed, whether party cohesion as a form of legislative behaviour, influences the degree of citizens’ subjective perceptions of an adequate political representation. High levels of party cohesion are expected to create individual impressions of an adequate political representation. To test this theory, I generated a roll-call votes dataset to measure party cohesion since 2017. Together with the latest version of the Eurobarometer dataset of 2018, I observe the subjective level of political representation. The empirical analysis through an ordered logistic regression shows that the hypothesis can cautiously be confirmed, meaning that higher levels of party cohesiveness are associated with higher degrees of subjective political representation.

1. Can party cohesion solve the representation deficit in the EU? An introduction

Oftentimes, politicians, scientists and the European public accuse the European Union of suffering from a democratic deficit in several forms (Kaniovski & Mueller 2011). It is not a new phenomenon, it is a rather established statement in the literature of Euroscepticism and already exists for plenty of years. Moreover, direct engagement by European citizens is rather absent regarding the continuing low voting turnout of 43.1 percent in 2014.

One of the manifestations of a democratic deficit in the European Parliament consists of the weak linkage between the members of Parliament (MEPs) and the electorate in their national home countries (Vasilopoulou & Gattermann 2013). Several scholars have been addressing this field of the lack of the representation in the EU so far, but only less research accounts for the legislative behaviour of MEPs at this point. To fill this theoretical and empirical research gap, I will analyse party cohesion as a form of legislative behaviour, which is expected to explain voters’ feelings of being represented or not. The explicit research question is: “To what extent do higher degrees of party cohesion in the EP improve the subjective political representation of the electorate?”.

Due to these accusations towards the EU and the need of finding improvements for these deficits, this research question is highly important. Researching on this topic clarifies the severity of the representation deficit in the European Parliament. Uncovering this issue might also contribute to the determination of potential causes and can provide useful policy recommendations to MEPs and the construction of the European Parliament.

Regarding the structure of this research paper, I begin with an overview of the scientific literature on the topic of Euroscepticism, especially with the focus on the representation deficit, and party cohesion and its effects. After that I create my theory out of the established literature and formulate a testable hypothesis. Continuing with the empirical part, I describe the creation of the roll-call votes dataset and the latest version of the Eurobarometer dataset. Then I move on to the operationalisation of the variables and continue with the empirical analysis, which results are presented subsequently. Finally, I discuss the main findings of this research paper and formulate a conclusion to the research question.

2. The accusation of a democratic deficit and party cohesion in the EP: A literature review

The following literature review offers a two-fold overview of the EU’s lack of democracy and party cohesion. For this research paper, especially the representation deficit is addressed. “Representation is a complex and much-contested concept, encompassing important questions about who should be represented, by whom and how” (Farell & Scully 2007).

Beginning with the first main topic of this literature review, Follesdal and Hix (2006) discuss that one single meaning of the so-called “democratic deficit” does not exist. According to them, it can be defined through the five following dimensions. The first deficit dimension is about the consequences of European integration, which meant an increase in executive power and a decrease in national parliamentary control (Raunio 1999). The EU is designed in a way, in which policy-making at the European level is dominated by executive actors, which actions are beyond the control of national parliaments (Follesdal & Hix 2006). Second, many scholars argue that, although the EP’s power has been extended, it is still too weak in comparison to the other institutions. The third aspect of the democratic deficit deals with the lack of “European” elections. From this point of view, they are not about the personalities and parties at the European level nor about the direction of the EU policy agenda. Additionally, EP elections are rather treated as mid-term national contests and are therefore described as “second-order elections” (Reif & Schmitt 1980). For a forth aspect Follesdal and Hix discuss that the EU is “too distant” from voters due to two reasons, one institutional and one psychological. As already mentioned, the electoral control over the Council and the Commission is too removed. Secondly, they claim that the difference between the EU and domestic democratic institutions is too wide, which is why citizens cannot understand and identify with the EU. Finally, the authors determine that the EU implements policies, which do not majorly receive support by citizens of most member states. There can be observed a “policy drift” from voters’ preferences as a product of European integration (Scharpf 1997).

These five dimensions contribute to the existence of a representation deficit, which is intensified by the general composition of the EU. Since a concrete European government and opposition are missing, voters have problems to identify responsible politicians and to hold them accountable (Di Mauro & Memoli 2016). EP elections, which take place every five years, build the sole opportunity for voters to exercise influence on the EU. But since the EP only has limited powers, the voters consequently own a very limited capacity to express their interests. Thus, opportunity structures for voters are inadequate, because there only exist insufficient and ineffective opportunities to engage with the EU decision making (Warleigh 2003). In addition, DeBardeleben (2007) claims that the multilevel factor of the EU extends its complexity. Hence, the EU’s composition itself enhances the representation deficit.

All in all, many authors agree that the EP is rather unable to create a proper linkage to its citizens (Vasilopoulou & Gattermann 2013). Kaniovski and Mueller (2011) for example confirm that there exists a democratic deficit in the EU in form of a gap between the EU citizens’ preferences and the way their delegations vote. This weak link between voters and MEPs is adopted and addressed in this paper, not as formal, but as subjective perceptions of political representation.

Nevertheless, the EU is not solely receiving sharp criticism, it is also defended by some scholars like Majone (1998) and Moravcsik (2004), who argue that concerns about the EU’s democratic deficit are misplaced. They also account for the shortcomings of the EU, but they maintain a deviant point of view by saying that the EU is legitimate. The EU’s problem is less a democratic deficit, but rather a ‘credibility crisis’ (Majone 2000). Besides, Moravcsik also justifies the lack of democracy by saying that EU policies own a low salience, which is why voters do not show interest.

Moving on to party cohesion, the second topic of this literature review. In general, political parties are considered as unitary actors with multi-goals. In order to achieve these objectives, they organize themselves adapting to environmental incentives structures (Cox & McCubbins 2005). This statement already implies a certain amount of cohesion as a requirement for a political party. Party cohesion is an important feature for parliamentary life and can be seen as a necessary condition for establishing a responsible party government (Katz 1987). Bowler (1999) stresses that party cohesion should be regarded as dynamic process, which can modify, rather than a static property of a party.

Hazan depicts two reasons for a party to maintain a cohesive voting bloc: to operate effectively in the legislature arena and to function as a stable basis for the political process (Hazan 2006). Further, Hix (1999) determines three interests of politicians, which are re-election, followed by office-seeking and finally policy-seeking. They overall also contribute to the creation of party unity.

In contrast, there are a number of reasons, why parties might appear divided. Greene and Haber determine four different possibilities: “members personal vote seeking activities, divisions between organisational and parliamentary leaders, divisions amongst key supporters, and strategic electoral choices in which party members make statements that appear at adds with each other” (Greene & Haber 2015). Anyway, when casting their votes, political actors always need to consider the cost and the consequences of voting against the group line (Raunio 1999).

Connecting this common knowledge to the EP, Hix (2002) applies the principal-agent framework to the EP, which takes its special construction into account. He finds that, when MEPs decide how to vote, they need to choose between two different “principals”: the national parties, who control the candidate selection in EP elections, and the European political groups, who control leadership positions, speaking time and the legislative agenda. This means that it remains unknown due to which principal party cohesion emerges (Hix 2002). Additionally, a third principal, voters, can be added to this representation dilemma (Meserve et al. 2017), which makes understanding party cohesion in the EP even more complicated. This challenges the party’s purpose of adequate political representation, because it makes MEPs to feel torn apart on the question of whom to represent. Out of this special chain of delegation results a disturbed connection between MEPs and their voters, which consequently ends in shortcomings in the degree of political representation (Di Mauro & Memoli 2016). Therefore, there is little evidence that MEP’s are tied directly to voters (Reif and Schmitt 1989).

“Modern democracy requires representation and parties become the only feasible instrument to realize democratic requirements” (Sozzi 2013). This statement stresses the significance of parties regarding the solution of the EUs democratic deficit, which is highlighted in this research paper. Following Sozzis argument, the democratic deficit is “linked to the weakness of political parties at the EU level and in particular to their ability to connect the electoral and legislative arena” (Sozzi 2013). This assumption can be connected to my research paper, on grounds of the aim to clarify how parties can improve subjective political representation and therefore decrease the democratic deficit.

3. How does party cohesion influence subjective political representation? A theoretical argument and hypothesis

Using the observations of these previous works as a foundation, I move on to the concrete formulation of my theory.

Starting with the definition of party cohesion, it is necessary to distinguish it from the similar concept of party discipline. Ozbudun was the first author to outline this “conceptual overlap” between these two terms. According to him, cohesion is “the extent to which, group members can be observed to work together for the group’s goal in one and the same way”, whereas discipline “refers either to a special type of cohesion achieved by enforcing obedience or to a system of sanctions by which such enforced cohesion is attained” (Ozbundun 1970). Ozbundun uses the term cohesion to describe discipline, which means that he does not completely differentiate between the two concepts although he defines them separately (Hazan 2006). He sees discipline as a part of cohesion by stating that “cohesion suggests an objective condition of unity of action among party members, which may or may not be the function of disciplinary repressions” (Ozbundun 1970). Thus, cohesion is a party acting in natural unison without pressure, party discipline, in contrast, is one way to achieve cohesion as an outcome through sanctions, for instance.

There exist a lot of indicators, which citizens might use, to build their attitudes towards the European Union. Due to the several depicted causes of a representation deficit in the EU in the literature review (e.g. Follesdal & Hix 2006, Di Mauro & Memoli 2016, Warleigh 2003, Vasilopoulou & Gattermann 2013), people need to rely on further factors to build upon their perceptions of political representation. Regarding the legislative behaviour of MEPs, one important aspect for assessing the European Union is the degree of party cohesion of parties in the EP. For the further theoretical development, I adapt Meserve’s approach (2017) that parties need to respond to three different principals: the national parties, European political groups and voters.


Excerpt out of 22 pages


The Influence of Party Cohesion on Subjective Political Representation in the European Union
University of Mannheim
Legislative Behaviour and Political Representation in the European Parliament
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
influence, party, cohesion, subjective, political, representation, european, union
Quote paper
Maren Weiß (Author), 2019, The Influence of Party Cohesion on Subjective Political Representation in the European Union, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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