How differentiated politicization affects electoral behavior in the Council of the European Union
Decision-making in the Council of the European Union has long been characterized by a culture of depoliticized consensus. Yet as Brigitte Pircher explains, this has changed as a result of multiple crises and increased politicization of the integration process. Based on a new study, it illustrates how different facets of politicization are transferred from Member States to EU level and subsequently affect the voting behavior of governments in the Council.
The EU has been challenged and transformed by multiple crises over the past decade. First, Member States have been asymmetrically exposed to economic strains, which has increased economic strains and disparities between Member States. Second, the crises have heightened politicization in member states, prompting governments to adjust their political positions at EU level.
Researchers have previously identified geographic, ideological and economic factors as key drivers of government stance advice of the European Union. A general assumption in many of these studies is that governments in the Council act largely insulated from national party politics and electoral pressure.
However, as these studies focus on the pre-Lisbon period, they do not take into account the impact of the multiple crises that have occurred since – the financial, economic, euro area and asylum crises – or politicization of EU policymaking. In one new study co-authored with Mike Farjam, we focus on Council voting in the post-Lisbon era and take these recent political developments into account to explain the voting behavior of governments.
The facets of politicization
Politicization can be conceptualized as a multifaceted process in which an issue (European integration) gains momentum, while the positions of actors on this issue become more and more polarized. Previous studies have shown that voting in the Council reflects the responsiveness of governments to their national electorate. Therefore, we believe that the growing Euroscepticism in EU Member States – which is either directly expressed by public opinion or conveyed by political parties – is also essential for understanding how governments vote in the Council.
We further contend that the left-right positions of national parties – both in government and in opposition – as well as growing polarization between parties, such as the increased fragmentation of the party system, shape voting in the Council. In addition, we suggest that the effects of politicization on Council voting are most pronounced in policy areas which have been particularly affected by recent crises – i.e. in policy areas relating to economic affairs. and financial, internal market, justice and home affairs.
We combine a new data set including votes from all Member States on legislative acts in the Council between 2010 and 2019 with data at national level. To test the hypotheses, we use a mixed-effects logistic regression and model government voting behavior based on, among other things, the fragmentation of the party system in parliament, Euroscepticism separately for national governments and national governments. parliamentary oppositions, and a left-right position score. (RILE and RILE square), also separately for the government and the opposition. While RILE and Euroscepticism are based on the Manifesto project dataset (CPM), the variable fragmentation of the party system is based on the Comparative Policy Data Set (CPDS).
Opposition vote in the Council of the EU after Lisbon
We find that 36% of all legislative acts were challenged by at least one Member State after Lisbon, which is a clear increase compared to previous studies. Most of the disputes concerned the environment and our “other” category. This was followed by the internal market; transport, telecommunications and energy; agriculture and fishing; and justice and home affairs. We see the lowest level of contestation in economic and financial affairs. The United Kingdom was by far the Member State that expressed its opposition most often (votes against and abstentions) in all policy areas except the environment, where the opposition vote came mainly from the United Kingdom. Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland.
Table 1: Opposition and protest in the most frequently contested policy areas
In our cluster analysis, shown in Figure 1 below, we found a stable cluster of countries that most often opposed together in the Council, notably the UK, Ireland and Denmark. While Germany’s opposition vote was relatively independent from other countries before 2015, it tended to align with the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria from 2015. Last but not least, after the refugee crisis of 2015, a new group of opposition votes developed within the Visegrád group.
Figure 1: Opposition voting clusters to the Council of the European Union
To note: The clusters are color coded. The positions of the countries in the figure correspond to their geocentroids. The size of the circle surrounding a country indicates how often it has opposed the Council. Clusters were calculated using hierarchical cluster analysis.
The impact of politicization on Council voting
We find that the national politics of political parties, either directly led by governments or indirectly channeled by opposition parties, significantly affects voting in the Council. While governments have generally become more Eurosceptic in the post-Lisbon era, its impact on the opposition vote is only apparent in agriculture and fisheries, economic and financial affairs, and the internal market.
On the other hand, in the areas of justice and home affairs and the environment, only the Euroscepticism of opposition parties has an impact on the electoral behavior of governments. This suggests that Eurosceptic opposition parties are putting pressure on governments, which then adjust their positions in the Council. In the context of the refugee crisis, and due to the increased relevance of environmental themes, this can also be interpreted as evidence of the strategic voting behavior of governments to avoid future electoral losses to the benefit of opposition parties.
Voting in the Council is, moreover, mainly motivated by the government and opposition parties with a centrist position on the left-right scale. This is presumably linked to the fact that the main opponents of the EU, the radical right-wing parties, tend to take a centrist stance on economic issues. The position of governments on the left-right dimension only predicts voting in economic and financial affairs and the internal market. On the other hand, the left-right positioning of the opposition parties predicts the vote in agriculture and fishing; transport, telecommunications and energy; and our “other” category. So we are again finding evidence that governments are adjusting their positions in the Council in response to their national opposition.
Overall, governments are the main driving force behind EU-level policy making in the areas of economic and financial affairs and the internal market, while all other policy areas (with the exception of the EU) agriculture and fisheries) are left to national opposition and have an indirect impact on governments. vote. Taken together, we find strong evidence of a differentiated politicization where the ideological views of political parties in government and in opposition affect voting differently in various policy areas. This can lead to increased differentiated integration. Further research should therefore address the question of how the politicization of the EU transforms internal political conflicts and how these conflicts are integrated into EU policymaking.
For more information, see the authors’ accompanying article (co-authored with Mike Farjam) in European Union policy
Note: This article gives the author’s point of view and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics. Featured Image Credit: European Council