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About this book

A fully revised fourth edition of a popular introduction to the comparative politics of Europe, written by a highly respected authority on the subject. This lively and thematically organised text provides an accessible guide to the institutions and the issues that matter in a continent where the boundaries between East and West, and between domestic and European affairs are increasingly breaking down. Covering a wide array of countries it is a concise yet comprehensive overview of one of the world's most important and fascinating regions.

Written in an approachable style and packed with up-to-date, real-world examples and information, this is the ideal place for students to begin and to deepen their understanding of Europe’s politics. It can be adapted as a standalone text on modules on Comparative European Politics and will be of use as a key reading on undergraduate courses on Comparative Politics more broadly, as well as European Union Politics.

Table of Contents

1. Europe – a continent in the making

Abstract
Covering around 10 million square kilometres, or just under 4 million square miles, Europe is the second smallest of the world’s seven continents. But it is number three in terms of population: over 725 million people live there, some thinly spread in the cold of the far north or the heat of the far south, but most packed closely together in towns and cities. That population density, combined with centuries of international trade and the fact that it was the home of the Industrial Revolution, has made Europe one of the richest and most powerful parts of the globe. In times past, it was also one of the most violent. Its turbulent history was crowned in the twentieth century by two world wars, after which it was divided during nearly 50 years of Cold War into the capitalist ‘West’ and the communist ‘East’. With the collapse of the latter, however, Europe now contains more genuinely democratic states than any other continent on earth. But Europe, like most continents, is not just a place, a geographical container for those states; it is also an idea and an identity (see Pagden, 2002). Indeed, because of this, it is actually quite difficult to define it as a place. Our notions of where it begins and ends are fuzzy: they change to suit our conceptions of who should be in and who should be out. The Europe covered in this book is as much of a conventional and convenient fiction as any other.
Tim Bale

2. The end of the nation state?

Abstract
As we saw in Chapter 1, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries confirmed Europe as a continent of states. These were constructed on the basis – sometimes firm, sometimes more fictional – that they were the institutional embodiment of a nation, of a community living (and in most cases born) in a territory and among other people with whom they felt a binding affinity. These nation states were presumed to be sovereign in the sense of exercising supreme political authority within their territorial boundaries and remaining free from hindrance from outside bodies. In fact, the reality has rarely matched the presumption. There are two reasons for this. First, many European countries contain ‘stateless nations’ (Keating, 2001). These are minorities that consider themselves to be, or to belong to, nations other than that on which the state claims to be founded – either because what they see as their nation has been denied statehood or because they believe they are part of a nation that does have a state, just not the one in which they themselves reside. In recent years, many have become politicized and, as we shall see below, have obliged states to respond to their demands. Secondly, few states could claim complete freedom from outside ‘interference’.
Tim Bale

3. From government to governance – running the state, making policy and policing the constitution

Abstract
In Chapter 2, we looked at challenges to the supposed integrity and impermeability of the traditional European nation state. We discovered that the latter was under pressure from both within and without. Not every country was affected by minority nationalism, but all had conceded important powers to the EU, not least in the economic and legal domains. Those worried by such developments can perhaps derive some comfort from the fact that, notwithstanding such concessions, each country still retains its unique constitution. This formal legal framework sets out the rules of the game for politicians, citizens and the institutions by which they govern and are governed. As well as defining the rights (and sometimes the duties) of the citizen, the fundamental feature of most constitutions is a so-called ‘separation of powers’ between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary (see Box 3.1). This chapter focuses primarily on the bureaucratic side and the policymaking of the second of the ‘three branches’, the executive. This is the body that traditionally ‘runs the country’ or ‘governs’, albeit under the supposed direction of democratically elected politicians who form the government of the day and who are themselves meant to be under the watchful eye of parliament (see Chapter 4). And although the media often pays less attention to it than it does to say party politics and elections, it undoubtedly matters to citizens: as one recent cross-national study (Dahlberg and Holmberg, 2014; see also Linde, 2012; and Svallfors, 2013) notes, when it comes to how satisfied they are with the systems they live in, ‘[i]mpartial and effective bureaucracies matter more than representational devices.
Tim Bale

4. Governments and parliaments – a long way from equality

Abstract
Chapter 3 looked at governance, but in addition to looking at policy making, it concentrated on the changing architecture of the state and the non-elected people who help to run it, be they civil servants or judges. Now, we turn to governments – the representative part of the executive. The elected government in almost all European countries must enjoy ‘the confidence of parliament’, normally expressed in a vote when it takes office – a vote it has to win or, at the very least, not lose. Europe’s parliamentary governments are led by a prime minister and a group of colleagues, which political scientists call the cabinet (see Barbieri and Vercesi, 2013). The fact that cabinet members very often sit in, and in all cases are responsible to, parliament blurs the distinction between the executive and the legislature that constitute two parts of the classical three-part ‘separation of powers’ outlined in Chapter 3. This clear division of labour is considered sacrosanct by some Americans, yet its blurring in Europe does not seem to exercise many Europeans. Conversely, Americans see nothing strange in the head of state and the head of government being one and the same person – namely, the president. However, nearly all European countries, more or less successfully, keep the two functions separate.
Tim Bale

5. Parties – how the past affects the present, and an uncertain future

Abstract
In Chapter 4, we suggested that parties are the key to understanding how the executive in Europe dominates the legislature – how the government, in other words, controls parliament. In fact, parties are crucial to the government and politics of European countries more generally. Without them representative democracy could not function (see Kölln, 2015a). And yet Europeans seem to have little confidence in them (see Table 5.1). In this chapter, we explain what parties are and how they came to be. We also look at the ways they organize, and at the way political scientists have tried, by looking at their ideas and their origins, to sort them into meaningful categories that they call party families, most of which are represented in almost every individual country’s party system. We go on to look at these systems and at how political science tries to classify them, and ask whether, why, how and how much they are changing. Finally, we touch on debates on how parties should be funded and explore the popular notion that parties – unpopular with the public and struggling for members – are on the way out. Although they have been around for some 200 years, political parties still sometimes seem easier to recognize than to pin down. One can arrive at a workable definition, but it has to be hedged around with qualifications and caveats.
Tim Bale

6. Elections, voting and referendums – systems, turnout, preferences and unpredictability

Abstract
The term ‘democracy’, like the term ‘Europe’, disguises a wealth of variation. Representative democracy, at a minimum, implies the chance for every adult to vote periodically (see Box 6.1) in order to help choose and hold accountable those who legislate and govern on their behalf. This form of democracy came to Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But the process was far from complete before it was set back for decades, first, by authoritarian dictatorships which began in the 1930s and, second, by the 40 years of communist rule in east-central Europe which followed the Second World War. In France, Italy, Belgium and Greece, for instance, women won the vote only in the wake of that conflict; in most parts of Europe, they won it just before or not long after the First World War, although in Switzerland they had to wait – almost unbelievably – until 1971. On the other hand, in all European countries, the age at which people become entitled to vote (though not to stand as candidates) now matches the age at which they legally become adults, with the sole exception of Austria which, after passing legislation in 2007, now allows people to vote from the age of sixteen – an experiment that seems not to have produced spectacular or surprising results, perhaps, disappointing both those who thought it would be a triumph and those who predicted disaster (see Wagner et al., 2012). There is more variation, however, surrounding the participation of citizens living overseas.
Tim Bale

7. The media – player and recorder

Abstract
In a representative democracy made up of millions of people, politicians need to communicate with those whose votes they rely on and whose welfare should be their main concern. To do so, they rely on the media – so much so, in fact, that some analysts talk about the ‘mediatization’ of politics (see Schulz, 2004; Strömbäck, 2008; and Takens et al., 2013). Inasmuch as politics and the media operate as separate institutions – and the media is best seen as an institution because it persists over time, with norms and rules that impact systematically on those who work in and deal with it (see Ryfe and Blach-Ørsten, 2011) – the membrane that separates them is highly permeable. The media in Europe does not simply observe political activity but also helps to drive, structure and police it – so much so that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish where politics ends and media begins, and vice versa. The media is a source (and, on many matters, for most citizens practically the only source) of information and of interpretation. And it is a source of power (Street, 2011: 283–289), whether that power be discursive (rooted in its capacity to construct reality), or to do with access (the ability to marginalize or promote certain points of view) or resources (which can be brought to bear on governments). The media thereby both produces and reflects what (admittedly rather loosely) we call ‘public opinion’. It also acts as a ‘watchdog’, not necessarily doing good or behaving admirably, but exposing and preventing abuses, thereby keeping politicians on their toes for the rest of us who are too poor or too busy to do so ourselves (see Schudson, 2008).
Tim Bale

8. Participation and pressure politics – civil society, organized interests and social movements

Abstract
The idea at the heart of representative democracy in Europe (see Chapter 6) is that citizens play a role in their own governance via the election of parliaments (and possibly presidents). It is also generally accepted that, like it or not, parties play a mediating role, helping to structure choices and to aggregate interests, be they economic, cultural or religious (see Chapter 5). At the very least, according to the Austrian economist and political analyst Joseph Schumpeter – a man who thought too much citizen participation would prove unworkable – parties provide competing teams of managers that we can choose between at the ballot box (see Best and Higley, 2010). But it would be a very ‘thin’ conception of democracy indeed that supposed citizens would – or indeed should – limit their participation to joining parties and voting or, between elections, be content simply to leave the politicians and the bureaucrats to get on with it. After all, the policies initiated and implemented between those elections will rarely suit everyone and may even be seen as unfair by some. Unless of course they happen to own a huge media empire, individuals are rarely so powerful that they can hope to influence policy on their own. Many of us also recognize that voting and political parties are not the only way to exercise that influence or simply to get involved. We are therefore likely to engage in other forms of political participation.
Tim Bale

9. Politics over markets: does politics – and left and right – still matter?

Abstract
In 2009, Iceland, one of the European countries worst hit by the world financial crisis, experienced something akin to a revolution – or at least a demonstration that ‘people power’ still counts. The country’s right-wing government, which many ordinary Icelanders felt – with some justification – had let the country’s investment and banking sectors run out of control during the boom years until it had little choice but to allow them to go bust, was refusing to acknowledge responsibility and clinging onto power. In January 2009, when parliament (the Althingi) assembled after the Christmas break, thousands came out onto the surrounding streets, many banging together pots and pans to force legislators to listen them. Eventually, one of the government parties cracked and pulled the plug on the coalition, leading to the formation, just prior to and then after a general election, of the country’s first socialist-green party government and its first female prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who was incidentally also Europe’s first openly lesbian head of government. But although her administration committed itself to protect citizens on low incomes, it could not completely avoid cutbacks (or, to employ a seemingly universal contemporary euphemism, ‘fiscal consolidation’). Fortunately, due in part to international financial assistance and Iceland’s ability to devalue its currency and impose capital controls – not something those European countries tied to the EU’s single currency enjoy – the country’s economy recovered relatively rapidly.
Tim Bale

10. Not wanted, but needed – migrants and minorities

Abstract
We observed in Chapters 2 and 3 how European states were devolving power, sometimes to the extent that traditional distinctions between unitary and federal states seem less and less useful. We also observed that these moves were often, at least in part, a response to claims for autonomy or even independence made by minorities who feel they constitute a nation or even a race apart. But those who feel that they are somehow trapped in the wrong body politic are not the only minorities in Europe. The population of most, if not all, European countries is now made up not just of the descendants of those who lived there centuries ago but also of those who have arrived much more recently – and indeed are still arriving. Whether these minorities are distinctive through race or only ethnicity, their presence, and the fact that they are being joined by more immigrants every day – at a rate of well over 2 million per year from various sources – is the source of considerable anxiety and friction in many European countries. Migrants and minorities – no matter if they have been here for decades or even centuries – do not always find Europe as welcoming as they might have hoped. Indeed, they routinely encounter misunderstanding, mistrust, and sometimes outright hostility from the ethnic majorities whose states they share and of which they might even become citizens. This presents governments of all political stripes in Europe with a dilemma. Their majority populations, it seems clear, are anxious about, not to say hostile towards, any increase in immigration, particularly (though not exclusively) from developing countries and especially when those coming appear to be abusing rights to asylum and family reunification (which actually accounts for around half of all legal migration into Europe).
Tim Bale

11. Protecting and promoting – Europe’s international politics

Abstract
No exploration of the politics of a continent is complete without an assessment of how the states within it handle – both jointly and severally – their relations with each other and with the rest of the world. Such an assessment is far from easy. Europe contains states of vastly different weights and sizes. Some fought wars against each other, often alongside allies (most obviously the USA) that are now rivals as well as friends. Some have close geographical or colonial relationships with countries that barely even registered on the radar of other states in spite of the fact that they are now part of the same ‘ever closer union’. The latter (the EU) is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Neither does it have much leverage there over the member state and soon-to-be ex-member state (France and Britain, respectively) who are, even though neither can claim the population or the economic power of Germany, which isn’t. Not only does each European state have more or less unique ideas (and pretensions) about its interests and its role in the world, it also goes about promoting, playing and deciding on them in very different ways. Moreover, there are many analysts who would regard it as hopelessly old-fashioned and simplistic to talk about states as if they were unitary and potentially autonomous actors. Lastly, for all the talk of a world that is getting smaller every day, it is still rather a big place: like policymakers, we can only focus on a few aspects of how Europeans operate, and cooperate, within it.
Tim Bale
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