Power, accountability and democracy

Does European integration contribute to, or even accelerate, the erosion of intra-party democracy? This book is about improving our understanding of political parties as democratic organisations in the context of multi-level governance. It analyses the impact of European Union (EU) membership on power dynamics, focusing on the British Labour Party, the French Socialist Party (PS), and the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). The purpose of this book is to investigate who within the three parties determines EU policies and selects EU specialists, such as the candidates for European parliamentary elections and EU spokespersons.

The book utilises a principal-agent framework to investigate the delegation of power inside the three parties across multiple levels and faces. It draws on over 65 original interviews with EU experts from the three national parties and the Party of European Socialists (PES) and an e-mail questionnaire. This book reveals that European policy has largely remained in the hands of the party leadership. Its findings suggest that the party grassroots are interested in EU affairs, but that interest rarely translates into influence, as information asymmetry between the grassroots and the party leadership makes it very difficult for local activists to scrutinise elected politicians and to come up with their own policy proposals. As regards the selection of EU specialists, such as candidates for the European parliamentary elections, this book highlights that the parties’ processes are highly political, often informal, and in some cases, undemocratic.

This introductory chapter outlines the challenges that centre-left parties face in the European Union, explaining that the EU limits their room for manoeuvre. It then explains how the analysis fits into and builds on existing research on intra-party democracy, centre-left parties in Europe, the Europeanisation of political parties, and multi-level party politics. Next, this chapter briefly introduces the principal-agent framework that will be applied to Labour, PS and SPD throughout the book. Finally, the introductory chapter outlines the main research questions that this study addresses, the methodology, including the sources used and original data collection, and introduces the format and structure of the book.

in Centre-left parties and the European Union
Organising for multi- level governance

This chapter provides some essential contextual information on the Labour Party, the Parti Socialiste, the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland, and the Party of European Socialists’ organisations. The chapter first summarises each party’s historical background. Second, it describes the three different faces of each party organisation (on the ground, in public, and in central office). It argues that amongst the three parties, Labour has become the most ‘centralised’, as the leadership at Westminster has assumed much power in the formulating policy. The PS is also a highly centralised party, as the most important decisions are taken by a small circle of leaders in Paris. At the same time, the PS continues to be dominated by rival factions that form around potential presidential candidates. The SPD, by contrast, is a more decentralised party in which power is shared by the regional associations and the national party federation. Thus, the three parties - whilst being centre-left, multi-level, and multi-faceted parties of government - organise very differently. Still, there are challenges that the parties share, such as the lack of grassroots engagement and the rise of rival left-wing social movements.

in Centre-left parties and the European Union

Chapter 3 presents a broad overview of the Labour Party, the Parti Socialiste and the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands’ positions on the European Union. First, based on Manifesto Project data, it maps the three parties’ overall degree of Europhilia. It argues that a description of the three centre-left parties as ardent Europhiles would be an exaggeration. Second, the chapter provides a short historical overview of the three parties’ relationships with the EU. It explains that in the immediate post-war years, the three parties were rather critical of the European Coal and Steel Community, but that from the 1960s onwards, they took different paths. Labour only started to unconditionally support EC membership in the mid-1980s, almost two decades after the PS and three decades after the SPD’s ‘conversion’ to European integration. Third, the chapter maps out and compares some of the three parties’ recent EU policies as well as their EU strategies. Due to differing and changing domestic circumstances, the three parties focused their attention on different EU policy areas. Overall, it becomes clear that the EU creates challenges for centre-left parties and that in government, social democrats find it difficult to realise their ambitions at the European level.

in Centre-left parties and the European Union

Chapter 4 sets out the principal-agent framework of power delegation that is applied to the Labour Party, the PS and SPD throughout the book. It first presents a brief overview of the literature that uses principal-agent frameworks to analyse power delegation inside political systems and political parties. Next, it highlights the problems that power delegation can cause inside parties, and explained how parties can address them. The chapter then outlines the conceptual framework that will subsequently be applied to the Labour Party, the PS and SPD, introducing four possible modes of power delegation between the three faces of the party organisations and the three levels. Next, the research questions guiding the empirical analysis in are introduced. As this book is primarily concerned with power delegation in the formulation of European policy and the processes of selecting EU specialists, both of these activities have been briefly described. Last but not least, this chapter mentions a number of factors that are likely to shape the parties’ dealings with the EU, namely: the legal regulations of internal party organisations; the parties’ EU positions; the financial resources available to the parties; and the status as parties in government or opposition.

in Centre-left parties and the European Union
Centre- left parties on the ground and the EU

Chapter 5 examines the involvement of the party on the ground in the selection of MEP candidates and the formulation of European policy. It reveals three principal findings. First, the involvement of the grassroots in the selection of candidates for the European elections is rather limited. In theory, Labour, the PS and SPD have inclusive selection procedures in place. In practice, patronage is indispensable, and the members often rubberstamp nominations made by a small group of people. Second, this chapter reveals that the party grassroots are generally interested in EU policy. Yet, and third, only very few of the local and regional parties effectively scrutinise the party leaderships or attempt to influence them. Despite these trends, there are some significant differences in how the parties deal with the EU. The SPD appeared to be the ‘EU-savviest’. Overall, the parties on the ground were not just ‘cheerleaders’ in support of the party leadership. In particular, the PS activists were far too critical of the party leadership’s behaviour to count as cheerleaders. Still, they were no ‘players’ either, as the main decisions related to the EU were controlled by small circles of regional and national leaderships.

in Centre-left parties and the European Union
The parties in central office and the EU

Chapter 6 investigates the EU’s impact upon the power dynamics within Labour, the PS and SPD in central office. It first analyses each party’s executive committee(s)’s role in the formulation of European policies. This is followed by an investigation into the parties’ international departments, which form part of the central party bureaucracy. Finally, each section also examines the party in central office’s relationship with the Party of European Socialists. The focus of the analysis lies on the party in central office’s role in the formulation of European policies and, to a much smaller extent, the selection of EU specialists. In doing so, the chapter reveals a complex picture of power dynamics between the different faces of the party. It demonstrates that the parties in central office were not ‘lions’ in the sense that they did not hold the power to formulate policies about and through the EU. At the same time they were not entirely powerless in EU matters, as the label ‘toothless tigers’ would imply. Rather, Labour, the PS and SPD in central office were ‘toothless tigers with claws’ that complemented the work of the party in public office.

in Centre-left parties and the European Union
Abstract only
The parties in public office and the EU

Chapter 7 studies the role played by the party in public office in the formulation of European policies and the selection of EU specialists. It first analyses the House of Commons, the National Assembly and the Bundestag’s EU scrutiny powers and the internal organisation of EU affairs. Second, it investigates the parliamentary parties’ dealings with the EU. The chapter finds that MPs have delegated a large amount of policy-making power to their respective government and to MEPs, often without exerting much formal control. Especially when in power, MPs tended to leave EU policies to their government. Thus, whilst the party in public office has some advantages over the party in central office and the party on the ground (above all, policy expertise and resources) it is not the clear ‘winner’. Still, this chapter also identifies a number of differences, which can be explained by comparing the institutional structures; the ways in which the parties prioritised their EU expertise in parliament; and the parties’ general attitude towards the EU. Overall, centre-left MPs have not pulled their weight in the formulation of European policies, or the scrutiny of government and the Members of the European Parliament. This is a story of missed opportunities.

in Centre-left parties and the European Union

This concluding chapter first summarises the key findings of this book. It states that European integration - as an external constraint - cannot be made solely responsible for the erosion of intra-party democracy. Rather, it argues that the three centre-left parties have (to varying degrees) missed the opportunity to adapt their organisations to this multi-level reality. Despite recent attempts by the leaderships of the three parties to empower the grassroots, for example through the use of referendums and policy consultations, deep and meaningful debates on the European Union remain rare. As a consequence, the broader party organisations lack EU-savvy and the means to scrutinise the leadership. The chapter then reflects on intra-party democracy, power dynamics and accountability inside the parties of the centre-left. It argues that assembly-based modes of decision-making are slower and more cumbersome, but more suitable than direct democracy, when it comes to EU matters. Last but not least, this chapter highlights the current challenges faced by the centre-left in Europe, such as the lack of a coherent EU narrative and the adoption of right-wing policies.

in Centre-left parties and the European Union