Edited by Hakan G. Sicakkan
Chapter 8: Agonistic politics of the European Parliament: party and party group alignments and voting behavior
Literature on European integration frequently states an elite–citizens gap in European politics, partly owing to the fact that European political parties do not compete on European but domestic issues. At the same time, national parties successfully formed European party groups to compete in the European arena, and access to the European Parliament (EP), the Council or other institutions of the EU is mainly through the channels of party politics. Yet it is unclear whether parties manage to link national constituencies with the EU or national loyalties impact negatively on the possibilities of a European public sphere. Such a European public sphere is feasible only if the interests of citizens and national and European elites can be aligned to some extent. Conflict and contestation are part of the public sphere, yet some commonality must be present for the potential of the European public sphere to materialize. The chapter analyzes these issues by examining alignments and misalignments between stances and objectives of national political elites and European party groups. Interview data are used to analyze the stances and objectives of the national political elites, while we position the different European political groups based on their votes in the EP. Enlisting the stances and objectives of the national and European party elites enables us to analyze how the European public sphere is articulated and, even more importantly, to identify possible areas of contestation among the different arenas. An examination of differences between the positions of the national political elite and those of the European party groups provides a deeper insight into the actual importance of European parties, and the feasibility and acceptability of a common European public sphere of political elites.
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