Keeping it in the Family? National Parties and the Transnational Experience By David Hanley Discussion of transnational parties (TNPs) focuses heavily on their activities at the level of the European Union (EU), whether as actors in the European Parliament (EP), or as political entrepreneurs outside the EU. All such analyses use a top-down approach. The TNPs are considered actors in their own right, more or less unitary, and operating in a distinct space, namely the peculiar competitive environment of the EP.1 Less attention is paid to the bottomup approach, that is, looking at the TNPs from the point of view of the various national parties which created them and still sustain them to a large extent. Officially, the EU endorses the concept of TNPs because, according to Article 191 of the Maastricht Treaty, they are important factors for integration in that they help raise citizens’ awareness of Europe. Even supposing that all national parties are in favour of such a development, there are a number of questions which supporters of TNPs must answer with regard to national parties. Why should a national party invest in a TNP? What can it hope to gain? What are the costs? Can we answer such questions simply and directly? In particular, might not different party families vary in evaluations of and approaches to the TNPs? Building on an ongoing research project, this article suggests preliminary answers to these questions. Party and nation Parties are contemporaneous with their nation states. Our understanding of party, nourished by the models of Rokkan, has proceeded on 1
the basis of locating these organisms within the context of their own national states. Parties arose out of the famous cleavages, moments of high tension within European societies as they began to modernise economically and politically. Parties reflected the social interests of groups polarised on either side of these cleavages. Thus most countries have ended up with a party system where property owners are represented by conservative or liberal parties, and workers by socialists or communists; in some cases, Christian parties arose to defend the Church against the attacks of liberal, rationalist modernisers. A further fault-line in modern societies, the territorial cleavage associated with state-building, would pit centralising parties against parties which defended the periphery: those outlying parts of the newly consolidated states, often with cultures or languages of their own, that resisted being drawn into the modernising orbit of strangers in the capital. The modernisation of agriculture, with its consequent urbanisation, would pit town against country, parties of the urban interest—be they liberal or conservative—against agrarian or peasant parties. In short, then, parties belong to families associated with cleavages, but these cleavages took place within distinct nation states. Parties could only be supremely national organisations, rooted in the history and culture of their nation state, and as much a part of the familiar institutions as the national museum, broadcasting service or football team. Parties could only take root in a ‘Westphalian’ nation state which had developed a certain level of economic, political and cultural cohesion, or which, as Bartolini insists, had managed to draw its boundaries clearly.
Some scholars dismiss the TNP summarily. For Daniel Seiler they are not true parties while Peter Mair believes that there is no true competition in the EP because this body does not sustain an executive. We do not share these views.
Volume 3 - Spring 2006
European View_Transnational parties and european democracy