European Politics
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European Politics

Paul Kubicek

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eBook - ePub

European Politics

Paul Kubicek

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European Politics expertly and accessibly surveys the history, institutions, and issues that are essential for understanding contemporary European politics. Exploring a central question—"what is Europe?"—this text's thematic approach helps students compare politics in individual countries and see the political big picture in the region. European Politics examines not only countries which are (or were) in the European Union but also those eligible to join, to give students the most comprehensive picture of Europe's evolution in a globalized world.

Key changes for the new edition include:

  • coverage of hot topics such as Brexit, Covid-19, rise of nationalist-populists, authoritarian developments in Hungary, Poland, and Turkey, separatism in Catalonia, refugees/migrants, environmentalism, Ukraine, Russia, US-European relations, recent elections, and security threats emanating within Europe and beyond;

  • a consolidated presentation on the European Union;

  • fully updated data and examples; and

  • a new concluding chapter recapping the main ideas and suggesting scenarios for the European project moving forward.

This timely, in-depth text will be essential reading for anyone interested in European politics.

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Chapter 1

EU President Herman Van Rompuy of Belgium and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso of Portugal accept the Nobel Peace Prize award on behalf of the European Union in Oslo
© Nigel Waldron/Getty Images
In October 2012, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union (EU). In its press release, the committee noted that the EU and its forebears had “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe … [and] helped transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.” Prior to bestowing the award at the formal ceremony in Oslo, the chairman of the committee lauded the EU’s many accomplishments, praising in particular its expansion to post-communist Europe, noting that this action “may have amounted to the greatest act of solidarity ever on the European continent.”1 Such language echoed the 1957 Treaty of Rome—one of the seminal documents in the history of European integration—which called for “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.”
Looking back on this award a decade later, one could suggest that this may have been the apogee for the EU, as since then it has seen crisis after crisis. Even prior to winning the Nobel, the EU as well as individual European states deeply struggled with the global financial and debt crisis, which hit countries such as Greece, Spain, and Ireland particularly hard and made many doubt the future of the euro, the common currency used by most EU members. In 2015–2016, over a million asylum-seekers streamed into the EU, testing its cohesion as some countries closed their borders and refused to take in their quotas of refugees. In 2016, voters in Great Britain chose to leave the EU, making some fear others would follow suit and the European project would unravel. After Brexit was finally completed in January 2020, Europe faced a new crisis—the coronavirus—which has killed tens of thousands of people, compelled countries to adopt lockdown measures, cost hundreds of billions of euros and plunged already weak European economies into recession, and, like the refugee crisis, prompted questions about Europe’s open borders as well as the limits of international cooperation.
Through all of these crises, the EU (as of this writing at least) still stands, wounded, perhaps, but not defeated. While a pessimist can find reasons to anticipate its collapse, a more optimistic take would be that the EU has weathered most of these storms, that several countries still seek to join it, and that crises such as the coronavirus point to the need for more, not less, integration and cooperation. This book assesses the numerous factors pulling Europe together and apart. These include both international factors as well as domestic political forces, e.g. democratic backsliding and rising nationalist-populist parties in several states. As opposed to earlier editions of this textbook, composed during a period of greater “Euro-optimism,” this volume, crafted in the wake of Brexit and the onset of the coronavirus crisis, adopts a more mixed assessment of the prospects for European unity, a topic raised in each chapter in a Is Europe one? feature. While putting the EU front and center in terms of an overarching question about European unity, this text also probes differences among the political institutions in various countries, the types of parties and other political actors vying for power and influence, and the dynamics of political culture. After reading this text, students should have a solid grounding in both the functions of and various debates about the EU, the structures of national governments, and issues shaping European politics.

Establishing the main theme

The mid-2000s, when the first edition of this text was conceived, was, in contrast to the zeitgeist in the early 2020s, a time of Euro-optimism, when Europe could be imagined as a new “superpower.”2 The breaching of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the end of communism, the launch of the euro, a push for a new EU constitution, and enlargement of EU to the post-communist east all seemed to augur well for the rise of a new and truly united Europe. Long-standing divisions between “West” and “East” would be a thing of the past as post-communist states democratized and embraced the European project. Tony Judt concluded his magisterial Postwar by suggesting that Europeans had overcome their past horrors and that even though few would have predicted it sixty years before, “the twenty-first century might yet belong to Europe.”3
This perspective remains reflected in parts of this text, which emphasizes Europe’s accomplishments, the common features of European political systems and societies today and the drive, at the transnational level, to unify the continent in political and economic terms. Institutionally, this push is spearheaded by and manifested in the European Union, but it also has social and cultural dimensions, ranging from mass tourism to the ubiquitous Irish pubs, Spanish tapas bars, Italian pizzerias, and French bistros throughout Europe to the multi-national composition of European football (soccer, in American parlance) clubs and the wildly popular Eurovision pop music attest to formation of a common “European” identity.
This is not to say, however, that a single, united Europe is, in fact, the current reality, as one can point to a number of divisive issues and problems, such as heated debates over immigration and multi-culturalism, desires to uphold one’s own national power and identity, and concerns about the downside of globalization and how best to promote economic growth. Some observers suggested even prior to Brexit that the EU had reached a “breaking point” or that it was “on the verge of collapse.”4 After the Brexit vote, numerous book titles lamented the “end” or “death” of Europe, for which the authors not only pointed to the crisis of European integration but wider crises of capitalism and democracy, as evidenced by widespread concerns about low growth and inequality, the turn away from mainstream political parties and the rise of nationalist-populists, difficulties of managing cultural and ethnic diversity, and even doubts about the viability of core tenets of liberal democracy.5
This book explores the notion of “one Europe,” both how it can help describe, analyze, and explain contemporary European politics as well as its limitations that have become more apparent in recent years. Of course, a complete understanding of the drive for European unity would weave together various cultural, economic, historical, and sociological threads into a complex fabric. This book gives attention to each, but, as a text for a course in European politics, it focuses on political institutions, political culture, and various domestic and international political challenges facing European states and citizens today.
One key concept that stretches across these issues and will appear, at least implicitly, in each chapter, is Europeanization, an oft-contested notion that highlights how changes in national-level political systems can be attributed to the developments of European integration.6 Europeanization is, however, a multidimensional process that can be understood in a variety of ways. A top-down, diffusion-oriented conceptualization focuses mostly on the EU, emphasizing how formal and informal rules, procedures, styles, “ways of doing things,” and beliefs and norms develop in the EU policy process and are then incorporated into domestic political systems.7 An example of this type of Europeanization is the adoption of a common currency, the euro, which was the outgrowth of closer economic integration among states and takes away powers traditionally exercised at the state level. Europeanization, however, can also be conceived in a bottom-up fashion, examining in particular how the rise of a pan-European identity among citizens contributes to common practices and the empowerment of continent-wide political institutions. It can also be viewed as a process—driven by factors such as common economic and social challenges as well as transnational communication—that leads to political convergence across Europe, as ideologies and parties align similarly in different national contexts and electorates respond to the same stimuli.8 However one defines Europeanization—this volume will look at all of these possible elements—it clearly is a process that transcends the borders of individual states, blurring traditional, state-level concerns of comparative politics with those of international relations. Looking beyond Europe itself, one should also note that the quest to transform Europe—historically a region of intense conflict and bitter national rivalries—into a more coherent, stable, and peaceful entity is one of the great issues in international politics and, potentially, represents a model for other regions.
Yet, recognizing the EU’s motto, “Unity in Diversity,” it is also worth remembering the different historical experiences of European peoples and the peculiarities of their domestic political institutions and socio-economic systems. The EU, while important, has not made the nation-state obsolete. Despite Europeanization in a number of fields (e.g. media markets, environmental policy, interest groups, political culture), “one Europe” in its fullest manifestation is a highly contested notion that has not been realized and is far from an inevitability or given for the future. Despite the pledge in the 1957 Treaty of Rome to create an “ever closer union of peoples,” many reject a united Europe as a normative goal. Schi...