Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-l48q4 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-03-02T04:51:20.673Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Constitutionalizing Party Democracy: The Constitutive Codification of Political Parties in Post-war Europe

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 August 2011


This article analyses the process of party constitutionalization in post-war Europe. It explores the temporal patterns of party constitutionalization and reveals their connection with moments of fundamental institutional restructuring. It discusses the different modes of party constitutionalization, and addresses what these convey about the underlying conceptions of party democracy. It argues that the constitutional codification of political parties has consolidated the empirical reality of modern party government as well as its normative foundations of modern party government, thereby transforming political parties from socio-political organizations into integral units of the democratic state. Finally, it suggests that the constitutionalization of the democratic importance of political parties might reflect an attempt to legitimize their existence in the face of their weakening as agents of democratic representation.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Indeed, Schattschneider's oft-cited observation that ‘the political parties created democracy and modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of the political parties’ has become a conventional wisdom among party scholars. See Schattschneider, E. E., Party Government (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1942)Google Scholar, p. 1.

2 Including the Lisbon Treaty, which places political parties prominently in Part II (Provisions on Democratic Principles), stipulating that ‘Political parties at European level contribute to forming European political awareness and to expressing the will of citizens of the Union.’ (art. 8 A.4)

3 Müller, Wolfgang C. and Sieberer, Ulrich, ‘Party Law’, in Richard S. Katz and William Crotty, eds, Handbook of Party Politics (London: Sage, 2006), pp. 435445CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at p. 435.

4 Busch, Andreas, ‘The Grundgesetz after 50 Years: Analysing Changes in the German Constitution’, German Politics, 9 (2000), 4160CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 41.

5 Avnon, Dan, ‘Parties Laws in Democratic Systems of Government’, Journal of Legislative Studies, 1 (1995), 283300CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 286. For a recent exception, see Karvonen, Lauri, ‘Legislation on Political Parties: A Global Comparison’, Party Politics, 13 (2007), 437455CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Katz, Richard S., ‘The Internal Life of Parties’, in Kurt Richard Luther and Ferdinand Müller-Rommel, eds, Political Challenges in the New Europe: Political and Analytical Challenges (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 87118Google Scholar, at p. 90.

7 Janda, Kenneth, ‘Adopting Party Law’, working paper series on Political Parties and Democracy in Theoretical and Practical Perspectives (Washington, D.C.: National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, 2005)Google Scholar.

8 Bogdanor, Vernon, ‘The Constitution and the Party System in the Twentieth Century’, Parliamentary Affairs, 57 (2004), 717733CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 718.

9 Cf. van Biezen, Ingrid and Kopecký, Petr, ‘The State and the Parties: Public Funding, Public Regulation and Rent-Seeking in Contemporary Democracies’, Party Politics, 13 (2007), 235254CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 van Biezen, Ingrid and Saward, Michael, ‘Democratic Theorists and Party Scholars: Why They Don't Talk to Each Other, and Why They Should’, Perspectives on Politics, 6 (2008), 2135CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 Katz, Richard S. and Mair, Peter, eds, Party Organizations: A Data Handbook (London: Sage, 1992)Google Scholar.

12 Sartori, Giovanni, Comparative Constitutional Engineering: An Inquiry into Structures, Incentives and Outcomes (New York: Macmillan, 1994), p. 200Google Scholar.

13 Finer, S. E., Bogdanor, Vernon and Rudden, Bernard, Comparing Constitutions (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), p. 1Google Scholar.

14 Katz, Richard S. and Mair, Peter, ‘Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy: The Emergence of the Cartel Party’, Party Politics, 1 (1995), 528CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Katz, Richard S., ‘Democracy and the Legal Regulation of Political Parties’ (paper prepared for the USAID conference on ‘Change in Political Parties’, Washington D.C., 2004)Google Scholar.

16 Gardner, James A., ‘Can Party Politics Be Virtuous?’ Columbia Law Review, 100 (2000), 667701CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 667.

17 Issacharoff, Samuel, ‘Introduction: The Structures of Democratic Politics’, Columbia Law Review, 100 (2000), 593597Google Scholar, p. 597.

18 Shapiro, Martin and Sweet, Alec Stone, On Law, Politics, and Judicialization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 10.

19 Shapiro, Martin and Stone, Alec, ‘The New Constitutional Politics of Europe’, Comparative Political Studies, 26/4 (1994), 397420CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 Other (organic) laws which might have constitutional status have thus been excluded.

21 One might, for example, disagree with King's conclusion that the extension of the franchise to women in the United Kingdom, desirable and fundamental as the change may have been, was not a constitutional change because ‘[t]he character of the relations between governors and governed … remained substantially unaltered.’ See King, Anthony, Does the United Kingdom Still Have a Constitution? (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2001)Google Scholar, p. 2.

22 The current Swedish constitution consists of four fundamental laws; parties are included in ‘The Instrument of Government’. On the 1974 constitution, see Ruin, Olof, ‘Sweden: The New Constitution (1974) and the Tradition of Consensual Politics’, in Vernon Bogdanor, ed., Constitutions in Democratic Politics (Aldershot, Surrey: Gower, 1988), pp. 309327Google Scholar.

23 The new integrated Finnish constitution of 1999 is based on four older constitutional acts (the Constitution Act, the Parliament Act and two acts on ministerial liability). The Parliament Act has included a reference to political parties since 1991.

24 For the purpose of this research, ‘democracy’ has been operationalized as a country classified as ‘Free’ by the Freedom House at the end of 2007, with the exception of small states with a population under 100,000.

25 More detailed information on the coding of the constitutions can be found in the Appendix. A catalogue of all cases of post-war European party constitutionalization, including subsequent amendments, is available online in a searchable database at This database also contains details of party regulation through party laws and party finance laws.

26 Unless otherwise noted, all translations are from Flanz, Gisbert H., ed., Constitutions of the Countries of the World (New York: Oceana Publications, 2004)Google Scholar.

27 Pelinka, Anton, ‘Parteien und Verbande’, in Anton Pelinka and Manfried Welan, eds, Demokratie und Verfassung in Österreich (Vienna: Europa Verlag, 1971), pp. 265327Google Scholar, at p. 265.

28 This in contrast with the Provisional Constitution (Vorläufige Verfassung) adopted on 1 May 1945, where, in line with their leading role in the reconstruction of the Second Republic, parties were given a much more prominent position. This document, however, was suspended when the current constitution was reinstated. See Hans-Wolfram Wilde, ‘Die Politischen Parteien im Verfassungssystem Österreichs’ (doctoral dissertation, Kiel, 1984).

29 Daalder, Hans, ‘Parties: Denied, Dismissed or Redundant? A Critique’, in Richard Gunther, José Ramón Montero and Juan J. Linz, eds, Political Parties: Old Concepts and New Challenges (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 3957CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at p. 41.

30 Kommers, Donald P., The Constitutional Jurisprudence of the Federal Republic of Germany, 2nd edn (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997), pp. 217224Google Scholar.

31 Schneider, Carl J., ‘Political Parties and the German Basic Law of 1949’, Western Political Quarterly, 10 (1957), 527540CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 527.

32 Article 49 of the Italian constitution states: ‘All citizens shall have the right to associate freely in political parties in order to contribute by democratic means to the determination of national policy.’

33 Dimitris Th. Tsatsos, ed., 30 Jahre Parteiengesetz in Deutschland: Die Parteiinstitutionen im Internationalen Vergleich (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2002).

34 Pelizzo, Riccardo, ‘From Principle to Practice: Constitutional Principles and the Transformation of Party Finance in Germany and Italy’, Comparative European Politics 2 (2004), 123141CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 130.

35 The first sentence of article 6 of the Spanish constitution reads: ‘Political parties are the expression of political pluralism, they contribute to the formation and expression of the will of the people and are an essential instrument for political participation.’

36 Schneider, , ‘Political Parties and the German Basic Law of 1949’, p. 530Google Scholar.

37 Dumont, Patrick, Kies, Raphaël and Poirier, Philippe, ‘Luxembourg’, European Journal of Political Research, 47 (2008), 10601070CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 1061.

38 For more details, see ‘Proposition de Revision portant creation d'un article 32bis nouveau de la Constitution’, outlining the official positions of the Government, the Council of State and the Committee for Constitutional Reform, on, Chambre des Députés, 22 February 2007; 31 August 2007; 13 November 2007; 29 November 2007.

39 Borz, Gabriela, ‘Contemporary versus Modern Constitutionalism: Political Parties in the Constitution of Luxembourg’, Working Paper Series on the Legal Regulation of Political Parties, no. 8 (2011), forthcomingGoogle Scholar.

40 Loewenstein, Karl, ‘Reflections on the Value of Constitutions in Our Revolutionary Age’, in Arnold Zurcher, ed., Constitutions and Constitutional Trends since World War II (New York: New York University Press, 1951), pp. 191224Google Scholar.

41 Most countries in Central and Eastern Europe enacted new constitutions following the establishment of the new democratic states, although in some cases not before revising the existing constitution to meet the requirements of democracy. Poland first adopted a provisional ‘small constitution’ in 1992, repealing part of the Communist Constitution, before adopting a new constitution in 1997; Latvia originally reinstated its pre-Second World War constitution in 1991 before adopting a new constitution in 1998; Ukraine initially amended the Communist Constitution in 1990 before replacing it with a new version in 1996. Only the Hungarian Constitution, first revised in 1989, continues to be a heavily amended leftover from the communist period. See McGregor, James P., ‘Constitutional Factors in Politics in Post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe’, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 29 (1996), 147166CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Huntington, Samuel P., The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991)Google Scholar; Elster, Jon, ‘Forces and Mechanisms in the Constitution-Making Process’, Duke Law Journal, 45 (1995), 364396CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

43 Elster, , ‘Forces and Mechanisms in the Constitution-Making Process’, 370–371Google Scholar.

44 Offe, Claus, ‘Capitalism by Democratic Design: Democratic Theory Facing the Triple Transition in East-Central Europe’, in György Lengyl, Claus Offe and Jochen Tholen, eds, Economic Institutions, Actors and Attitudes: East Central Europe in Transition (Budapest: University of Economic Sciences, 1992), pp. 1122Google Scholar.

45 Huntington, The Third Wave, esp. chap. 2.

46 Kopeck, Petrý, ‘Developing Party Organizations in East-Central Europe: What Type of Party Is Likely to Emerge?’ Party Politics, 1 (1995), 515534CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 516.

47 Frankenberg, Günter, ‘Comparing Constitutions: Ideas, Ideals, and Ideology – Toward a Layered Narrative’, International Journal of Constitutional Law, 4 (2006), 439459CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

48 Frankenberg, , ‘Comparing Constitutions’, p. 455Google Scholar.

49 Frankenberg, , ‘Comparing Constitutions’, p. 456Google Scholar.

50 Key, V. O. Jr, Politics, Parties & Pressure Groups, 5th edn (New York: Crowell, 1964)Google Scholar; Katz, Richard S. and Mair, Peter, ‘The Evolution of Party Organizations in Europe: Three Faces of Party Organization’, American Review of Politics, 14 (1993), 593617CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 Frankenberg, , ‘Comparing Constitutions’, p. 457Google Scholar.

52 See Table A1 in the Appendix.

53 Bellamy, Richard, Political Constitutionalism: A Republican Defence of the Constitutionality of Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 6.

54 Shapiro, and Stone, , ‘The New Constitutional Politics of Europe’, p. 402Google Scholar.

55 Friedrich, Carl J., ‘The Political Theory of the New Democratic Constitutions’, in Arnold Zurcher, ed., Constitutions and Constitutional Trends since World War II (New York: New York University Press, 1951), pp. 1335Google Scholar, at p. 18.

56 Issacharoff, Samuel, ‘Private Parties with Public Purposes: Political Parties, Associational Freedoms, and Partisan Competition’, Columbia Law Review, 101 (2001), 274313CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 313.

57 Issacharoff, Samuel, ‘Fragile Democracies’, Harvard Law Review, 120 (2007), 14051467Google Scholar, p. 1407. Issacharoff bases this notion on Fox, Gregory H. and Nolte, Georg, ‘Intolerant Democracies’, Harvard International Law Journal, 36/1 (1995), 170Google Scholar. Another often used term is ‘militant democracy’ (from the German streitbare Demokratie).

58 Bale, Tim, ‘Are Bans on Political Parties Bound to Turn out Badly? A Comparative Investigation of Three “Intolerant’ Democracies: Turkey, Spain, and Belgium’, Comparative European Politics, 5 (2007), 141157CrossRefGoogle Scholar, pp. 141–2.

59 Issacharoff, ‘Fragile Democracies’, p. 1445.

60 Janda, ‘Adopting Party Law’.

61 Gardner, , ‘Can Party Politics be Virtuous?’ p. 685Google Scholar.

62 Robert Michels, (1911). Zur Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der Moderne Demokratie, English translation by Eden and Cedar Paul (1915). Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy (New York: The Free Press, reprint 1962).

63 Mersel, Yigal, ‘The Dissolution of Political Parties: The Problem of Internal Democracy’, International Journal of Constitutional Law, 4 (2006), 84113CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 97.

64 Schneider, , ‘Political Parties and the German Basic Law of 1949’, p. 536Google Scholar.

65 Mersel, , ‘The Dissolution of Political Parties’, p. 96Google Scholar.

66 Sartori, Giovanni, Democratic Theory (New York: Praeger, 1965)Google Scholar, p. 124.

67 Katz, , ‘Democracy and the Legal Regulation of Political Parties’, p. 6Google Scholar.

68 Ingrid van Biezen, Peter Mair and Thomas Poguntke, ‘Going, Going, … Gone? Party Membership in the 21st Century’ (European Journal of Political Science, 2011 (Early View Online) at the ECPR Joint Sessions, Lisbon, 2009).

69 Issacharoff, , ‘Fragile Democracies’, p. 1460–1Google Scholar.

70 Bartolini, Stefano and Mair, Peter, ‘Challenges to Contemporary Political Parties’, in Larry Diamond and Richard Gunther, eds, Political Parties and Democracy (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), pp. 327343Google Scholar.

71 Friedrich, , ‘The Political Theory of the New Democratic Constitutions’, p. 20Google Scholar.

72 See, for example, Brunner, Georg, ‘Development of a Constitutional Judiciary in Eastern Europe’, Review of Central and East European Law, 18 (1992), 535553Google Scholar.

73 Shapiro and Stone Sweet, On Law, Politics, and Judicialization, p. 3.

74 Shapiro, Ian, The State of Democratic Theory (Princeton, Conn.: Princeton University Press, 2003), pp. 6473Google Scholar.

75 Avnon, , ‘Parties Laws in Democratic Systems of Government’, p. 285Google Scholar.

76 Issacharoff, ‘Private Parties with Public Purposes’; Persily, Nathaniel, ‘Toward a Functional Defense of Political Party Autonomy’, New York Law Review, 76 (2001), 750824Google Scholar.

77 van Biezen, Ingrid, ‘Political Parties as Public Utilities’, Party Politics, 10 (2004), 701722CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

78 Cf. Hesse, who points out that the role of political parties as defined by the German Basic Law is confined to their contribution to the process of willensbildung. See Hesse, Konrad, Die Verfassungsrechtliche Stellung der Politischen Parteien im Modernen Staat (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1959)Google Scholar.

79 Frankenberg, , ‘Comparing Constitutions’, p. 456Google Scholar.

80 Cf. Epstein on the notion of political parties as public utilities, defining them as ‘agencies performing a service in which the public has a special interest sufficient to justify governmental regulatory control, along with the extension of legal privileges, but not governmental ownership or management of all the agency's activities’. See Epstein, Leon, Political Parties in the American Mold (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986)Google Scholar, p. 47. See also van Biezen, ‘Political Parties as Public Utilities’.

81 Avnon, ,‘Parties Laws in Democratic Systems of Government’, p. 296Google Scholar.

82 Leibholz, Gerhard, Strukturprobleme der Modernen Demokratie (Karlsruhe: Müller, 1958)Google Scholar, esp. pp. 78–93.

83 Katz and Mair, ‘Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy’.

84 Van Biezen and Kopecký, ‘The State and the Parties’.

85 van Biezen, Ingrid, ‘State Intervention in Party Politics: The Public Funding and Regulation of Political Parties’, European Review, 16 (2008), 337353CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

86 Nevil Johnson, for example, notes that parties in Germany have adapted their internal structure and behaviour the requirements deduced from the Basic Law. Moreover: ‘All parties have been keenly alive to the normative implications of Article 21 in respect of their public attitudes both to the constitutional order itself and to the formulation of specific policies within it.’ See Johnson, Nevil, ‘Law as the Articulation of the State in Western Germany: A German Tradition seen from a British Perspective’, West European Politics, 1 (1978), 177192CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 188.

87 Leibholz, , Strukturprobleme der Modernen Demokratie, p. 92Google Scholar.

88 For a recent restatement of the cartel thesis, see Katz, Richard S. and Mair, Peter, ‘The Cartel Party Thesis: A Restatement’, Perspectives on Politics, 7 (2009), 753766CrossRefGoogle Scholar.