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Political Opposition and the European Union 1

  • Peter Mair
Abstract

This paper applies categories developed in the classic literature on political opposition to the developing European Union. It is clear that the EU has never developed the third great milestone identified by Dahl in his analysis of the path to democratic institutions. That is, we still lack the capacity to organize opposition within the European polity. This failure to allow for opposition within the polity is likely to lead either (a) to the elimination of opposition altogether, or (b) to the mobilization of an opposition of principle against the EU polity. This problem is also beginning to reach down into the domestic sphere, in that the growing weight of the EU, through its indirect impact on national politics, helps to encourage domestic democratic deficits, hence limiting the scope for classical opposition at the national level. Here too, then, we might expect to see either the elimination of opposition or the mobilization of a new – perhaps populist – opposition of principle.

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Footnotes
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1

This is a slightly revised version of the Government and Opposition/Leonard Schapiro Annual Lecture, delivered at the Annual Conference of the Political Studies Association, Reading University, 5 April 2006. I am grateful to Michael Moran and Paul Heywood for their initial invitation and their support, and to various members of Deirdre Curtin's Research Group 2 of the Connex network for comments on these and other arguments.

Footnotes
References
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2 Note Ken Tynan's observation in his 1975 diary: ‘6 June: Roy Jenkins, interviewed on TV after the result [of the Common Market referendum] was announced, made an unguarded remark that summed up the tacit elitism of the pro-Marketeers. Asked to explain why the public had voted as it had, … [he] smugly replied: “They took the advice of people they were used to following”.’ See John Lahr (ed.), The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan, London, Bloomsbury, 2001, p. 248.

3 These figures are all reported on the valuable website maintained by the Research Centre on Direct Democracy in Geneva, http://c2d.unige.ch.

4 Catherine E. Netjes and Kees van Kersbergen, ‘Interests, Identity and Political Allegiance in the European Union’, paper presented at Euroscepticism Conference, Amsterdam, July 2005, Table 1.

5 Eijk, Cees van der and Franklin, Mark N., ‘Potential for Contestation on European Matters at National Elections in Europe’, in Gary Marks and Marco N. Steenbergen (eds), European Integration and Political Conflict, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 3250, p. 47.

6 Marks and Steenbergen, European Integration.

7 Schapiro, Leonard, ‘Foreword’, Government and Opposition, 1: 1 (1965), pp. 16.

8 Dahl, Robert A., ‘Reflections on Opposition in Western Democracies’, Government and Opposition, 1: 1 (1965), pp. 724 ; and Robert A. Dahl (ed.), Political Oppositions in Western Democracies, New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1966.

9 Kircheimer, Otto, ‘The Waning of Opposition in Parliamentary Regimes’, Social Research, 24: 1 (1957), pp. 127–56. For a valuable recent overview of Kirchheimer's analyses of the post-war democracies, see

10 Dahl, ‘Reflections on Opposition’, p. 19.

11 See, for example, Richard Rose, Governing without Consensus: An Irish Perspective, London, Faber and Faber, 1971; and Ian McAllister, The Northern Ireland Social Democratic and Labour Party, London, Macmillan, 1977.

12 Shapiro, ‘Foreword’, p. 3.

13 Robert A. Dahl, ‘Preface’, in Dahl, Political Oppositions in Western Democracies, p. xiii.

14 See, for example, Herman Schmitt and Jacques Thomassen (eds), Political Representation and Legitimacy in the European Union, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999.

15 The following section draws closely on part of my online paper ‘Popular Democracy and the European Union Polity’, European Governance Papers (EUROGOV), C-05-03 (2005), at http://www.connex-network.org/eurogov/pdf/egp-connex-C-05-03.pdf; for related arguments, see Mair, Peter, ‘The Europeanization Dimension’, Journal of European Public Policy, 11: 2 (2004), pp. 337–48; and

16 Schmidt, Vivien A., The EU and National Polities, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007.

17 See Mair, ‘The Europeanization Dimension’, pp. 340–3.

18 Lipset, S. M. and Rokkan, Stein, ‘Cleavage Structures, Party Systems and Voter Alignments: An Introduction’, in S. M. Lipset and Stein Rokkan (eds), Party Systems and Voter Alignments, New York, Free Press, 1967, pp. 626.

19 Lipset and Rokkan, ‘Cleavage’, p. 10. For a recent wide-ranging application of Rokkan's framework to the process of European integration, see Stefano Bartolini, Restructuring Europe, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.

20 Lipset and Rokkan, ‘Cleavage’, p. 11.

21 Although this is generally true for the mainstream parties in particular, the most extreme example of such displacement comes from the fringe, the Danish June Movement and People's Movement. Again the EU chooses to fight its anti-European battle in the electoral arena of the European Parliament rather than in that of the Folketing. The two parties win a lot of support – almost 25 per cent in the 1999 round of European Parliament elections – but they are also clearly choosing, deliberately so, to fight in the wrong arena.

22 Kelemen, Daniel R., ‘The Politics of “Eurocratic” Structure and the New European Agencies’, West European Politics, 25: 4 (2002), pp. 93118.

23 Börzel, Tanja and Risse, Thomas, ‘When Europe Hits Home: Europeanization and Domestic Change’, European Integration Online Papers, 4: 15 (2000), http://eiop.or.at/eiop/texte/2000-015a.htm; Jan Beyers and Jarle Trondal, ‘How Nation-States “Hit” Europe: Ambiguity and Representation in the European Union’, West European Politics, 27: 5 (2004), pp. 919–42. I also deal with this issue in Polity-Scepticism, Party Failings and the Challenge to European Democracy: Uhlenbeck Lecture 24, Wassenaar, NIAS, 2006

24 See Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman, London, McGibbon and Kee, 1967, where the molecular theory of bicycles is outlined in some detail. In brief, cyclists who ride their bikes often enough, especially on bumpy Irish roads, will transfer some of their molecules into the bike, while the bike will transfer some of its molecules into the cyclist. Eventually, the mix becomes so advanced that it becomes impossible to know which is the bike and which is the rider. On market days you might see old farmers who cycle a lot balancing themselves with one foot on the curb, or leaning with their shoulders against a gable wall, while late on cold evenings you might see their bikes edging closer to the fire.

25 Dahl, ‘Reflections on Opposition’, pp. 21–2.

1 This is a slightly revised version of the Government and Opposition/Leonard Schapiro Annual Lecture, delivered at the Annual Conference of the Political Studies Association, Reading University, 5 April 2006. I am grateful to Michael Moran and Paul Heywood for their initial invitation and their support, and to various members of Deirdre Curtin's Research Group 2 of the Connex network for comments on these and other arguments.

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Government and Opposition
  • ISSN: 0017-257X
  • EISSN: 1477-7053
  • URL: /core/journals/government-and-opposition
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