>The European dog that doesn’t bark

>

Yesterday sees me acting as discussant at a workshop on the Europeanization of parties in Eastern Europe at SSEES sponsored by the CEELBAS consortium, although as quickly transpires the story is actually one of non- or minimal Europeanization. The EU and ‘EU-related issues’ ) have not demonstrably changed party politics in CEE in the way that the EU has leveraged and shaped the region’s public administration and public policy.

The EU as an issue in domestic party politics in CEE has, however, been non-existent or at best a here-today-gone-tomorrow controversy which surfaces then quickly disappears around the time of accession. In many CEE countries, smallness and the consensus carried over from getting in to the EU couple with the public’s standard lack of interest in the EU on the part of voters combine to make the EU a total non-issue, whose main impact is provide an occasional reference point for politicians berating each other’s performance and an career option for politicians with an eye on the European Parliament or the European Commission.

As Agnes Batory’s excellent paper put it, as far as parties are concerned it Europeanization is, bluntly put, ‘the dog that didn’t bark. They haven’t changed very much or changed in obviously EU-related ways and the ‘anti-EU’ populist backlash that various academics and journalists have detected in various recent electoral upheavals can, looked at through different spectacles, be perfectly adequately explained by domestic factors – something I suspect that is also true of the coalition deals struck in 2005-6 with various dodgy minor parties in Poland and Slovakia most often cited as an EU-related, although as one paper rightly noted this seemed to fit in more to a process of the ‘de-Europeanization’ of party competition. I also Agnes Batory’s paper for tracking the ‘dog that doesn’t bark’ tag back to Sherlock Holmes story Silver Blaze – political scientists really should read more detective stories. I’ve heard there is one academic the US who bases his entire research methods course on episodes of Columbo- plenty of different modes of deduction and induction to study from the good Lieutenant

Back at the seminar, however, the €64,000 question is, of course, ‘so what’? What if Europe isn’t reshaping party politics in CEE, why should we care? I put both questions and got an excellent several-party answer from Stephen Whitefield: there may be implications for democratic governance in CEE; there is a puzzle to solve because we would expect the EU to be picked up and politicized by political entrepreneurs and emerge (but then disappear) as a political issue amid the electoral churning of the more volatile party systems of the region such as Slovakia, Poland or Estonia. The EU in CEE Stephen suggested – at least, as far as my illegible notes suggest (please correct me if you read this) was more part of a politics of democratic deficits and populism, whereas in Western Europe politics (and the way the EU played in domestic politics) centred on economic performance

Having exceeded my discussant’s brief and added to the mood of ‘Europeanization scepticism’, I had coffee and sandwiches courtesy of CEELBAS before leaving for the tropical heat of the fifth floor and a meeting of the SSEES post-graduate teaching committee.

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